2020 Dive watch ultimate guide – 10 things you should know before buying

Breitling dive watch

​What ​do Sean Connery and Jacques Cousteau have in common?

​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. 

James Bond scene with Rolex
Jacques Cousteau Rolex

​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.

​10 things to know about dive watches

Does your wrist feel a bit too light at the moment?

Do you feel something is missing on it?

​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.

​Short history of dive watches

Rolex Oyster Vintage ad

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.

Omega Seamaster dive watch

​​Complete timeline of the most important events​ in the history of dive watches

​What is a dive watch?

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 th​is and make a watch a dive watch are:

  • waterproofing and water resistance (pressure)
  • rotational bezel
  • lume glow
  • adjustable strap / bracelet
Dive watch is a diver's tool

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.

​Detailed guide through dive watch elements

Water resistance

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:

  • Atmospheres, with usual abbreviation ATM​
  • Bar(s), as unit of pressure
  • Meters, which explain how deep can the watch be submerged under water under perfect conditions

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.

Invicta 8932 Divers Watch on white background

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.

​What is ISO 6425 certification?

You should look for these if you take diving really seriously, but a 20 ATM rating is more than enough for the Average Joe.

1

​Buying advice - water resistance

  • below 10ATM (100m) - ​watch will survive the rain (and maybe showering)
  •  10 ATM or ​100m  - for swimming, but don't go too​ far down in the water
  •  20 ATM or 200m - ok for ​snorkeling
  •  300m - light scuba diving
  •  above 300m + ISO 6425 - scuba diving watches
  • ​Rotating bezel

    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.

    What is bezel on a dive watch

    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.

    How do you use the bezel on a dive watch?

    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.

    • Subtract the desired number of minutes (in this case 20), from 60
    • rotate the bezel so that the number that results (in this case 40) aligns with the minute hand.
    • when the minute hand reaches the ascent indicator, eg. the little arrow on the bezel, 20 minutes have passed.
    How to you use bezel on a dive watch

    ​2

    ​Buying advic​​​​e - ​bezel

    ​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

    ​Lume

    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

    Neymar 44mm 1000m lume

    Types of lume used in dive watches:

    • ​Radium based - ​back in 1920s, watches were filled with radium to enable the luminous glow.  Discontinued after discovery of radiation's ​impact on human health. Obviously, you shouldn't get a watch with this one, unless you are a collector and you want to resell it. 
    • Tritium - used by few watchmakers (Luminox, Ball, Marathon) - holds the glow much longer than photoluminescence (10-20 years), but still posses radioactive elements
    • Photoluminescent - most common solution. You can come across many branded solutions, but more established (and recommended) are Nemoto Luminova (used by Orient), Super Lumi-nova (licenced production from Orient), Lumibrite (Seiko).

    ​​3

    ​Buying advice - ​lume

    ​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.

    ​Bracelet / strap

    When choosing between a bracelet or a strap, you have 5 materials to choose from:

    • stainless steel (metal), which is the sturdiest and also pretty versatile when it comes to wearability. With a quality watch, it is also corrosion-resistant and should not fail on you in dire situations.
    • Rubber / silicone strap - it will definitely not corrode, but we advise you not to pair it with a suit, if you don't want to look like a buffoon that is. If you are not often in the suit, rubber strap is a good option to release a little weight from your wrist making it a comfortable wear
    • Nato strap - made of textile, such as Cordura or ballistic nylon, which are more resistant than normal textiles. Commonly referred to as a „Nato" strap, because of its use in warfare. Great option for amateur divers and less formal ocassions.
    • Rope strap -essentially a very resistant type of rope, usually paracord, tied into a bracelet. The advantage of this is that you can untie it and get along, powerful rope if a situation requires it.
    • Leather strap - most elegant and stylish of all options. The problem with most leather straps is that they get easily damaged in the water, and that could impair their reliability. Dive watches with leather strap on it would be immediately considered as desk divers.
    Rubber strap releases weight from dive watch
    Omega seamaster blue
    Seiko with a stylish nato strap

    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).

    ​​​4

    ​Buying advice - ​strap ​/ bracelet

    ​Ask for a replacement bracelet before you buy a watch. Best combination ​is stainless steel bracelet with NATO or rubber strap

    ​Watch glass (dial glass, case glass)

    Now to the crystal, or the watch glass. There are 3 main options to choose when buying a dive watch:

    • acrylic mineral glass
    • sapphire glass
    • sapphire coating on a mineral glass

    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.

    Sapphire glass is resistant to scratches

    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.​

    ​​​5

    ​Buying advice - ​​dial case

    ​Look for the ​sapphire glass on watches in the lower ​​price points (eg. Phoibos, Pantor)

    ​Movement

    ​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:

    • ​quartz​ - essentially a battery-powered, more accurate and lighter successor to the mechanical movement
    • mechanical movements (divided to auto-winding or automatic and hand-winding) are ​appreciated more and usually don't come in lower price categories.

    ​Most luxury watch manufacturers such as Rolex, Omega or Tag Heuer do not even sell watches with a quartz movement in their offering.

    Omega seamaster calibre 3330

    ​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.

    Omega seamaster 300M back view

    ​​​​6

    ​Buying advice - ​​​movement

    ​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.

    ​How to take care of your new (or old) dive watch?

    ​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.

    Tips To Maintain Your Dive Watch

    ​Clean it carefully

    ​Service it every 1-2 years

    ​After diving (desk divers can skip this)

    ​Check the crown (diving or just taking it under shower)

    ​Clean the bezel

    ​Understand the limits when in the water

    ​Don't overdo it in the sea or in the pool

    ​Be careful

    ​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:

    ​​5 steps to do when choosing a dive watch 

    1

    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)

    ​2

    ​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)

    ​3

    ​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)

    ​4

    Step 4 - ​​What​ is the bezel on the watch?

    ​Check how many positions bezel has (60 or 120, more is better)

    ​5

    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)

    ​Buying guide should be your first step, now you are ready to read reviews of most interesting pieces in the market:

    Seiko Prospex SSC017 Dive Watch Review


    Very stylish yet practical, chunky dive watches have been an extremely popular style in men’s

    5 reasons why you should buy Seiko SKX173


    Making a choice of the right dive watch can be quite a difficult task, especially

    Phoibos PY015D – desk diver with a personality


    ​Phoibos was very productive in 2019. They launched quite a decent selection of new models

    Citizen Promaster BN0150 review – king of affordable dive watches?


    ​UPDATE: Citizen BN0150 is placed on the list of best dive watches under $200 category,


    About the Author Costanza

    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!

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