“When a man’s life depends on his watch, the chances are he wears a Rolex.” The opening line from Rolex’s 1969 Submariner advert may feel like an overly dramatic declaration, but it comes from a singular truth. For those who dare to explore the ocean’s depths, divers watches are essential.
Even nowadays, whether or not they’re intended for the deep, dark sea at all, divers watches retain a semblance of adventure. The purity of their bold design – once a necessity – has matured into an iconic aesthetic. Teamed with a durability like no other, divers watches have not only stood the test of time but have done so in style. As they say, if it’s good enough for James Bond…
In this guide we’ll be taking a look at what defines a divers watch, the history behind them, and how to choose one that’s most suited for you.
What Is A Divers Watch?
Vast and relentless, the ocean is as dangerous as it is beautiful. And diving into it is not for the faint hearted. Those in the pursuit of subaquatic exploration need to know how long they’ve been underwater, as well as how much oxygen they have remaining. Two fundamentals that scratch the surface of the many life-saving calculations required. Before the days of dive computers, these timings were made with a dive watch.
Above all else, a divers watch is a practical timepiece. A high-contrast, luminous dial enables wearers to read it clearly, which is essential when swimming within the dark confines of the ocean. Equally as useful, the rotating bezel can be used to track dive times and notify the wearer of when it’s time to resurface.
It must be stated however, that owning a divers watch is not solely for the seafaring amongst us. While originally intended for those undertaking courageous pursuits, the majority of people who buy a divers watch will have no intention of trekking to the depths of the ocean with it.
Rather, it’s the rugged aesthetic and notion of fearlessness that has turned the divers watch into a must-have for thrillseekers and watch collectors alike.
The History Behind The Divers Watch
The origins of the divers watch began in 1926 with Rolex. Founder of the company, Hans Wilsdorf, filed a patent for the Oyster, which was the world’s first water- and dust-proof watch thanks to its hermetically sealed case. It was crowned a feat of innovation and set the precedent for watches that were able to withstand water.
OMEGA soon followed suit and launched the Marine in 1932. This was the world’s first commercially available divers watch and was an instant success. The patented double case was sealed with cork, helping to keep water away from the movement.
Shortly before World War II broke out, the Royal Italian Navy commissioned Panerai to develop a water-resistant watch. The prototypes they developed are considered the blueprint for divers watches, as they included many of the standard features we still see today.
In the 1950s, the popularity of diving as a recreational sport soared thanks to the invention of the Aqua-Lung. This was a self-contained underwater breathing apparatus (SCUBA) and allowed both commercial and recreational diving to take place more easily.
With so many people now enjoying the pursuit, it became apparent that a safety device was needed. Something to track how long a diver was underwater, how much oxygen remained in their tank, and to calculate decompression stops. All of which can mean the difference between life and death. And so, the divers watch took up the mantle of fulfilling such needs.
During this era, Rolex debuted the Submariner and Breitling showcased their Superocean. And with two titans of the industry making progressive waves, it came as no surprise that luxury watch manufacturers as a whole began pushing the technical boundaries of what was possible for timepieces. Progression into deeper water-resistance ratings, more innovative materials, and sturdier designs all led to the divers watch as we know it today.
Of course, a little Hollywood glamour and British sartorial style also doesn’t hurt when it comes to confirming a watch style as iconic. In the 1964 film Goldfinger, Sean Connery’s James Bond wore a Rolex Submariner 6538 Big Crown alongside his white tuxedo. This appearance truly confirmed the divers watch as a timepiece of choice for those undertaking adventurous exploits, but still wished to remain in vogue.
The Features Of A Divers Watch
Originally published in the 1980s, and last updated in 2018, the International Organization for Standardization created a set of standards for all divers watches. The ISO 6425 outlines that, to be called a divers watch, they must:
- Have a minimum water-resistance rating of at least 100m.
- Feature a secured measuring system that indicates diving time.
- Ensure legibility of the time, bezel, and seconds hand at 25cm in the dark.
- Be antimagnetic, shock resistant, saltwater resistant, and reliable underwater.
Take look at these ISO standards and additional features in more detail:
A divers watch must be water resistant to at least 100 meters, making it suitable for swimming, snorkelling, and water sports. A water-resistance rating of 200m means your watch can be used while scuba diving. 300m+ is the professional level, signifying the watch is okay for use while deep-sea diving. Every timepiece comes with a water-resistance rating, and will only be safe working in the depths specified.
A Luminous, Legible Dial
Owing to the ocean’s lack of light, a watch dial that is easy to read while underwater is imperative. The ISO 6425 requires that a divers watch can be read in the dark at a distance of 25cm. Luminous hands and markers are therefore a key feature.
A Rotating Bezel
The bezel provides information about how long a diver has been underwater and, on some models, the depth they are currently at. This functionality is achieved by rotating the bezel, lining the pointer with the minute hand, before getting into the water. The minute hand will then move, illustrating the length of time.
A Helium Escape Valve
While not a feature that is included on every divers watch, it is something that is crucial should wearer’s wish to go deep-sea diving. The valve enables the release of trapped helium, which can occur during prolonged periods of being at great depths, during resurfacing.
Stainless steel or rubber straps will stand up against pressure, sunlight, humidity, and seawater. Because of this they are the most appropriate straps for a divers watch.
A Sturdy Case
Divers watches are likely to be under saltwater for extended periods of time. A case that is robust enough to protect the timepiece, and prevent water getting inside, is crucial.
Choosing The Right Divers Watch
There’s no two ways about it, divers watches are large. So if you’re looking for something a little sleeker or more subtle, a dress watch is perhaps a better option. However, there is a reason divers watches’ popularity has not only endured, but soared. Their classic styling and adventurous heritage creates an alluring appeal.
Divers watches look fantastic with almost every outfit and can be worn on a daily basis. Due to the nature of their usage, they’re inherently more sporty than other timepieces and lend themselves well to sports and casual wear. They are, however, versatile and can be styled with business-casual and business-formal also.
When it comes to choosing a luxury watch, there are some fundamental principles. Set some time aside to understand exactly what features and functionalities you want or need from your timepiece. From this you can also decide on your budget and begin researching the brands and models that pique your interest.
Our Buyer’s Highlights
Our buyers have selected three timepieces, iconic in both heritage and style, that embody the spirit of a divers watch.
Rolex Deepsea Oyster 44 mm $12,900
Rolex Deepsea Oyster 44 mm £10,350.00
“With a catchphrase ‘the watch that conquered the deep’, it is no surprise that the Rolex Deepsea lands itself within my top choices for a divers watch. Exceeding the demands of professional divers through decades of collaboration, this timepiece is waterproof to 3,900 metres. With a dial that has a gradient from twilight blue to bottomless black, it is a fantastic nod to James Cameron’s journey to the deepest place on Earth – a must have for divers in my eyes!” Lisa Broun, Senior Luxury Watch Buyer
Omega Seamaster Planet Ocean 600M Mens 43.5mm $6,550.00
Omega Seamaster Planet Ocean 600M Mens 43.5mm £5,560.00
“Paying homage to Omega’s ocean heritage since 2005, it is hard to remember this collection has only been around less than 20 years. Despite the short history on this family, this is one of Omega’s best selling collections and a top divers choice thanks to the water resistance of 600m. The screw-in caseback, stainless steel bracelet and patented extendable foldover clasp offer a restrained approach to a luxury dive watch and certainly lands itself into my top divers pieces.” Lisa Broun, Senior Luxury Watch Buyer
Ulysse Nardin Diver Automatic £7,200.00
“175 years since they made the first on board chronometer, Ulysse Nardin are renowned for defying both technical and aesthetic codes. Staying true to their heritage and link with the seas, the diver chronometer sports an inverted, concaved bezel with a domed sapphire glass case. Functional yet elegant this timepiece is water-resistant to 300 metres. The 44mm titanium case holds the manufacture UN-118 self-winding movement with approx. 60 hour power reserve. This is a piece for any modern day Ulysse.” Heather Grant, Junior Buyer for Specialist Watches
Jaeger-LeCoultre Polaris Mariner Memovox £15,800.00
“The Jaeger‑LeCoultre Polaris collection draws its inspiration from the Memovox Polaris of 1968, an icon of the Grande Maison. At the heart of this historic model is an iconic function: the alarm. Originally, this Memovox function, or “voice of memory,” served to remind divers that it was time to return to the surface. . As they say “Time and Tide waits for no man”, and if I’m at depth of 200 meters I’ll feel extremely in safe hands with this on my wrist!” Faye Soteri, Senior International Watch Buyer