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In 2015 the trend of neo-vintage watches was still in its infancy. Watches inspired by the 60s are still rare and they are often divers. We think in particular of the Tudor Black Bay or the Oris Diver 65, pioneers in the field. That year, another brand, more confidential, made a strong comeback by bringing a real tool watch from the seabed: the ZRC Grands Fonds 300.
This watch we were telling you about at the time was a real success that managed to capture all the aura of this atypical watch. But then, the 1964 ZRC Grands Fonds only measured 36 mm in diameter and the 41.5 mm of the reissue were too much for some lovers of the model. Luckily for them – and other enthusiasts – ZRC has heard them and is now presenting a smaller model with the ZRC Grands Fonds 38 Héritage.
feats of arms
We are in the presence of a watch with a rich past which has earned it a certain legitimacy in the field of diving watches. Indeed, the Zuccolo Rochet & Cie, known as ZRC, which specialized in the design of patented bracelets, designed the first ZRC Grands Fonds in 1961 with the help of the Toulonnais watchmaker Yves Pastre, accredited by the National Navy.
But the model as we know it today only saw the light of day in 1964 following numerous tests and feedback from mine clearance divers in Toulon who got their supplies directly from Yves Pastre. It is then that the winding crown is moved to 6 o’clock to avoid shocks and improve wrist mobility. The second major change from the Series 1 was the use of a one-piece magnesium-enriched case to enhance resistance to magnetic fields. The ZRC Grands Fonds, then approved by the French Navy, was used by the Toulon diving school and the 3th Toulon Clearance Divers Group. It also equipped the famous Hubert commando, the only unit of combat divers in the French Navy.
A less warlike use of this watch was also made by Calypso divers or Paris firefighters. As you will have understood, the great diving professionals of the 1960s trusted their ZRC Grands Fonds completely.
ZRC therefore offers us today a new edition even closer to the original 1964 model. The first modification is due to the size of the case which goes from 41.5 mm to 39 mm, and not 38 as the reference suggests. Apparently ZRC’s primary desire was to design a 38 mm diameter watch, but technical constraints during development must have led them to modify this point. But the reference number remained.
This new case hugs the wrist comfortably and although we are still in the presence of a real diving tool, we gain in finesse. The waterproofness is maintained at 300 meters, enough to dive with peace of mind. We find the crown at 6 o’clock, so characteristic of the Grands Fonds, with counterclockwise screwing. We appreciate the engravings on the bottom of the case, taking up the elements of the original.
The steel bracelet has also evolved. We find its particular closing system – a bit difficult to handle let’s face it – but very safe. Its construction prevents it from closing if the crown is not completely screwed down, which provides additional security. The spring-loaded blade system makes it easy to put the watch on your neoprene wetsuit before exploring the seabed.
The bracelet is refined and it feels like having a very light, vintage folded steel bracelet on the wrist. To change the bracelet, a specific screwdriver is supplied with the watch because the pumps are screwed. Due to the particular position of the crown, not all bracelets will fit and ZRC would probably have to offer other bracelets as they had done on their previous models.
The GF38 is offered in three versions with different dials, reminiscent of different periods of the Grands Fonds. We had in our hands the GF38163 model with the features of the 1964 model, the best known. We are pleased to find these beautiful magnum hands and a very legible dial with the period ZRC logo at 12 o’clock. The Luminova – particularly powerful – is applied to the hands and the central points of the indexes. The domed sapphire crystal brings this visual warmth that we appreciate so much. The ceramic bezel plays with the light and loses its rim at noon to gain simplicity. It is therefore the three luminous points which indicate the main mark of the bezel.
A second model was offered at launch, the GF38263, incorporating the characteristics of the 1967 model. Several notable changes to this version. The dial no longer has its Arabic numerals, but stick indexes with a luminous mark on the outer part of the dial. A timer runs around the outer rim. Also note the appearance of a date at 3 o’clock with red font, on a white background. The minute and hour hands are slimmer and revert to a more versatile pencil shape, while the second hand retains its lollipop shape. The bezel also differs with an aluminum insert with graduations on each minute and an arrow-shaped luminous indicator at 12 o’clock.
A final version was presented in early 2023 for pre-order for delivery in March, the GF38293. This takes up the elements of the GF38263 with color variations reminiscent of the ZRC Spatiale of the early 70s. A nice wink when you know that the ZRC Grands Fonds glasses with aluminum bezels were often replaced by glasses of ZRC Spatiale, due to a lack of parts available for repair.
We therefore find a more fun and seventies side with a two-tone black and red bezel, a blue dial and the end of the second hand colored in red. We are clearly moving away from the reissue to offer another aesthetic.
The movement that powers these watches is the Selita SW200-1 in its elaborate configuration. This allows it to display an accuracy of plus or minus 7 seconds per day. A movement that has been proven for a long time and that drives many timepieces.
The packaging also deserves attention. ZRC gives us the pleasure of using a small red box which takes up the codes of the 60s, as well as a guarantee card almost identical to that which could be found at the time. A specific screwdriver for changing the pumps is also included.
These new ZRC GF38 Heritage will undoubtedly delight aficionados of the historic model, but also lovers of modern divers. ZRC succeeded in the perilous exercise of re-edition without falling into pure neovintage – which wouldn’t be a bad thing either. These new ZRCs are available for €3,190 from all ZRC distributors. Thanks to the Romain Réa shop on rue du Bac for leaving them with us for a few days.
ZRC GF38 Legacy
Lug: 22 mm
Glass: Domed sapphire
Dial: black or blue
Water resistance: 300m
Movement: Sellita SW200-1 elaborate
Power reserve: 38 hours
Bracelet: steel, extendable on spring