Is that an JLC Deep Sea Master Mariner? No! It’s a Zelma “Plongeur” Super Compressor!
What does this almost unknown French brand called Zelma have in common with Jaeger-LeCoultre, Longines, Girard-Perregaux, Hamilton, Bulova, Enicar, Universal Genève, Wittnauer, Benrus, Hamilton, Lip, IWC, Droz, Blancpain, Bucherer, Tissot, Benrus and Zenith?
Well, they all sold versions of an EPSA Super Compressor cased watch; making these distinctive dual crown watches one of the most popular types of Dive Watch to collect since their inception.
Our Super Compressor is made by a French company called Zelma. Nope, we haven’t heard of them either!
However, style-wise our humble, Zelma “Plongeur” has a lot in common with the Jaeger-LeCoultre, Deep Sea Master Mariner which is what really got us in a swim.
Nowadays the term “Super Compressor” seems to have become associated with any watch that has dual crowns and an internal rotating bezel, but this is incorrect. Super Compressor is a trademarked name for specific case designs made by EPSA (Ervin Piquerez S.A.).
Their patented design utilised a case sealing method that became more water tight the higher the pressure that was applied to the case of the watch. In effect the deeper the watch went the tighter the caseback was squeezed against the case gasket. EPSA designed three different types of case ranging from the Compressor through the Compressor 2, to the Super Compressor, as this advert from the period shows.
EPSA Period Watch Case Advert
However, it is perhaps the internal bezel that has become the most endearing feature of Super Compressors to collectors today, the idea behind them being, they are less prone to accidental rotation, over an external bezel.
Our Zelma’s internal bezel is in great condition and unusually for a watch of this type is White. It adjusts with precision, using the original crossed hatched crown, positioned at 2 o’clock. The white bezel, juxtaposed against the black face, gives the watch the “feeling” of a Panda dial when wearing it; without it actually “being” one. Strange but true!
The face is adorned with polished silver hour-marker batons, each recessed with an infill of Tritium Lume, which has long since given up the ghost. A white date, at 3 o’clock compliments the outer chapter ring perfectly.
The original Baton style Hour and Minute hands are present, as is the rectangular “Lollipop” Seconds hand. The lume is still whole within, but like the minute markers, is weak to non-existent in its luminosity.
The face is great, but what made us fall in love with this watch, is its striking case design.
Unlike the majority of Super Compressors which use the classic round case, this Zelma “Plongeur” sports an unusual crisp edged rectangular EPSA cushion case. A case so very reminiscent of the JLC Deep Sea Master Mariner, it’s uncanny!
It has the same dimensions of 37mm x 40mm, it has the same curved bevel and drop-down lugs, perfectly complemented by the two cross hatched crowns at 2 and 4. These crowns are “indented” to the case in the same manner too. And, just like the JLC, the Zelma is rated to 600 ft.
There is one major difference though. The JLC has a starburst or radial brushing to its case, like the Omega flightmaster; whereas our Zelma has circular brushing. It’s cheaper to circular brush something, so this must have been a cost saving measure.
The 5mm deep crystal looks to be original, with minimal scratching to its surface. There are no cracks what-so-ever.
Overall then, a beautiful and unusual watch, showing little or no outward signs of damage. Fortunately, the only damage to the watch remains unseen when wearing it! This brings us to the caseback…
Firstly, the good bits. The caseback is engraved “SUPER COMPRESSOR” with the correct Brevet markings “317587” and “337482” below. The Zelma logo is centre stage with the watches reference number “11074” engraved below. We assume Zelma to be a French brand, purely on the fact that the caseback is also engraved “Plongeur”, suggesting a French Connection. The inside of the case is stamped “1-69” indicating a case manufacture date of January 1969. The “Super Compressor 2” spring mechanism is there and strong.
Now to the elephant in the room. There is no way of avoiding the three major gouges or indentations on the edge of the caseback. Please bear in mind, you are looking at these “supersized”, so they look like moon craters! It is worth noting therefore, the largest is only 2mm long. These have been caused by somebody trying to remove the caseback without having the correct tool to do so. There are methods available today, Laser Welding for example, which can correct this type of damage. However, we believe the battle scars of life to be an honourable thing and should be worn with pride. These scars don’t affect the correct removal of the caseback, so we have left them alone.
This Zelma is in overall excellent condition and looks every bit the vintage dive watch. It’s sporty, yet comfortably sized and houses a Zelma branded, Cal. AS 1903 automatic, 25 jewel, Swiss movement which is running perfectly. The advantage of the AS 1903 movement is it has a driven minute which allows for a big balance, whilst still retaining a low profile. The date is set by a hacking feature.
So, with JLC Deep Sea Master Mariner’s fetching in excess of £7500 in today’s market; our modest Zelma has all the Dash; but doesn’t cost the cash!
The same look and feel of the JLC coupled with the opportunity to save £££’s is a very compelling argument for buying this Zelma indeed.