It's simple - watches they used... Both were wearing a great looking and life saving devices on their wrists. These devices are part of the dive watch category.
Remember how you watched Sean Connery, saying his "Bond, James Bond" line showing off with a flashy Rolex Submariner while casually saving the world. Jacques Cousteau was, on the other hand, a real life hero, using the same Rolex as a tool, in his breathtaking adventures under the sea.
2020 ultimate dive watch buying guide will help you get closer to Sean Connery and Jacques Cousteau in a smart way.
Maybe you need something that will look cool under the cuffs of your shirt and make that boring party you are at a bit more fun.
Or you are just looking to jump into scuba diving and need an essential piece of gear that could one day save your life.
This way or the other, you decided to go for the diver, a paramount fusion between style and functionality.
Before helping you out with the selection process, you need to know something about the divers. Every dive watch is a tribute to the mastery of watchmaking. Like many great inventions, watches really began as a tool used by the military and adventurers pushing their limits.
In the beginning, just a simple pocket watch telling the time did the job, but as times progressed, there was a need for more durability and versatility.
One of the first steps to come towards the divers as we know them today, happened during World War I, when watches made the transitions from the pockets to the wrists of men. Until then, wristwatches were viewed exclusively as a women's fashion accessory.
Real breakthrough happened in 1926/1927, by now well known brand Rolex. They designed a watch called the Oyster and patented it as the world's first waterproof wristwatch.
Fast forward to 1964, where the Rolex Submariner (by the way, it is still available today in its almost original design) was worn in the movie "Goldfinger" by already mentioned Sean Connery (THE James Bond).
One of the biggest marketing moves in the watchmaking worlds happened when Omega bought its placement in James Bond movie franchise. Best days for Omega came after Pierce Brosnan started wearing their watches under the fancy James Bond suits.
The origin of the dive watch can be traced back as early as the 17th century, where the need to tell time underwater arose. In the 18th century, dust and water-resistant watches were produced as customized crafted timepieces for wealthy explorers.
In the 20th century, watches manufactured to know the time underwater started being produced commercially when diving became more popular as a sport.
During this time, several watch manufacturers and companies started producing watches at the behest of the military, explorers and professionals.
These watches were suitable for use in harsh environmental conditions, as they were resistant to dust, water and were also be able to keep time accurately.
In 1926, the first hermetically sealed watch was created by Rolex, which was worn by Mercedes Gleitze who swam across the English Channel.
The watch survived 10 hours being submerged in cold water.
n 1932, the Omega “Marine” was introduced which had a double sliding, removable case and Omega SA was declared as the creator of the world’s first diving watch to be produced commercially.
The Omega Marine was tested in the Swiss Laboratory for Horology, Neuchatel, in 1937 and was certified as being water resistant up to a 135 m depth and could withstand a pressure of around 13.5 ATM or 1.37 MPa.
In 1935, the Royal Italian Navy commissioned a small watchmaker in Florence, Italy to develop a luminous watch that could be used by the divers underwater. Thus, the Radomir dive watches were born in 1936, which were later manufactured by Rolex for Panerai.
World War II saw the rise of many watch brands developed according to new military specifications by making use of new manufacturing methods, materials and with this, new uses of watches came into existence.
In 1953, the Fifty Fathoms was introduced by Blancpain in France.
In 1954, Rolex introduced the Rolex Submariner in Switzerland.
In 1959, 5 diving watches were appraised by the US Navy’s Experimental Diving Unit -- Rolex Oyster Perpetual, Blancpain Fifty Fathoms, Enicar Sea Pearl 600, Enicar Sherpa Diver 600 and the Bulova US Navy Submersible watch.
In 1961, the Delfin line of watches, which had the double vase-back design was launched by Edox and these were the first watches to have a water resistance of 200 m.
1961 also saw Rolex introducing the handbook for skin divers along with the Submariner, which was available in 2 variants - 200-meter resistance and 100-meter resistance options. The Rolex Submariner was also chosen to be the watch to be worn by James Bond in the next ten 007 movies.
In 1965, Seiko was the first Japanese watchmaker to introduce the professional dive watch, the 62MAS.
In the 60s the oceans around the globe saw a huge rise in commercial activity, which created a demand for professional divers and with this also rose the demand for robust watches that could be used at greater depths.
This saw the launch of the next generation ultra-water-resistant watches and in 1967, Rolex launched the Rolex Sea Dweller 2000, which was water-resistant up to 610 meters or 2000 feet.
The 80s saw the arrival of digital and arm-mounted computers and with this, the need for traditional dive watches began to decline.
Today, there are several watch brands who have dive watches in their product line and now dive watches have moved far from the earlier intent they were created for and have become an anytime fashion accessory that men like to wear and these watches can complement any kind of attire; however, they still retain the look and feel that was created way back in the 50s.
Dive watch is a tool watch for divers with functionalities that enable time measurement under the water, with relation to the dive trip duration.
Elements that enable this and make a watch a dive watch are:
Simply put, if watch has all of these - it's a dive watch, and you can take it for diving. These days, most divers are relying on their dive computers during the dive. Dive watches have become more of a fashion accessory that people love sporting even if they are not into serious diving, simply because they like wearing a dive watch.
Typically, the best-rated dive watches offer a combination of high-quality components, style and functionality.
I will give you more details about each element.
How much water resistance a dive watch needs to have? We have to start with basics of water-resistance labelling. You can come across 3 different markings of water resistance, that is in:
Conversion between these is pretty simple, ATM and bars are essentially the same, and when you multiply that by 10, you get meters.
Coming back to the level of water resistance you need.
Say you are just a casual scuba diver that dives down to 10 meters at most, therefore getting a watch with 3 ATM (30 meters) should be plenty enough, right?
Eh, please don't.
3 ATM might save the watch from the rain or a shower, but submerging it fully under water is a bad idea. In fact, with 5 ATM (50 meters), you can maybe try and swim with it, but still, no submersion recommended.
It's not up until the 10 ATM mark where you can actually take the watch in the sea with you, but if you are planning to go 3 meters deep to take a look at the corals, you might as well throw the watch off a cliff.
With a 20 ATM watch though, you can finally go and do some snorkeling with it, and some it can definitely go to some depths.
When you get to the 30 ATM and above, you can most definitely do anything with it, maybe some light scuba dive as well, but no guarantees. In fact, if you want to actually scuba dive with the watch, you have to look for something called ISO 6425 certification. These are usually designated as Diver's on the dial or the name of the watch itself.
A diver’s watch must meet the standards and features that have been mandated by the ISO 6425 standard, introduced in 1996 and modified in 2018. It is a defined set of procedures for testing if watches can withstand diving in water at depths of at least 100 m and if they are equipped with a system to control the time of the dive.
Example - tests are done in still water under (meaning more) 125% of the rated (water) pressure. It means that a watch with a 200-metre rating will be water resistant if it is properly working at 250 metres depth.
Rest of the standards are defining the following:
You should look for these if you take diving really seriously, but a 20 ATM rating is more than enough for the Average Joe.
Now, let's take a look at other differentiating factors and some terminology. One of the things that every proper dive watch should possess is a rotating bezel.
Role of the rotating bezel is to help the diver time his diving session and most importantly to ascent before he runs out of oxygen. A standard scuba diving tank can last up anything from 15 minutes to an hour, so the 60-minute dial of the watch should be plenty enough to help time everything right.
To explain this better, we have to do a little math, but don't worry, no heavy algebra involved. Let's say you are planning to dive for 20 minutes.
Bezel has to be rotational, check for the watches with 120 positions instead of more common 60. 120 positions provide a fluent rotation and proof of quality watchmaking. Also, look for ceramic bezel
In case you are wondering how the hell would I see that in a dark cave in the ocean, worry not. To enable you this, important details (hands, marks, bezel) are treated with lume (coming from luminescence) glowing solution
99% of dive watches come with some kind of passive, or in some cases, active lume on its time indicating parts as well as the bezel. Make sure to look for that as well when choosing a tool watch.
When choosing between a bracelet or a strap, you have 5 materials to choose from:
If you really desire that leather though, you can opt for some of the newest market offerings by brands such as HIRSH, that make leather straps that are reportedly water-resistant up to 100 meters of depth (no, not the same „100 meters" as are designated on watches).
Ask for a replacement bracelet before you buy a watch. Best combination is stainless steel bracelet with NATO or rubber strap
Now to the crystal, or the watch glass. There are 3 main options to choose when buying a dive watch:
You can opt to go with acrylic glass, which is great for its resistance to cracks, not so much for scratches. After a few years of use, acrylic crystal can get very, very scratched.
Then, you can get a sapphire glass, which is the exact opposite – scratch resistant, so it is going to serve well for the years to come, but granted, it will break more easily than acrylic. Sapphire glass is more expensive, and usually found in upper price level category.
Then, we have something in the middle, hardened glass. The best divers watches in my opinion feature a sapphire coated hardened glass to combine the pros of all of the materials.
Some watchmakers have a patented production of the glass, usually named as Synthetic sapphire.
Look for the sapphire glass on watches in the lower price points (eg. Phoibos, Pantor)
Not mentioned above as an element of a dive watch, but it is a critical element of any analogue watch, and something that you need to pay attention to when buying a new watch.
It is a beating heart of the watch. Basically, we have 2 types of movements:
Most luxury watch manufacturers such as Rolex, Omega or Tag Heuer do not even sell watches with a quartz movement in their offering.
Why is that? Because mechanical movements are not just a tool, they are a masterpiece. They are usually made, or at least decorated, by hand, and their beauty lies in their complexity and simplicity at the same time.
Just imagine that something without a battery or any technologically advanced power source can run indefinitely when worn every day. Of course, it needs some maintenance now and then, but that doesn't mean it is unreliable in the short term. In fact, its lack of modern tech makes it resistant to vibrations, electrical pulses or in some cases magnetism.
I give special appreciation to watches using in house developed movement (check out our review of great Yema Superman dive watch)
You might say - „yea, that's nice, but I don't even see it, so why does it matter?" – well, in some models, there is something called a see-through case back, which allows you to savour the complexity and beauty of this hundreds of years old technology.
If you have the budget, you should go with an in house developed mechanical movement. Then you know that watch you will be wearing got special attention in design and production.
While there are several maintenance tips for watches in general, here are some specific tips for maintenance of your dive watch. Taking good care of your dive watch can ensure that it works efficiently.
Clean your dive watch properly using a soft toothbrush and some mild detergent. Using a hard brush may scratch or damage the steel, the painted portions of the bezel and mineral glass of the watch. You can also make use of a microfiber cloth to wipe the dirt, smudges, etc. It is a good idea to have the interior of the watch cleaned by professionals.
To ensure that your dive watch lasts for a long time, it is a good practice to have it serviced and maintained every 1-2 years. You must have the various aspects checked such as the gasket, seal, crown, battery, etc. and replace the parts if they are worn out.
After every dive, make sure that you rinse your watch well to remove the salt as this may cause the watch to rust after a while. Cleaning your dive watch after every dive will ensure its longevity.
Ensure that the crown of the dive watch is tightly secured. If the crown is loose, the water will get inside the watch and if the water pressure is high when you’re diving underwater, the watch will get damaged.
Always clean thoroughly around the bezel, especially after a dive, trek, etc. to remove any dirt or water as this may restrict the smooth movement of the bezel. If the bezel of your dive watch gets damaged, you may find it difficult to get a replacement for it.
Every dive watch has a specific water resistance. Apart from the rated water resistance, you must take other factors into consideration such as the water condition, pressure, temperature, etc.
So, you must understand the limit your dive watch can withstand and must not go over that particular limit or the watch will malfunction.
While dive watches are constructed to be more rugged and durable compared to regular watches, it is still not a good idea to expose your watch to salt water, chlorinated swimming pools, soap, detergent, etc. more than necessary, as this will cause the gasket to become brittle and the steel case to weaken and rust.
Avoid the collision of your dive watch with any hard surface, as the watch will get damaged. And if you were wondering - avoid the exposure of your dive watch to strong magnetic fields, harsh chemicals and heat, as this will damage your watch. But probably you've already knew this
A beautifully crafted dive watch is an accessory that you can flaunt and be proud of. Taking good care of your watch can ensure that it provides you with efficient service and last you for decades.
This is it. Now you know everything about dive watches and how they are built. Let's recap all advices mentioned in the text:
Step 1 - How will you use the watch?
Decide on the purpose of the watch - diving, swimming or only as a fashion accessory (desk diver)
Step 2 - What is the water resistance level you need?
check the water resistance rating on the watch and is the watch ISO 6425 certified (if you are planning to take it under the water)
Step 3 - What type of mechanism you need?
Are you ready to take care of the time corrections every day? Or you don't want to think about it at all? This is how you decide which mechanism type you need (quartz, mechanical, in-house)
Step 4 - What is the bezel on the watch?
Check how many positions bezel has (60 or 120, more is better)
Step 5 - What kind of a strap do you prefer?
Check if you get a replacement strap when buying the watch (we recommend combination of stainless steel and rubber or NATO straps, this will cover all your needs and situations)
Author, contributor and marketer with interest in various topics. My first big interest are watches, especially vintage looking dive watches. Second pet project of mine is career consultancy for introverts (check it out at: costanza-rules.com). Reach out on Twitter or Facebook, let's have a chat!