The Rolex Submariner is one of the most popular watches in the world.
Its classic and timeless design combined with the ruggedness and toughness of a true tool watch made it highly sought after.
For a while, it was my grail – my perfect one watch collection. If I could’ve traded the rest of my humble watch collection for it, I absolutely would’ve in a heartbeat.
In an attempt to curb my curiosity, and to see if the Sub was right for me, I began to research some Rolex Submariner homages.
While there are many Submariner homages on the market, one in particular, struck my eye (and my wallet).
Steinhart, A German brand that uses high-tier swiss movements, even in their relatively affordable mid-range watches. I was intrigued and couldn’t resist ordering one.
In today’s review, I’ll be reviewing the Steinhart Ocean 39 Black Ceramic limited edition.
Introducing… The Steinhart Ocean 39.
If you’re like me and have owned a few entry-level mechanical watches, you probably have started to think about potentially investing in a higher-end luxury watch. Perhaps even your “grail” watch.
But you’ve also likely considered – how much better would it really be? Is it really worth the money?
Well, I don’t have the answer to that question.
But what I can tell you is after owning a few entry-level mechanical watches like Seiko 5s, the SKX, the Orient Bambino, and a few others, none of them compared to the shock factor that hit me when I unboxed this just slightly more expensive Steinhart Ocean 39.
The improvements in build quality and construction immediately stuck out to me like a sore thumb.
- Ceramic bezel; glossy and sleek.
- The anti-reflective coated crystal; crystal clear.
- Bracelet; solid and hefty.
- Cyclops; perfectly aligned.
- And the second-hand sweep…
That buttery-smooth second-hand sweep (8 ticks a second) took my breath away. More about that later.
I finally understood what spending a few more dollars could get you in the world of watches.
Not-So Original Design
We all know the Steinhart Ocean 39 is very closely homaging (paying tribute to) the Rolex Submariner. It gets absolutely no points for originality.
However, it is completely unapologetic about this and does subtly change a few subtle design queues that very much change the look and feel.
- The ceramic bezel insert is marked instead of engraved.
- This is typical on aluminum bezels, like that we see on older Submariner models, or even the Seiko SKX. This is, however, unusual for a ceramic bezel, and gives the watch a cleaner, almost dressier look.
- 39mm diameter.
- While Rolex has done Submariners in both 36mm and 40mm, the 39mm diameter of this Steinhart wears very beautifully on my 7″ wrists, as I assume it would on most.
That’s about where the differences compared to the Submariner end.
The Ocean 39 has a black dial that can appear like a stark glossy black in most lighting conditions. This can be deceiving, however, as direct lighting will reveal an actually matte black dial that appears almost pebbled/textured dark grey.
The hour markings are very reminiscent of the Sub, featuring bold, embossed, and lume dots everywhere except the 3, 6, 9, and 12 positions.
It has mercedes hands and a date wheel with a cyclops at 3 o’clock that is centered near-perfectly around the date wheel.
The design comes together to make a simple and clean look. It is a bit refined and toolish at the same time. You could easily wear this with a suit, or at the beach. This is one of the reasons the Sub is so sought after in the first place.
Case, Fit & Finish
The case is a very compact one that allows the watch to wear beautifully on just about any wrist.
You can see how it wears on my 7″ wrist here.
The finishing is that of a deep brushing that is done surprisingly well for a watch in this price range.
A brushed finish is slightly more subtle than a polished finish, but hides scratches much easier, as they can sometimes blend with the brushing. You can always re-brush it if you need to, to get rid of the scratches completely.
But I say scratches are a sign of character!
How Does It Wear?
The case is an all 316L, stainless steel brushed along the top and polished on the sides.
The edges of the case are ever so slightly rounded, so as not to feel sharp when you run your fingers over it.
I feel the distinction where the top and sides of the case could be just a tad more pronounced and geometric.
The diameter of the case flares out toward the case back just a bit. Maybe 1-2mm or so. This makes the watch wear even slightly smaller than its 39mm diameter would suggest, as the top of the case is technically slightly smaller, especially around the lugs.
Speaking of lugs, the lug to lugs distance is a relatively condensed 47mm. They likely won’t hang over your wrists unless they’re extremely slender.
The case back is solid stainless steel with an inscribed seahorse logo. It’s a cool looking inscription, and it’s done well, but personally, I prefer display case backs. Especially when you have a movement as cool as the swiss ETA2824-2.
Dimensions & Weight
- Lug width: 20mm
- Thickness: 12mm
- Lug to lug: 47mm
- Bracelet: 20mm tapering to 16mm
Solid Oyster Bracelet
The bracelet is a huge step up from many other watches in this price range. It is hefty and has a solid weight to it.
Wearing it feels like you’re wearing something of substance – something that many entry-level watches tend to lack, and no amount of pictures or videos can do justice.
I absolutely adore my Seiko 5s, but their included bracelets feel like paper compared to the Steinhart.
The bracelet is solid throughout, even on the end links, another sign of quality.
The end links are fitted to the case perfectly. The machining on this watch is extremely well done.
The bracelet starts at 20mm at the lugs, and tapers to a refined 16mm that just drapes along your wrist ever so comfortably.
Without a taper, a bracelet can feel clunky and pinch your skin when you go to move your wrist. This alleviates that completely, and I wish more brands would implement such a taper.
The included clasp was just okay. It’s not bad by any means, but it doesn’t have a push-button deployment. It’s friction-based, and locks into place tightly. It can be a bit of a struggle to unbuckle it, as it does take a bit of force.
Because of this, I much prefer deployment buckles that unbuckle via a button mechanism. I’ve replaced the stock Steinhart buckle with a third party buckle from Strapcode.
If you want to replace your buckle, make sure it is 16mm at both ends. You also might need to order an additional 16mm end link from Steinhart, as only one of the ends of the bracelet is 16mm. The other is smaller, but the stock clasp compensates.
Steinhart also offers a completely brushed jubilee bracelet for this watch, but the standard oyster bracelet is my preferred look.
300M (1000ft) Water Resistance – A True Dive Watch
The Steinhart Ocean 39 is rated to a very impressive 300m (1000ft.) water resistance.
This means that technically, assuming everything in the watch is working correctly, you can submerge the watch up to a maximum of 300m water, and it will still function.
A professionally rated dive watch (for professional divers) can have a water resistance rating of 200m (600ft) and still be perfectly suitable for divers.
The Ocean 39 is quite impressive in this regard.
Coin-Edge Bezel & Ceramic Insert
The coin edge bezel, yet another design queue basically ripped straight from the Rolex Submariner is done surprisingly well here.
It’s all polished, which adds a nice touch of bling when the light hits the grooves and notches of the bezel.
This adds some much-needed contrast and “pop” to an otherwise somewhat subdued watch.
The grooves are deep and machined well. The texture is somewhat grippy, but due to the sloped and somewhat thin nature of the bezel, it can be a bit hard to grip, as there isn’t much depth between the bezel and case.
Once you do get a grip, however, turning the bezel is clicky and satisfying, as all good dive bezels should be. You’re met with just the right amount of resistance, and each click aligns with the markers on the watch near perfectly.
That’s some great quality control right there. Even Seiko has a hard time getting that right with watches in this price range.
The insert on the Black Ceramic model is quite unique. It’s a very glossy black, with silver markings.
Since this model was a Gnomon Watches limited edition, you might have a hard time finding this exact one with this bezel insert. Typically you’ll find most Ocean 39 ceramic models have engraved markings – which does not. A minor change that subtly changes the look and feel of the watch.
ETA2824-2 Swiss Movement
One of the most important things about any watch is always the movement. What’s the point of having an amazing looking watch if it runs terribly?
Luckily, the Ocean 39 runs on an impressive ETA2824-2, a swiss-made automatic movement with a few awesome specs.
- 28,800 BPH (8 ticks per second)
- Hacking and hand-winding
- +/- 12 seconds per day.
- 38-hour power reserve
As you can see, this movement is no joke. It’s a swiss workhorse and is even used in some higher-end, more expensive watches such as the Tudor Black Bay, Hamilton Khaki Field, and Sinn 556.
It also has an incabloc shock protection and is said to be rather durable.
Sapphire Crystal with Blue Anti-Reflective Coating
The crystal is a sapphire crystal with a blue anti-reflective coating.
This crystal is clear as day, one of the things I love about this watch.
In most lighting conditions, you see the dial through the crystal perfectly. In the right lighting, without any reflections, it can almost look like there’s no crystal on this watch at all.
Strap Options and Bracelet Choices
Like the Submariner this watch is based on, the Ocean 39 is extremely versatile when it comes to strap choices.
I’m sure just about any strap would look half-decent on this watch, so here are a few of my favorite straps/bracelets to wear on my Steinhart Ocean 39.
Stock Oyster Bracelet
Yes, this is not a strap, but the bracelet is really that good. You don’t even need to get another strap for this watch if you don’t want to.
The stock bracelet is extremely versatile and can easily be worn with a suit, while also being waterproof and rugged enough to wear on any adventure, including taking a dip in the pool or ocean.
Brown or Black Vintage Leather Strap
A brown or black vintage leather strap is the “classic-cool” look. Cool way to dress up the watch just a bit, while maintaining the rugged look.
Black Crocodile with White Contrast Stitching
A black crocodile strap with white contrast stitching is my staple strap option on any monochrome watch and a personal favorite.
The crocodile pattern gives just enough texture to the strap to make it interesting, and contrasting white stitching adds a pop of sportiness.
This is the perfect combination of dress and sport on a watch that embodies it perfectly.
Be careful to avoid getting this strap wet, though. Despite the fact that crocodiles are known to swim, leather + water do not mix well!
Bond NATO Strap (Or Any Other Colorway)
James Bond wore his Submariner on a black/green/red nato strap.
Ever since, this strap colorway has since been dubbed the “Bond” nato.
Since the watch is so monotone, just about any color can work. Grey, Black, or a modern bond (grey and black stripes) can look just as awesome.
NATO straps are also water resistant, and are pulled along both springbars at the same time. This means your Steinhart will not fall off your wrist, even if one of the springbars fail.
They can also be washed in the washing machine (carefully).
Great for athletic activities.
Black Rubber Dive Strap
It’s a dive watch, after all, so a rubber strap is of course very appropriate. I will admit, the sporty nature of a rubber strap does conflict just a bit with the glossy (and slightly dressy) ceramic bezel insert, but as long as you choose a relatively simple and clean rubber strap, like a Bonetto Cinturini, it can certainly fit.
Similar to black rubber, sailcloth is a great summery option for aquatic activities. A sailcloth watch strap is water-resistant, dries quickly, and is more than capable of some fun in the sun, ocean, or pool.
BGW9 Superluminova Lume
The lume is a relatively strong, blue BGW9 Superluminova Lume.
Lume is what gives the watch a “glow in the dark” effect.
It is charged up in the sunlight, or any direct light, and helps illuminate the watch in the dark.
This can be useful in a dimly-lit environment, at night, or if you’re actually using this in the ocean, as a true dive watch, which this watch is more than capable of.
Other Submariner Homages
Considering the Submariner is one of the most popular watches in the world, it’s also one of the most homaged. That means there are plenty of alternatives to the Ocean 39 to consider.
A few other homages I’ve owned or considered that are roughly within this price range are:
Invicta Pro Diver 8926OB
The Invcita Pro Diver was one of my first mechanical watches ever.
It’s a fine watch for the money, but the quality vs the Ocean 39 is night and day.
With the additions of sapphire crystal, solid construction, and a swiss movement, the Ocean 39 is the clear winner.
That doesn’t mean the Pro Diver is all bad, though. It includes a Seiko NH35A movement and 200m water resistance.
You actually get a lot for the money.
If you’re looking for a much cheaper alternative to the Submariner, the Pro Diver might be a better option – but the Steinhart will be a step up in quality.
The Pro Diver is much cheaper, . You get what you pay for.
The Phoibos PY007C used to be the king of the “affordable Submariner homage” market.
It’s still a good value for the dollar. Sapphire crystal, ceramic bezel, and somewhat impressive Miyota 9015 movement.
Still though, it has a hard time competing with the Swiss workhorse ETA 2824-2 of the Steinhart Ocean 39.
Also, there have been complaints about the stock Phoibos bracelet not feeling as comfortable. It’s possible this might be due to the lack of tapering that the Steinhart provides.
While I haven’t had the opportunity to test the Phoibos myself first-hand (though I would love to), I still think it’s a decent option, if you’re looking for something a little more affordable, and are willing to sacrifice a bit of build quality.
While Orient’s lineup of divers don’t imitate the Submariner design as closely as some other watches I’ve mentioned here, this level of originality might actually be a plus for some.
If you want a watch with Submariner vibes that doesn’t completely homage the watch – the Orient lineup might be for you.
Featuring an in-house movement, sturdy build, and a 200m water resistance, the Orient Ray, Mako and Kamsu (their newest diver) are excellent workhorses.
I’d definitely recommend either of these three if you want to opt for something more original, but still awesome. (And affordable)
Steinhart Ocean 39 Pros and Cons
- Amazing value for money.
- Swiss movement.
- A solid bracelet I think anyone would be happy with. Tapers nicely.
- Anti-reflective sapphire crystal is crystal clear.
- Looks great on just about any strap.
- Dress it up or wear it casually. Extremely versatile.
- The stock buckle is friction-based. You need to order an extra 16mm end link to add a replacement.
- The bezel can be hard to grip due to how thin it is.
- Unoriginal design.
- No see-through case back. (Personal preference)
- Black Ceramic Gnomon Limited Edition can be hard to find.
The Steinhart Ocean 39 is an excellent Rolex Submariner homage for the money.
It’s a well-built watch that uses a highly-regarded movement and has all of the specs and build quality you’d expect in watches that cost over $1,000.
Except it doesn’t cost nearly as much.
If you want to try out the design of the Rolex Submariner on the cheap, or just want a really great watch for this price range, I can confidently say you won’t be disappointed with the Steinhart Ocean 39.