Conceptualizing and Crafting our Subs: Behind the Scenes

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Are you curious about the thought that goes into the design and build of the NTH Subs? Here is Q&A I put together for one of our retailers, educating him on our thinking and process for conceptualizing and crafting our Subs. I figured this would also be a good read for anyone considering buying an NTH Sub. After all, you’re buying our creativity and hard work; a robust timepiece at a good value, right?

So what’s the big deal?

Q: In broad-strokes, what’s the big idea behind the NTH Subs?

A: For years, friends and customers had been suggesting we do an homage to the “RolSub”, particularly the Military-issue Submariner (“MilSub”) style issued by the British MOD, but I had stubbornly resisted. My thinking was that this type of watch had been endlessly emulated already, and there wasn’t much left to do with the genre.

When I asked what was missing in the existing crop of homages, the recurring complaints I heard included too big, too thick, too expensive, too cheap/low quality, too rare, not close enough in the “right” details, hands are too short, lugs are too flat, and probably some other complaints I’m forgetting.

The customers I spoke to really wanted something which combined the best attributes of dive watches produced from the mid-1950’s to mid-1970’s, in a very wearable size, even better if it was ultra-thin, but with modern specs and reliability, and all at an affordable price.

Thus, the mission statement for the NTH Subs’ design was born – 40mm diameter, 48mm downward-curved lugs, as thin as we could make it with 300m WR and a nice organic shape, rugged and reliable, a nice mix of those ‘50’s-70’s style cues, and as inexpensive as we could make it.

What we came up with is what you see – a 40mm “big-crown”, no crown-guards, chamfered case reminiscent of the ref. 6538, just 11.5mm thick (even with the double-domed sapphire crystal), no-nonsense case-back, virtually indestructible steel bezel, killer lume, a non-fussy bracelet, and a variety of styles.

Q: Why aren't there elaborate engravings on the caseback?

A: Because none belong there. Look at the original military-issue submariners. You won’t find any fussy, overly ornate case-back designs.

These were watches made for combat divers. I was fortunate to have spent some time with a team of combat divers during my time in the Army, and I imagine they would have guffawed at the over-the-top designs you see adorning the backs of most diving watches today.  

Q: Why stainless steel bezel inserts, rather than the more de rigueur ceramic or sapphire?

A: Although ceramic and sapphire are harder to scratch, ceramic and sapphire can chip, or worse, shatter. A chipped or shattered insert is harder to live with than a scratched or dented insert.

When those ceramic or sapphire inserts chip or shatter, they are more expensive for customers to replace. In the case of sapphire inserts, they can’t be replaced at all, and so the entire bezel assembly needs to be replaced (the insert, plus the underlying steel housing).

Our stainless steel inserts are treated with the highest-grade (thickest application) of PVD/DLC. What they give up to ceramic or sapphire in scratch resistance, they make up for by being virtually impossible to break. We’ve had to replace very, very few, and I believe those customers who’ve needed replacements appreciate the more modest cost.

Q: Why the lumed crown?

A: Why not? Sure, it’s a gimmick with no function, but people like it. Prior to the NTH Subs, we’d only seen one other company doing lumed crown logos, so we wanted to give it a shot. Unlike every other brand now doing lumed crowns, we use a special-recipe mix of lume pigments, such that our crown engravings merely appear metallic gray in the light, rather than white. I like to think it’s a nice surprise for anyone who doesn’t realize our crowns are lumed.

 

Lume

Q: How is the bracelet improved on the new Subs?

A: The most recognizable difference at a glance is the new clasp. The old one wasn’t “bad”, per se, but I guess it was a bit pedestrian, and some felt it was a letdown given how good the Subs are otherwise

NTH Sub Bracelet

The original bracelet had an oyster style, with c-shaped links and center-sections offset from the outer sections (rather than centered between them). We re-shaped the links’ profiles to be ovoid, trimmed 1mm off their overall length (shorter links generally equal greater comfort), and re-positioned the center-sections, so that rather than all three links moving together as a single piece, only pivoting at one end, now the center links can move independently at both ends, which makes for much better articulation, and more comfort.

Q: What are some of the unique features of the NTH Subs’ designs?

A: With each version, we try to add something, even if it’s one little thing, to make them “different” in some way.

It could be the “waffle” texture dial in the Oberon or Santa Cruz, the lumed minute marks of the Scorpène and the modern versions of the Näckens, the “sandpaper” dials of the vintage versions of some models, the full-lume/rice-paper texture of the Näcken Vintage White, a sunburst dial texture like on the Dolphins, the vertical brushing and color-fade (what some call “fumé”) of the Näcken Renegade. They’re all inspired by something else, but we wanted to make sure we gave each something to differentiate it from anything else.

NTH OberonNTH Santa Fe

Q: What other Subs versions can we expect in the future?

A: We’ll likely try to bring back whichever models seem most in demand, and also keep adding new designs. If you look at the range, it’s somewhat obvious where we can go – take a model with a black dial, and make a blue version, as an example. That’s 4-6 new versions right there.

We just did a special project for some guys on a forum, who wanted a vintage-style negative-relief gilt dial. It’s a dial-making technique not seen much anymore, I guess because the technique is difficult for dial makers to execute effectively. Rather than printing text and markers on top of a base dial color (gold print on black base), the base color is printed with negative space, allowing the underlying dial plate to shine through. Instead of “gold” printed text and minute markers, you get a brilliant reflective surface shining through an inky-black dial.

 

When the dial catches the light, the effect is stunning, and the guys who bought the Carolina seem quite pleased with them. As such, we plan to make more models with gilt-relief dials in the near future.

 

Aside from all that, we’ll continue to do special versions as store-exclusives for our retail partners, and perhaps look to collaborate on some other projects. We’re cooking up something a bit different for a reveal early next year.



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