When Shane, the founder of WATCHA, first offered me the opportunity to review the Isotope Goutte d’Eau Nordblad “Special Edition,” I actually jumped at the opportunity (well not literally, that would come later…). Honestly, I was drawn to it right from the start for the simple fact I saw two crowns, so I knew, at a minimum, this was something a little out of the norm.
I knew nothing of the brand, their story, or what Goutte d’Eau meant let alone what “Nordblad” referred to on the dial. All I knew was I had in my hand a lovely stainless steel cushion-shape cased watch with squared-off lugs, sandwich dial, two crowns, and what seemed initially to be a rather fussy rehaut/chapter ring. Casually turning the watch over revealed a case back with a lovely engraving of what appeared to be a mermaid. Flipping it once again I saw in small light blue print that the watch was rated to 200m, what a few of my friends consider the minimum for taking a watch to the pool (overkill I know), or more likely in my case, testing it to the rigors of one of the many natural spas when we’re visiting Hungary.
Once the initial impressions are taken in like the matte black dial, and the light blue second hands, the other features of the watch start coming into focus. The dial is anchored with a large “12”. Below that is Isotope’s logo and then the name of this model of watch, “Goutte d’Eau”, which it turns out is French for water drop. The dial has a subtle teardrop depression, which the “12” resides in but the recessed drop extends almost down to 6 o’clock. I love this feature as it makes the watch more interesting without distracting from telling the time. The teardrop motif is also seen in the lume cutouts at 3, 6, and 9 o’clock as well as the upper crown. Speaking of that crown, it has a small blue filled water drop on it which hints at its function, it controls the rotating inner bezel. I really like this complication, because it leads to a cleaner designed watch, without a bulky external bezel. Having the bezel internal to the case permits the crystal to be larger, and you don’t have a gap running around your watch that can collect dust and debris. The downside with inner bezels operated by a crown is they can be tricky to operate when the watch is already strapped to your wrist. Having the crown at 2 o’clock definitely helps in being able to work the timing bezel. I have a watch in my collection which has the inner bezel crown that operates the at 3 o’clock which is nearly impossible to operate with the watch strapped on. With the case shape being a cushion, I think overall this inner bezel design was the right design decision. As most owners won’t be using this to time their dives (I’m a big fan of timing bezels for tracking parking meters), the watch must look good on its own and with a simple black leather strap, the watch dresses up easily enough. The crown for setting the time is at 4 o’clock, which balances out the right-side of the case. This thoughtful placement of both crowns also prevents any crown marks on your wrist. For me the last detail that revealed itself was the markings on the rotating bezel from 0 to 15 are in light blue as well, the rest are in white.
While the outside of the watch was thoughtfully designed, I’m pleased to say the inside was as well. There are two automatic movement choices available, the Seiko NH35a or Swiss-made Sellita SW200-1. Both are well known and can be worked on by any competent watchmaker. In addition to the movement choices available, both are available with or without date. My review piece was the no-date variety with the Seiko movement. The whole time I’ve had it I haven’t noticed in large swings in accuracy and personally I prefer the no-date dial as the sandwich dial with the unique lume cutouts is enough to hold my interest. The final decision is if you want the “Nordblad” special edition with its light blue accents or the regular edition with its orange second hand.
So who or what is “Nordblad”, that Scandinavian sounding word printed on the dial just below the center of the dial? It refers to none other than Johanna Nordblad, the Finnish freediver and a pioneer in cold water freediving. Remember that mermaid on the back of the case? That’s actually her, and that tail, is a fish tail, but her large monofin commonly used by freedivers. She holds the current Guinness World Record for “longest swim under ice, breath held by a female”.
Her record was set in 2015 by swimming 50 meters under ice wearing a normal swimsuit, without supplemental oxygen, and without even fins! This year, she plans an attempt to break the men’s world record of 76.2 meters under ice, by swimming a whopping 81m! Unbeknownst to Shane, when he shared the watch with me, I’m actually a casual observer/fan of freediving. There’s a simplicity to it, like running, where there’s not a lot of equipment required. It’s really all about one person challenging their body and channelling their fear. I’ve seen a lot of personally moving videos highlighting freediving, these two here and here are entertaining ones for anyone interested in learning more. From learning about Johanna, I discovered a wonderful video about her from three years ago which is now also in my bookmarks; I’ve already watched half a dozen times. Seeing her under the ice really gets my heart rate up; check it out below. And all those light blue accents are referred to by Isotope as “ice blue” accents, another nod to Nordblad.
I will never be testing the watch like Nordblad would in the murky depths under ice. Instead, I decided to seek out the most punishing environment I could find, which turned out was the neighborhood “bounce house” or trampoline park, filled with over 100 children, pumping music, and sugary snacks. Surely, if the Goutte d’Eau can handle this it can handle anything. You’ll notice all my pictures were of the watch on a simple black NATO strap. I wanted to wear the Goutte d’Eau how I would wear it in the real world, which for me usually means a simple black or grey NATO strap, especially since I had visions of the watch flying off my wrist into some foam pit at the bounce house, never to be seen or heard from again. Thankfully, that never happened. Isotope planned for potential owners wanting to have some choices of how to wear it, since it comes with a grey and light blue NATO strap, a black rubber strap with a pre-V pin buckle, and a solid link bracelet. The bracelet is really well done and flows perfectly into the case. There’s no taper with the bracelet, so when it’s being worn, it really feels robust.
The watch held up just fine in this environment and unplanned, matched the color scheme of the place to a tee. Having to make ongoing quick glances to see how much paid time was left before we would have leave and with the lighting sub-optimal, the Goutte d’Eau performed flawlessly. It’s legibility was more than adequate and in the final half hour I used the rotating inner bezel to start the countdown to when the insanity would finally end.
With the short lugs, the watch is only 44mm tall by 40mm wide, I found it exceptionally easy to wear. Even with the added thickness of a NATO strap, the watch didn’t feel too tall (the height is 13.3mm). The lug width is a standard 22mm so you can also let your imagination run wild with alternatives. For future owners, I think the watch would look lovely and worth the investment in an ISOfrane strap if you’re so inclined.
A couple of finer points I would feel remiss for not mentioning; my watch came in a really nice green felt watch roll that could happily accompany me and three watches to local watch collector get togethers. It also came with a smaller individual green felt pouch. On Isotope’s website they show a similar setup with a brown roll-up. I really appreciate this pivot by watch brands to slowly minimize or do away with altogether large watch boxes; they just take up space and never get used. Having something like a watch roll for the watch to be delivered in can absolutely serve a purpose beyond the initial “unboxing”.
So is Isotope’s Nordblad “Special Edition” worth their asking price? For a 200m rated dive watch with an inner rotating bezel and a design that is far from ordinary with a solid mechanical movement, I say “Joo” (Finnish for yes).
Specifications and Features:
- Brushed case, 316L stainless steel
- Case diameter 40mm X 44mm (with lugs)
- Height 13.3mm (with NH35a or SW200-1 calibers)
- Exhibition screw-down case back (Orange edition)
- Stainless steel screw-down case back (Nordblad edition)
- Anti-reflective sapphire crystal
- One crown with 4 gaskets at 2 o’clock for the inner bezel and one screw-down crown at 4 o’clock to adjust the time
- Hands, bezel and sandwich dial with Super-LumiNova® BGW9
- 22 mm brushed Isotope Tread Bracelet and extension clasp in 316L stainless steel
- Water-resistance 200m / 20 atm / 656 ft
- Choice of movement: Automatic, self-winding Japanese caliber Seiko NH35a or Swiss caliber Sellita SW200-1
- Price: $450.70 as tested
To learn more about Isotope Watches, visit them online at: http://isotopewatches.com/