RALF TECH Exclusive: RALF TECH on trial!
Is RALF TECH founder Frank Huyghe guilty of offences against dive watches?
A dive-watch connoisseur and himself a professional diver, trained for hypoxic, hyperoxic and normoxic diving in the 1980s, RALF TECH founder and boss Frank Huyghe isn’t afraid to call out what he believes are false claims. His tell-it-like-it-is attitude hasn’t won him only friends at other brands, where he’s been accused of scuppering business, pulling the plug on stories and driving down sales. None of which he denies, instead embracing accusations and determined to state his case. The defendant takes the stand!
Frank Huyghe © RALF TECH
Frank Huyghe, you are accused of distorting the dive watch narrative.
Not guilty! You cannot honestly claim that the dive watches on the market 50 years ago could genuinely operate at great depth. What a load of rubbish! The crowns weren’t assembled as they are today, the gaskets were rubber, not silicon, the crystals weren’t as thick and were fitted differently. It wasn’t unusual for the crystal to pop or water to seep through the crown. These historic watches laid the foundations but it took 40 years of technical advances to bring them up to standard, literally. The legends of the 1940s to the 70s are what they are: legends. Not professional dive watches in the modern sense.
You are accused of disputing the need for a helium valve, which many claim is the sign of an authentic dive watch.
Some technical background first: whether you dive for leisure or professionally, you descend slowly and you ascend slowly. It’s not a question of how deep you go. What matters is the rate at which you move between different gas conditions. In saturation diving, it’s the exact opposite: you change environment and pressure in a matter of seconds. The body doesn’t like that and nor does a watch. Whereas you can repressurise the body, the watch has a helium valve that releases this very light gas, which is contained in the air inside the case, as the diver returns to standard atmosphere.
This was a great idea, of use to maybe 250 or 300 pro divers in the Sixties. These days, a watch doesn’t need a helium valve if it has been properly designed, meaning there can be no air exchange from the time the watch leaves dry land, descends into the water, enters the bell, is submerged, then returns to dry land. The helium valve is a contemporary myth. It serves no purpose and hasn’t for a good ten years. It can even create an unnecessary weak spot and costs a lot to repair. When it is repaired, given that certain brands swap the entire case without a word to the customer...
You are accused of criticising how other brands market their dive watches when you do the same.
We need to get things straight: diving isn’t a sport. Diving can be recreational, it can be professional, but it’s not a sport. When there are no competitions, no heroes, you have to find a different angle for your message, which can be one of three: adventurers, preserving biodiversity or the special forces.
We’ve chosen the third option as the only one that lets us demonstrate the validity of our watches. Unfortunately we can’t tell the full story. Nothing like the full story! When brands boast about a partnership with a military corps, a lot of the time it’s simply a business deal. They pay a six-figure sum to use the registered name. You can’t do that with the commandos. From a marketing perspective, there’s less of an impact but it’s based on actual operational use. Not paid-for.
Frank Huyghe before a deep diving © RALF TECH
You are accused of contesting the validity of water-resistance tests.
Based on first-hand experience! There are three ways to test the water-resistance of a watch. In a dry test, the watch is placed in an airtight cylinder and subjected to atmospheric pressure, which has nothing to do with real-life conditions. In fact air can enter a watch and it will still function perfectly well. In a wet test, the watch is placed in a pressurised chamber filled with water then checked to see whether any water has entered the movement. It’s better, but not good enough. The watch remains static when in real-life conditions it has to contend with moving currents, temperature changes, shocks, that kind of thing.
In my opinion, the only valid test takes place at sea. Obviously we don’t have the technical means to descend to 3,000 metres every day, which is why we certify our watches progressively, as and when the possibility arises. You cannot claim a watch is water-resistant to 6,000 metres simply by extrapolating data in an Excel spreadsheet. It’s dishonest.
You are accused of not having an in-house movement, the basis of a legitimate watch brand.
Guilty as charged! To start with, we’re a small, fully independent brand. Also, we put reliability first, hence movements that have been proving their worth for the past 40 years. Reliability is the basis of a dive watch.
Secondly, we expect our watches to be repairable. A reliable watch is also one that can be easily repaired. Lastly, we’re upfront with our customers. There is no such thing as an in-house movement on an €800 watch. It simply isn’t possible. A lot of the time these are Chinese movements with a decorated mass. We don’t go down that road. But we will have our own movement by year-end and it will be made in France. More about that in six months’ time...
In 1996, professional diver Frank Huyghe created the RALF TECH brand: diving suits, buoyancy compensators, regulators, masks, etc. In 2003, on the strength of his personal experience, he designed a watch that could withstand the enormous pressures of the ocean depths and beat the World Record of deep diving. This was the RALF TECH WR1.Find out more >
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