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November 29, 2021

Squale: A small successful predator in the sea of independent watchmaking

I can’t hide it: I’m a huge fan of Squale, an Italian-owned, independent brand whose mechanics and components are made in Switzerland, and with a catalog of half a dozen models that are largely undisputed icons in the history of diving watches.

FROM CHARLES VON BUREN TO BLANCPAIN, TAG HEUER AND DOXA, ALWAYS FREEDIVING

The history of the brand founded in 1959 in Neuchâtel by Charles Von Büren is one typical of its time, but with a substantial difference that can even create, for many enthusiasts, a misunderstanding. Andrea Maggi, CEO of Squale, explains: “Its distinctiveness, he says, stands in the fact that Squale–like many other companies in the sixties and seventies (until the early eighties) of the last century, when brands did not have the same importance for consumers as today–is historically seen as a landmark by professional divers, and as a supplier for other brands as well. In this case, however, we are not talking about a simple ‘subcontractor’ because often, on the dial of these watches, the Squale logo appeared at six o’clock to certify their water resistance and reliability.

Squale Charles Von Büren
1966 Charles Von Büren

In fact, over time the typical Squale case–that of the Ref. 1521, still a cornerstone of today’s collection–has been commissioned by at least thirty brands, among them high-profile names such as Blancpain, Tag Heuer and Doxa. In that respect, at least two famous Blancpain should be remembered: the Fifty Fathoms 3H Bund and the Fifty Fathoms on a 1545 Squale case, where the Squale name and logo appear in plain sight at six o’clock. Without forgetting the no less famous Tag Heuer Spirotechnique and Doxa Sub 250 Sharkhunter.

Squale master 1967 Cuba World Cup

So the misunderstanding is simple: “Yes–explains Maggi with a hint of a smile–and paradoxically it is due to the success of Squale as a high-end supplier. In fact, the original 1521 case, which for thirty years was also marketed by another thirty or so brands, makes the less experienced say that it is precisely Squale to have copied the other brands, thus turning the tables. Among other things, Squale in those years was also the absolute landmark for freediving, always seen on the wrists of record breakers, real legends like Giuliana ‘Jolly’ Treleani, Jean Tapu, Enzo Maiorca and Jacques Mayol.

Squale Jaques Mayol
1970 Jaques Mayol freediving world record in Japan

SWISS HERITAGE, ITALIAN BLOOD, GLOBAL MARKET: 1521, 2002, MATIC, SUB-39 E T-183 ARE THE NAMES BEHIND THE CURRENT SUCCES

Squale is inextricably linked to our country. This is due to the special friendship bond between Charles Von Büren and Elisio Maggi, Andrea’s father and historical watch wholesaler, who made Italy his benchmark market. The CEO of Squale recalls: “The collaboration between Von Büren and my father was born in the sixties. It soon became a sincere friendship between the families, still lasting today. With the founder’s old age, the eighties mark the transfer of the property to my family. The company today has an entirely Swiss production chain, but it is proud of its Italian blood which has allowed, for example, to realize special series for the Folgore Brigade, the Carabinieri, the Navy’s Com.sub.in. and the State Police in the last years.

Squale Polizia di Stato

Collections and market, how are things for Shark today? “It’s a great moment for us–comments Andrea Maggi–also thanks to online sales and international distribution, which allows us to reach the USA as well as Asia. We steadied our annual production at a little less than ten thousand units, consolidated by our masterpieces–all of them very similar: the ‘entry level’ 50 Atmos (Ref. 1521), the 60 Atmos (the Matic) and the 101 Atmos (Ref. 2002). The two most recent models are the Sub-39 and the T-183 with carbon and fiberglass case. For a price differential ranging from 826 euros for the 1521 Classic to 1,334 euros for the Ref. 2002, all truly competitive.

Squale
Squale

FINAL CONSIDERATIONS: HISTORY, STYLE AND CONTENT, SUCCES IS MORE THAN DESERVED

As I wrote above, I am a Squale fan. For different reasons. For its owner’s Italian heart, for its independence in a domain which is now dominated by the logic of the big luxury conglomerates that annihilate the identities and peculiarities of individual brands (even with very bad results from an economic point of view, ironically). Above all, those are products with an excellent quality/price ratio. And in this market segment it is simply impossible to find a historic brand with such well-preserved iconic models in terms of freshness of the original aesthetics and noteworthy technical details that allow real water resistance from 500 to 1000 meters. This is why you often see the Squales on the wrists of passionate “connoisseurs” who could afford much more expensive watches, such as FP Journe for instance, but who also wear with barely-disguised pride a timepiece that made the history of diving watches.

By Michele Mengoli