As announced before, I would like to change my focus of the blog from Enicar Graph only watches to all interesting watches they build. Since my second passion is the one for dive watches, it was clear what the next chapter will be.
We all know that Enicar watches, especially the Sherpa ones use highly waterproof cases, build by Erwin Piquerez SA, short EPSA. Those compressor cases are iconic and used by several companies as well. The ones for Enicar though, are special. Instead of a screw back , EPSA and Enicar developed the bayonet caseback. This is a feature you only find on Enicar watches. The first watches with that system, like the one in the following ads, appeared in 1955.
As you can see, those early dive watches are missing a bezel, as we know from dive watches today. In 1957 the famous Austrian dive pioneer Hans Hass was asked to test the newest Enicar dive watch on his next big expedition. The watch we are talking about is the Enicar Sherpa Dive, a 40mm dive watch with rotating bezel and watertight till 600ft. The early examples had a bakelite bezel with radium lume. Later examples had alloy bezels with tritium lume dots at 12 o’ clock only.
In 1957 Hass planned a scientific adventure to beautiful dive spots to study the underwater scenery. It was called the Xarifa II Expedition supported by the International Institute for underwater sciences, Vaduz. Hass was the head of the expedition together with science director Dr. I. Eibl-Eibesfeldt. The project started on October 15th, 1957 in Cannes, France. They sailed all the way through the Red Sea, Abdel Kuri, the Maldives, Cylon (Sri Lanka), the Nicobar Islands till the end of that amazing journey at Singapore.
The Expedition was named after the ship they used during their trip. The Xarifa was a proud ship, build in 1927 in England. It was used as yacht by the sewing machine king Franklin Morse Singer at the beginning. Unfortunately it ended as a coal ship in the 40s.
Hass bought what was left of this ship and rebuild it to a maritime science ship and to his specific needs.
An expedition like this was a very expensive project and so Hass needed and found a lot of sponsors, like the BBC (who got a 26 part TV-documentation for their money), Philips, Leica, Grundig, Kodak and many others.
As mentioned before, Enicar supported Hass with some new dive watches. They sent six of them to his team, Reference 100/124 BaANXS. Since the ship left Cannes on October 15, 1957, the watches needed to arrive way earlier. The oldest Sherpa Dive I know of, has the markings 11/57 in the caseback and makes it a november production model earliest. This would be to late for Hass’ expedition start.
After some research together with the Hans Hass Archive (https://www.hans-hass.org) we found six numbers, possibly belonging to these watches in Hass’ journal:
For serials those numbers are a bit short. I have two theories:
I. Those numbers were test examples and the numbers were engraved on the outside of the watch, like on the caseback. But why aren’t they chronological, like 3060, 3061, 3062..and so on?
II. Early Sherpa Dives were also advertised as “Sherpa Dive Supertest”. Supertest stands for Enicars own category of chronometer movements. Every Supertest movement is marked with an additional number. To my knowledge Enicar started with the Supertest campaign in the late 50s, so maybe those Sherpa Dives were among the first.
Update 18.01.2021: New information confirm option number I. The watches that went to the Xarifa II expedition were marked with these specific numbers on the outside of the caseback.
After the expedition Hass needed to give the watches back to the Enicar headquarter for further tests and investigations.
Regarding to the Hans Hass Archive he also had the task to write an evaluation about the watches. Unfortunately those documents are missing but will be hopefully rediscovered one day.
The earliest pic where we clearly can identify a Sherpa Dive on the wrist of some of the scientists from the Xarifa II expedition is from December 1957. It’s on the wrist of Hans Hass himself, taking some pictures at the beach of Abdel Kuri, an Island next so Somalia. Easiest way to spot the watch is the white Tropic strap for sure.
Most of the pictures I show here are from the Book “Expedition ins Unbekannte” (“Expediton into the unknown”) that Hass wrote after the journey was ended. I havn’t just found pictures of the watch in the book, but also an interesting anecdote.
“In the course of our hard work Eibl [another Team member] lost his diving watch. But everything worked out well here, and the next day I found it again. The Enicar company asked us to subject this newly developed watch to particularly severe strain. This had happened. A huge parrotfish mistook the watch for a shell and tried it’s teeth on it. The traces were clearly visible, but the clock was still on time as before. “
A Sherpa Dive is not just water- but also parrotfish-proof!
Hass also wrote a few lines about the watch in the “Thank you” chapter of the book. He stated the following:
“The waterproof diving watches “Sherpa-Dive”, which we received for testing from the Enicar company in Lengnau, proved to be the best during the year-long exertion. I have already told you how one of the clocks defied the teeth of a giant parrot fish. The watch can be recommended to every diver. We would like to thank Director 0. Leu from the Public Relations Group in Solothurn, who established the connection to Enicar.“
Sounds like he and his team were satisfied with the results of their evaluation and the watch itself. Its not suprising that Hans Hass gave his name for advertising campaigns of Enicar till the end of the 60s. In fact, he was one of the first testimonials Enicar used for advertising watches all around the globe. Hans Hass was like the superstar of underwater adventures and discoveries, years before Cousteau.
The Xarifa II expedition was a great success. Especially the TV-documentary is well remembered and was for most of the people watching it the first view into another world: the beauty of the sea and its inhabitants. The supporting book my research is based on is also very entertaining.
Update: 07.02.2022: I found this super cool footage from the original TV show, showing and introducing Hass’ Enicar Dive.
Last year I had the chance to buy a genuine unpolished early Sherpa Dive with original white tropic strap myself. As you can see, there are differences to the later models. Besides the allready mentioned high Radium Bakelite bezel, it contains a different movement (AR 1034, based on an AS movement) and the crown is without the famous waffle pattern. You can also see, that the Sherpa line is still called Sherpas on the caseback, but Sherpa on the dial.
The watch with Ref. 100/124 BaANXS is one of the gems of my collections, since the bakelite bezels are very delicate. The Radium on the one hand, but more relevant, most of those bezels are broken. To find a 40mm model (there are also the 36mm Divettes and Diver 600 in a similar configuration) is difficult nowdays. If you see one, don’t hesitate to buy!
Great blog, love those vintage watches with great stories.