Glycine Combat Subaqua-11, 3863.196N V-1

Glycine are a lesser-known brand, although the company was founded as long ago as 1914 by the distinguished horologist Eugène Meylan. Initially a designer of miniature movements for ladies’ watches and automatic dress watches for men, Meylan later devised models for military issue, his most famous contribution to this genre being the Airman series (1953 onwards). Following the Swiss watch crisis of the 1970s, Glycine was acquired in 1984 by Hans Brechbühler who initially oversaw production of quartz models. Aided by his daughter Katherina, mechanicals were re-introduced into the catalogue during the  ‘Phoenix era’ of the 1990s. Glycine did not, however, return to producing innovative movements in the manner of Meylan. Instead, Brechbühler followed other Swiss manufacturers and relied on ébauches.  Today, the company concentrates on a limited range of automatic models but offers them in a variety of different designs. The Airman and Combat (first produced in 1967) are revivals of older ranges;  Incursore (1998) and Lagunare (2003) are two new additions. Altus Uhren Holding AG  (CEO Stephan Lack) acquired Glycine in 2011 and at the present time (2014), total output is around 6,000 pieces per year. Relatively modest production runs help to sustain excellent build quality.  All Glycines carry serial numbers, this piece’s unique identifier being  #137,908.

In contrast to the Omega and Zenith in-house calibers, the 3863 series utilises a 25-jewel ébauche automatic movement. The English translation of ébauche is ‘blank’. The ETA 2824-2 and the ETA 2892 are the most widely used examples. ETA is a reference to Eterna, which founded one branch of the amalgam of ébauche producers whose complex history of mergers eventually resulted in a single company that is now a subsidiary of the Swatch Group. Owing to its dominant market share, ETA is currently obliged by Swiss anti-trust law to provide basic movements to independent manufactures, although this requirement is steadily being relaxed, enabling the company to restrict access to its ébauches  over time to preferential clients.

The Glycine Combat Subaqua employs the ETA 2824-2. This highly dependable movement is often described as ‘un tracteur’ (literally  ‘tractor’  but  better translated as ‘workhorse’). It is assembled and finished to different standards within the watch-making industry. There are four grades, classified according to the quality of materials used and (particularly at the higher end) on the degree of testing and regulation undertaken. In order of quality, the grades are: Standard (B), Élaboré (A), Top (A+), and Chronometer. Glycine’s execution is Élaboré. The specification includes a rhodium coated main plate and oscillating weight with ball bearing races. Rhodium is more durable than nickel and resistant to tarnishing; it is also an expensive material not found at B-grade. The movement, which Glycine prefer to call the ‘GL 224’,   carries ‘Côtes de Genève’  decorations (literally, Geneva bars or stripes: a series of wave-like etchings on a finely polished surface)  and is engraved with the company’s crown logo.

An Élaboré grade is regulated in three positions (dial up,  crown up, and 12 o’clock down) to stricter tolerance than standard, which is only regulated at two. For a high-beat caliber (frequency 28,800 bpm), three-position regulation is a guarantee of accuracy of 5-7 seconds per day worn on the left wrist, provided the movement is properly oiled and cleaned.  Time-keeping features little deviation according to the position the watch is in. Glycine also offer incabloc regular shock protection as an upgrade over the novodiac system. All 2824-2 movements are hackable (meaning the second hand can be stopped when setting the time) and utilise direct second hand drive,  preventing wrist movements from interfering with the watch’s running. The power reserve, at 38 hours, is only moderate and the watch needs daily wear to maintain performance. Nevertheless, the movement benefits from a ball-bearing mounted rotor that boosts the efficiency with which the strong main spring is wound, compensating for the power reserve constraint.

The Glycine Combat Subaqua-11 is one of the best-value dive or tool watches currently available at the price point. ‘Combat’ is a reference to Glycine’s history as a preferred supplier of pieces to police and armed forces capable of withstanding exacting conditions of wear and use. ‘Subaqua’ indictates that the watch is pressure tested to remain water-resistant at depths of up to 200 meters (20 ATM, diving depth). Drilled and curved lugs mesh well with the SS SEL (sold end links) bracelet, which has a double-lock, push-button deployment clasp signed with the Glycine crown.  Polished and brushed SS case 42mm in diameter (47mm including the crown) but with a thickness of only 10.6mm, giving the watch a streamlined appearance. SS screw-on solid caseback engraved with the Glycine twin-dolphin subaqua logo.  Uni-directional, 60-click ratcheted, rotating milled-edge bezel, iterated to the first 15 minutes and with a black aluminium insert. Matt black dial with faint yellow hour dots and two sets of small white and deep orange Arabic numerals circling the inner (hour) and outer (seconds) tracks.

Many realisations of the Combat Subaqua are available but the 3863.196 version presents an attractive, uncluttered face – a common feature of all my watches.  The lay-out, with deep orange hour counter unusually commencing at 13, evokes the famous Heuer 844 Monnin mid-1970s diver, distancing the model from cruder homages to the Rolex submariner. Quick-set date window at 3pm with rapid date adjustment. White hour and minute hands with sweep white second hand  spanning the full width of the dial, permitting easy reading of the second counters. Screened Super LumiNova coating on all hands, hour markers, and bezel pip. Super LumiNova is a phosphorescent pigment, produced from strontium aluminova, and activated by either sunlight or artificial light. Unlike tritium, the after-glow effect is repeatable over time with no loss of efficiency. Luminosity, however, is not permanent: brightness levels fall below that of tritium within 45 minutes and legibility ceases after 8 or 9 hours. Screw-down over-size crown and guards with serrated edge and Glycine logo. Scratch-resistant sapphire flat glass crystal, flush with the bezel.

An ETA 2824-2 in a 42mm stainless steel case is a classic ‘poor man’s watch’. Glycine do a far better job, however, than most other manufacturers of this combination. The brand carries very low marketing costs and cannot be found in high street jewellers, who prefer to stock products with stronger brand awareness and more lucrative margins. The only snag to report is a broken pin causing the fold-over clasp to detach itself. Although this was easily fixed it draws attention to the over-complicated fastening mechanism. A few Glycine combat sub owners have also complained about a misaligned bezel pip but this was not a problem I encountered.

This very robust performer stays on the wrist in the gym or when our running. A flexible piece, it can be worn equally well with either black tie or T-shirt and shorts on a sandy beach.