“Submarine portholes, deep-sea dive helmets, race car gauges, adrenaline…. This is the inspiration behind the design of the NFW Regulator (named for the piece of scuba diving apparatus)”.  This is the first thing you read when you pull up the NFW Regulator website.  The design intent certainly came across in the aesthetic appeal of the finished product.  The round, studded “porthole” looks like it would be right at home in any of the many ships I’ve spent time aboard, dating back to my childhood.  The gauges look ripped straight from the dash of a gas-guzzling, steely thunderhorse.  The looks are spot on, but is it useless bling or does the performance match the visual?

Let’s break down the stats before we get to my experience with the Regulator.  As per NFW’s site:

  • Case:  44mm, forged 316L stainless steel, bead-blasted, Gunmetal Gray ionic plated
  • Water Resistance:  200 Meters / 660 Feet
  • Movement:  Citizen Precision Quartz chronograph with quick-set date
  • Crystal:  Hardened mineral crystal, anti-reflective coating on inside
  • Lume:  C3 Green SuperLuminova
  • Dial: Circular brushed silver with silver subdials
  • Bracelet:  Bead-blasted, Gunmetal Gray ionic plated stainless steel with double-locking deployment clasp
  • Bracelet Attachment:  Screwbars, 10 times stronger than standard spring bars

Out of the gate, I want to admit:  I usually love good dive watches.  I started diving almost twenty years ago, and come from a family of divers with a ton of underwater experience ranging from recreational, commercial salvage and commercial dive fisheries (sea cucumbers).  Spending time at one hundred feet below the surface of the Pacific ocean during an Alaskan winter is an experience both personally satisfying, and immensely strenuous on equipment.  The tremendous pressure of the frigid water, the corrosive salt-water environment and the terrifically abrasive sand/silt/rocky bottom of the sea routinely combine to reduce expensive gear to tatters.  A piece of equipment that can hold up there can hold up just about anywhere.

So when looking for tough gear, look for the extra layers of protection.  Stainless steel is great at resisting corrosion, but when you add ionic plating (through which a thin surface layer of ultra-tough titanium nitride is added) ensures the case and bracelet are made to last.  One small but noteworthy design feature I’ve seen on high-dollar watches lately is the addition of screwbars holding the bracelet to the case.  Far stronger than the usual spring pins which I routinely break, and much easier to remove if you want to swap watch bands.  Likewise, when the water resistance is overbuilt to a depth pressure far beyond a reasonable expectation, you can tell NFW is planning for success rather than praying to avoid failure.  660 feet underwater?  At 200 feet of depth, you’re blowing through dive tanks and bottom time in a hurry.

NFW Regulator: Captain America's dive watch
Locking clasp prevents accidental loosening

One interesting design feature of the Regulator is it’s subjugation of the 60-second hand to the chronograph (stopwatch).  The 60-second hand is one of the three small “race gauges” inset of the main face.  The long red hand is for the chronograph, as are the other two inset gauges, the minute dial and hour dial.  Hit the top right button and you start a mechanical 12-hour timer.  Hit it again to stop.  Hit the bottom right button and all the chronograph dials whirl back to top dead center.  It’s easy to use and much easier to keep track of than a spinning bezel.

NFW Regulator: Captain America's dive watch
Precision time, with colors that pop

Given that I never rebuilt my dive gear after my final year of commercial cucumber diving, I’m not testing the NFW Regulator undersea (sadly).  Instead, I’m opting for the next toughest test, one which combines extreme temperature with pressure.  For those of you who have studied physics, you may remember that as water freezes, it expands.  This is why ice floats (less dense than water), and why beers split if left in the freezer.  For a watch, it means a serious test of the waterproofing as the ice slowly crushes into the watch, testing its seals.

After months of uneventful normal wear and usage, I set the freezer to 0°F and gave NFW’s Regulator the Captain America treatment.  I tossed it into a ziploc bag, totally submerging the watch underwater.  After four days of resting on the rocks, I pulled it out to check it.  You can see in the video below, the second hand is still ticking away happily, and the time still matches up to my cell phone (which updates via GPS to the Atomic Clock in Boulder, CO).  I tossed it back for more ice-time over Super Bowl weekend, then decided to give the Regulator the thaw.  Check out the un-icing of the Regulator:

Runs like a champ.  Comfortable.  Avoids accidental button presses via a bent wrist (a la pushup position).  Tough enough to take your abuse and keep precision time.  After all the function, keeps stylish form as well.  The NFW Regulator is a serious contender and still comes in at a reasonable $349.  Check it out!

Rex Nanorum