“There are things that rise above themselves to assume iconic stature,” Betty Cornfeld and Owen Edwards write. “These things are simple, ageless, yet mythic things that possess quintessence.” In their book by that name, the authors posit that the Steinway piano, Oreo cookie and Stetson hat qualify as quintessential. Add the Dufrane Barton Springs 656 Diverto that list . . .
I know what you’re thinking: one man’s perfect watch is another man’s meh. If you don’t see the 656 above as a minimalist masterpiece, I can’t convince you – in the same way that either you view the Dino below as a quintessential automotive icon, or you don’t.
The Barton Springs 656 Diver makes its claim to iconic status by adhering to the philosophy that guided Dino designer Leonardo Fioravanti: form follows function. Just as the Italian sports car’s sensuous curves are the result of rigorously applied aerodynamics, the 656 is the product of a no-compromise pursuit of temporal legibility.
Replacing numbered indices with big fat circles – intersected by white dashes and a triangle – is the best way to create a time-at-a-glance watch face. [You don’t see numbers on a Kid O Shape Sorting House.] It’s no surprise that Tudor’s blue-faced Black Bay uses the same recipe.
Dufrane’s monochromatic dial tops Tudor with bigger blobs, dashes and triangles, as well as the watch itself (42mm vs. 41mm). Where the Rolex sub-brand’s indices and dial are encircled by a bling ring of stainless steel, the 656’s face is surrounded by a dark, narrow bezel.
Clock the downward facing triangle at the top of the 656’s black bezel. Combined with the dashes at the 3, 6 and 9 positions, the marker makes instantly identifying the timepiece’s 12 o’clock a subconscious endeavor, regardless of the watch’s orientation.
The 656’s bezel doesn’t rotate to time a specific event like, say, the moment your oxygen tanks will be empty. And? Any and all safety conscious scuba dudes use a digital dive computer for underwater exploration. That simple fact renders all analogue dive watches a style statement – regardless of their bezel’s size, function or, for that matter, the watch’s maximum depth rating.
In case you haven’t guessed (so to speak), the Dufrane Diver remains airtight and operational down to 656 feet. A swimmer can get the bends at just 3m (9.84 feet). The eponymous Barton Springs is 18 feet deep. In short, the 656 is handy enough for a jetski ride, snorkeling, rescuing pocket change from a swimming pool or other non-urinary water-sports.
Speaking of hands, the 656 gets those right, too. The hour hand’s as long as it can be while still leaving a discernible space between its painted tip and the indices. The minute hand just about but not quite covers the indices. Equally helpful, both hands are solid rectangles rimmed by nearly invisible black steel. Well, almost invisible.
To set the time, put on your reading glasses, line up the hour hand’s stealthy steel tip with the rehaut’s minute markers and wait for Hodinkee’s time app to ring in the changes. As Wallace told Gromit in the Project Zoo video game, that’ll do nicely. As does the Diver’s orange, needle-shaped second hand. It sweeps majestically around the watch’s outer edge, swinging a luminescent ball on its butt.
To say the Barton Springs 656 Diver is luminescent is like saying Peter North is tumescent. Less salaciously, if the 656 it isn’t The Lume King, it occupies a seat of honor at the roundtable – for eight solid hours. All hail liberal lashings of C3 Super-LumiNova, the Swiss coating company’s third brightest glow-in-the-dark formulation. As a result, the 656 is the isomniac’s best friend. Or worst enemy, depending on how you look at it.
You can’t look at the Dufrane Diver’s Sellita SW200-1 movement. The widely-used workhorse shelters behind the watch’s 316L stainless steel caseback. If you opt out of the 656 date window, as you should, you have to pull the Diver’s screw-down crown out two stops to change the time. But hey, the movement’s accurate to +/-12 seconds a day and it’s tougher than high school calculus.
It’s also tough to reveal the Barton Springs 656 Diver’s Achilles heel: its anti-reflective coating. Let’s put it this way: the iPhone isn’t the only time-telling device that lets you check your hair style on-the-go. You quickly learn to tilt the Diver away from your face to read the time, but it’s a major ding on an otherwise ding-less design.
Dufrane manufactures 300 examples of each watch type. Thirty black-faced Barton Springs 656 Divers remain in inventory. If you’re looking for a hardy everyday automatic timepiece that will still be in style 100 years from now, the Barton Springs 656 Diver is a quintessential choice.
Barton Springs 656 Diver
On sale: $499 direct from Dufrane
Click here to buy (no commission paid)
Width (no crown): 42 mm
Width (with crown): 45.5 mm
Thickness: 12.85 mm
Height: 47.6 mm
Inside lug width: 22 mm
Case: 316L stainless steel with brushed finish, domed sapphire crystal with anti-reflective coating, screw down crown, spring bars
Movement: Automatic, Sellita Caliber SW200-1, 26 Jewels, 28.8k vibrations/hour 4 Hz, incabloc shock protection, rhodium rotor
Water resistance: 656 feet
Power reserve: 38 hours
Strap: NATO-styled nylon pass-through strap and Barton Watch Bands Elite silicone strap
RATINGS (out of five stars)
Design * * * * *
The Barton Springs 656 Diver is a masterpiece of bold and legible design, with perfectly judged proportions and details. The black face on the silicone band is the one that will stand the test of time. Literally.
Legibility * * * * *
If you can’t read this watch at a glance, you’re either a Gen Z or legally blind.
Tactility * * * *
The 656’s silicone band adjusts perfectly, and the big, grippy crown is a pleasure to wind and set. One star deducted for free-spinning winder-out position one (in the watch tested here, without a date window).
Comfort * * * * *
The Barton Springs Diver weighs 3.6 ounces – it’s heavy enough not to feel cheap, light enough to disappear until summoned. Unlike the Seiko Diver’s unforgiveable rubber strap, the 656’s “elite” silicone band is an everyday delight.
Overall * * * *
Striking yet tasteful, robust, inexpensive, Swiss-powered, American assembled and timeless. (Not literally.) Final star withheld for ineffective anti-reflective coating.