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Glycine’s Combat SUB: The Aviator’s Soaring Military Divers
Published by: Samuel Ng
The vintage divers of old and modern dive watches of today have little differences. In such a demanding and popular watch category where most timepieces bear much resemblance, a new dive watch line-up may just slip by as yet another addition to the already saturated market. The irony is that there is actually a broad range of diver collections but as these timepieces follow the same structure, it may be hard to pinpoint what is unique to each line-up. As many watch brands craft their divers with reference to a proven formula consisting of an elapsed-time bezel, excellent water resistance, maximum legibility and a similar case form, these timepieces are usually based on popular classic 50s and 60s designs. Presenting re-mastered retro cues with contemporary twists or tributes to successful models of old.
(Combat SUB duo with a military guise)
Today, Glycine divers, better known as the Combat SUBs, have established a prominent presence in the watch industry. Even as this Swiss watchmaker’s timepieces follow the diver formula, they stand out with their excellent quality and unique designs at reasonable prices (right now all watches are below one thousand dollars). As we delve into the exquisite Glycine SUBs, we uncover this brand’s rich military past. The Combat SUB collection might not be the hottest dive watches on the market today, but these under-the-radar divers are worthy considerations. Furthermore, the Combat SUB embodies Glycine’s ethos, combining a full-on military-style dial format with a quintessential dive watch case to offer a timeless sporty look that characterises this collection.
In our quest to uncover the secret behind Glycine’s success, we will touch on how this brand’s military-inspired divers became just as much a hit as its pilot watches which are its primary focus.
The Movement Manufacturer
(The man Eugene Meylan himself) (Photo Credit: Glycintennial)
Glycine was founded in 1914 by Eugene Meylan, a horologist who started off manufacturing elegant timepieces for ladies. At 23 years old, Meylan started off as an engineer and went on to attend the I’Ecole d’horlogerie, a famed watchmaking school in Le Chaux de Fonds and went on to set up Glycine 4 years later.
Glycine’s timeline is broken down into three particular eras. From 1914 to the mid-30s, Glycine established itself as a small calibre manufacturer. The movement maker specialises in chronometer grade, ranging from as small as 5 (11mm) to 9.5 lines (21mm). With precision and tenacity, Glycine made history with the first ever baguette-shaped movement, patented in both 1923 and 1926.
(An old ad on its popular miniature tonneau movement) (Photo Credit: Glycintennial)
The second era is deemed as Glycine’s golden decades as 1942 marks the end of the first in-house movement manufacturing era, where Glycine’s ebauche department was acquired by ASUAG, which later became Swatch Group which had set up a centralized movement manufacturing institute that is widely known today as ETA. Despite being under Swatch Group, Glycine still produced some of their avant-garde watches with in-house movements from 1942 to 1984.
(An early 40s Field watch made for the DH German military) (Photo Credit: Watchuseek)
During world war 2, Glycine manufactured Deutsches Heer military watches for the Germans and this form-follows-function design seems consistent even after a decade (1953). With the debut of the phenomenal Airman collection came the release of the first watch to feature a 24-hour dial, created by flying personnel for the flying corps. This flagship model enabled Glycine to expand its manufacturing and distribution capacity throughout the 60s, with approximately 100,000 watches made annually.
The Birth Of The Combat
During Glycine’s golden decade, the first Combat watches released paved the way for the vast array of dive watches you see now. In 1967, this Swiss watchmaker replicated the Airman’s success by launching its second line specially crafted for land troopers known as the Combat watches. Through its symbolic crown logo, Glycine incorporates its sporty military ethos into the Combat collection, resulting in a proper field watch line-up that reflects an archetype of its era (think IWC’s Mark series). This Combat field watch features Arabique hour markers flanging an inner 24-hour scale on a matte black dial fitted in an air-tight compressor case created by the reputable casemaker, EPSA, who also produced for brands like Longines and Enicar.
(1967 Glycine field watch, the very first Combat) (Photo Credit: OmegaForums)
A little history tidbit: Before Glycine’s 60s Combat field watches, the first “water-proof” watch was formulated 6 years earlier by a watchmaker named Hans Ulrich Klingenberg. He discovered that if the casing is “vacuumed” and sealed tightly to prevent air moisture and water from drying up the movement’s lubrication, the watch could have extended longevity. Since then, these vacuum watches allowed for the release of robust waterproof timepieces like the Combat field timepieces and subsequently proper dive watches in the early 60s.
Honoring Its Past, Solidifying Its Present.
(One of very own SCUBA diver) (Photo Credit: HallandLaddco)
Although there weren't any divers in the Combat line released during the golden decades, Glycine has been manufacturing SCUBA watches from the early 60s to the late 80s. In the second era, although these dive watches flaunted distinctive case shapes and sizes that were full of character, they were often overshadowed by its iconic aviators. As Glycine’s divers had a weaker presence in the market, they had a smaller production volume and focussed mainly on the Airman collection, but things took a turn for the better for these divers in the late 90s.
(Yes, they had the cushion diver too!) (Photo Credit: Analogshift)
(Another 70s unique case-shaped SCUBA diver) (Photo Credit: CataWiki)
During the early 80s, Hans Brechbuehler, a traditional watchmaker, took over and revitalised this Swiss company which had just survived the quartz crisis. In this third era, Glycine was led by Brechbuehler and his daughter, Katherina, and they created a few remarkable military-style lines including the large KMU 48, Incursore and of course, the Combat SUB.
In the early 2000s, Glycine released a SCUBA timepiece within its military combat line which thrusted the spotlight on the brand’s divers. The Combat SUB divers display a winning combination of Glycine’s 60s military-style dial with the complete classic dive watch construction. With sub-collections to cater to various preferences, the Combat SUB line has established various landmarks in dive watch history.
(Classic recognized dive watch case)
Marvel at these characteristics that Glycine’s array of modern professional divers offer (73 models as of August 2020):
- Comes in two different sizes of 42 or 46mm wide, while all having a slim profile of 10.6mm in heigh.
- The case features a pair of “L” shaped curved lugs.
- Military-specifications dials - painted Arabic hour numerals, most models include military 24-hour markers.
- Possesses a 60-click steel bezel with an aluminum insert.
- A full satin-finished case and bracelet (with few exceptions).
- Runs on the GL224 Swiss automatic calibre - 25/26 jewels, 28,800BPH, power reserve of 40 hours.
Our first impression of the Combat SUB diver: a compact yet solid watch with pedigree. Made with 316L stainless steel, the Combat SUB line stuck to the conventional dive watch form which guarantees excellent quality and a solid feel on most wrist sizes. We also noticed that there is no fancy beveling on the case sides or any other significant ornate case works. This basic finishing allows for maximum practicality which is what sets Glycine apart from its contemporaries.
(Multi-finished slim case of GL083)
The lack of much details on these dive watches has gained much enthusiasm in the watch community. One of the features of these divers that have been the subject of much debate is the 42mm case dimension crafted with a more streamlined and wearable case profile of less than 11mm, which hits the sweet spot of modern watch sizing and may even fit into the luxury sports watch category (characterised by their slim profiles). Furthermore, the Combat SUB’s ergonomic case form is attractive and slender, deeming it a purposeful sports watch that rests comfortably on your wrist even during rigorous activities with its curved lugs.
Unsurprisingly, the austere military dial and case finishing of the Combat SUBs are what makes Glycine’s watch collection stand out in the overcrowded dive watch industry. This dive watch line-up shows off a full satin-finishing on its case and bracelet, staying true to Glycine’s sporty-military design. Moreover, it is interesting how brushed finishings, in our opinion, fortifies this line-up’s tool watch roots. Since its inception in the 60s, the Combat line boasts many outstanding upgrades and variations over time. Here are a few SUBs that stood the test of time in this superb collection:
Bi-Tone And Full-Blink Charms
(YG tone with steel for its bezel/case and bracelet)
The early 70s saw a new trend-setting range of dive watches, debuting in full gold, followed by two-tone steel timepieces that were surprisingly popular among watch consumers back then. These phenomenal divers made a much-anticipated comeback recently in 2017 with reissues of Glycine’s original designs after they wowed us with handsome retro timepieces in early 2000, drawing upon the popular Combat Golden Eye.
(Combat SUB Golden Eye Ref. GL0093)
(On the wrist)
Presented in Baselworld 2012, Combat SUB’s Golden Eye flaunts a 42mm diver case with a sleek full black PVD twist on its mid-case and caseback which are contrasted by a gold-toned bezel, crown, markers and handset. This compelling black and gold combination works satisfyingly well on the Combat SUB frame where it is further complemented by a brown-toned bezel insert which pays tribute to this timepiece’s military heritage. Also, isn't it amazing how the Golden Eye has maintained a cult following for a decade since its launch?
(The All New Blackout Bi-Tone GL0270)
For those who aren’t into a blackout case, Glycine offers other 80s-style bi-tone divers like the GL0081, the Titian GL0092 and the Blue Macaw GL0089. These models feature a steel case which are perfect additions to the Combat SUB military line. The two-tone blend of steel and gold tones on the bezel, crown, and center links of the bracelet on models like the GL0081, coupled with a satin-finished bracelet and case, bestows a gentle yet grand look on these timepieces.
(Titian - red/gold bezel and crown)
Craving for a full vibrant and saturated, 70s ritzy sports watch? Glycine has got you covered with the Combat SUB SPLENDID GL0082. With golden hues on its case and bracelet paired with a bright blue military dial, this timepiece’s unique colourway graces your wrist with a majestic oceanic charm.
In “Combat” Colours
Conversely, within the Combat SUB line, these models would be considered to be the most sober with no-frills in the collection as they do not indulge in fancy blackout cases or striking two-tone designs. These plain stainless steel pieces incorporate the classic Combat SUB aesthetics in a stunning display of Glycine’s many fruitful years of watchmaking. These models are the quintessential dive watches that represent the sobriety and authentic heritage ethos of this Swiss watchmaker. Some examples of these models include the GL0087, GL0076, and GL0094 which are the original releases of the Combat SUB line and are hence perceived as the most complete expressions, in terms of looks and historical basis, of the classic Glycine timepiece -- a sturdy military dive watch.
(A pure classic form of the Combat SUB Ref. GL0087)
Moving on to the completely blacked-out, PVD treated Combat SUBs that make up quite a large portion of the collection, we explore models like the GL0244 Blackout, the GL0084 Hunter and the GL0080 Red Radar. These military divers present a more contemporary and trendy look than seen on a typical Combat SUB and are updated with bolder colour contrasts while still preserving Glycine’s classic designs.
Moreover, the common goal of these modern timepieces is to achieve a different aesthetic while still executing robust and ready-for-action dive watches that are suitable for all military personnel. Additionally, marvel at how their military theme complements the dial and strap options seamlessly, making these models seem much more aerodynamic than their steel versions.
(In stealthy full black)
Our examination of the Combat SUB will not be complete without scrutinising the Combat SUB 42 Orange Halo GL0088, which has distinct connections with Glycine’s most celebrated aviation timepieces of 1969, the Airman SST. Nicknamed the “Airman Pumpkin” because of its vibrant orange halo rehaut with 24-hour markings, this timepiece was launched to commemorate the civilian supersonic transport known as the SST in the late 60s.
(The “Airman Pumpkin” of Combat SUB)
Showcasing an orange halo xeroxed flawlessly by this Swiss watchmaker, the Combat SUB dive watch collection presented iconic timepieces like the Combat SUB Ref. 3863 (now GL0088) in early 2010. The colourway of the Orange Halo is believed to be inspired by the American Boeing 2707 and flaunts lively orange tones on its minute rehaut which substitutes the 24-hour scale on a GMT, handset and texts. Since the 60s, this vibrant colour scheme has become synonymous with the brand as it works well on a dive watch to provide enhanced legibility underwater (similar to Doxa).
The Enliven Vintage Spirit
Today, Glycine delivers with new Combat SUB Vintage divers, in line with its current direction, that flaunt a simpler vintage look, complete with multiple colorways and case finishings that range from steel to bronze as well as from full-black PVD to two-tone variations respectively.
(2019 Combat SUB Vintage Blue Ref. GL0260)
The new Vintage models share identical traits, namely a grainy-textured dial with an “explorer” format (Arabic numerals at cardinal points with long stripes for hour markers) and a red triangle with a luminous pip at 12 o’clock on the bezel. While the original Combat SUB exudes a classic military charm, the new minimalist aesthetics on the vintage sub-line including the GL0261, GL0269 and GL0262, distinguishes these timepieces from the rest of the line-up. Moreover, its dial prevents pesky light reflections and allows for easy grip, which is characteristic of high quality military equipment.
With a redesigned, more vintage look, the Combat SUB collection gains even more popularity in the watch industry. From a military-styled to an athletic textured dial with three-hands and prominent date display, this new line offers a modern update while still recognised as a constituent of the Combat collection.
(Military “blink” on the wrist)
Personally, I have never considered the Combat SUB military dive watch collection to be, in any way, inferior to the Airman division. In my opinion, these handsome divers should not only be appreciated for their roots and proper diversification of professional watches, but also for their value for money and heritage-rich, no-frills design.
Furthermore, I would like to clarify the effect of Invicta’s takeover in 2016, which many have deemed as the beginning of Glycine’s decline. In actuality, with the apt support from the parent group, Glycine got a neater portfolio with better priced, Swiss-made timepieces that still stays true to its roots with its Combat SUB collection.
(Some bronze action)
This acquisition is similar to other Swiss maisons that went under a parent group such as the fashion conglomerate LVMH and the luxury brands like Swatch group and Richmont. Nevertheless, Glycine received much support from the Invicta group that has set it on the path to success for many decades. And if anyone was expecting the Swiss manufacturer to have a slapdash attitude and approach in its concept of sports watches, that will be an erroneous assumption.
Lastly, Glycine’s classic diver form drew inspiration from the past and was reinterpreted to be made relevant for modern watch collectors. As a result, the entire Combat SUB reworked and updated the brand’s 60s diver ethos to cater to the preferences of many watch enthusiasts today. This intriguing mix of Glycine’s rich history and dynamic innovations today is branded as the hallmark of this renowned brand.
(2020 Combat SUB Vintage Macaw Ref. GL0262)
Over the past two decades, the Combat SUB has grown from a handful of no-frills, ETA-powered, 42mm dive watches, to an entire collection named the new Combat SUB Vintage, with many new iterations and a few sub-series consisting of sporty blackout variants, elegant bi-tone versions and timepieces with the coveted “explorer” dials in different colors and materials. Through this contemporary collection that sets itself apart from the Airmans and field-watches that Glycine is known for, the Combat SUB gained recognition for its stunning designs that captures the brand’s spirit aptly.
Despite changing hands a couple of times, this Swiss watch brand has always stayed true to what it stands for and has improved through improvisation and by enhancing its founding principles. The design and innovation of its timepieces have reflected its roots even till today with the consistent production of sleek well executed sports watches that are considered rugged, vintage military pieces simultaneously. Watch this space for more creative and aesthetic breakthroughs in the Combat and Airman lines as they bring us all the glamour and finesse of the brand with more than a century of watchmaking expertise under its belt. The Combat SUB best captures the mix of old and new horology in dive watch horology which makes it stand out from other collections that often overshadow it. A truly magnificent addition to the Combat SUB collection, this new line concocts a blend of its past and present to showcase remarkable, purposeful timepieces that will be the new favourites of horologists from all walks of life.