Diving watches are something that many men want and oftentimes own, but few actually use for their intended purpose. In fact, one will find a Submariner or a Seamaster inside the boardroom more often that they will at sea. So why are diver’s watches so popular?
The simple answer is that they are exceptionally well-made and versatile. Diver’s watches can get wet, take a beating, but also look good enough for more formal settings.
The Sub has been in continuous production since its launch in 1953, and remains the most recognizable (and unfortunately, most copied) watch today.
Rolex already had water-resistant watches since the 1930’s after they launched the innovative waterproof Oyster case. But René P. Jeanneret, a passionate diver and one of their directors, had envisioned something more: a diving watch that not only was exceptionally robust, but also aesthetically pleasing and comfortable to wear.
Through his insight, the Submariner was launched with the distinct honor of being the first water-resistant dive watch, one that was waterproof up to 100 meters. It has been updated with improved water resistance, new movements, and small cosmetic changes, but today’s models stay firmly in line with the original Submariner – an homage to the man who will accept nothing but elegance in his watch.
Omega Seamaster was first introduced in 1948, making it one of the early dive watches before they surged in popularity in the 50’s. In 1993, the Omega Seamaster Professional 300m was chosen as the new Bond watch, and began Omega’s enduring partnership with the world’s most famous secret agent.
After being worn by Pierce Brosnan in the 1995 film Goldeneye, Omega won a younger demographic and had men walking into a store to ask for “the James Bond watch”. The Seamaster has been the official watch of the Bond franchise since then.
Of course, only a robust and stylish watch will do for James Bond. This particular model has a stainless steel case and bracelet, a blue dial, a unidirectional rotating bezel with blue ring, an anti-reflective, scratch-resistant sapphire crystal, and runs on a quartz caliber. James Bond has since switched to watches with an automatic caliber, but remains loyal to the Seamaster, and continues to release a collaborative model with each 007 film.
Rolex has had a long history of exploration, and they take an active part in many historic discoveries of the planet’s most extreme frontiers. In 1960, Rolex made horological history when it created a prototype Rolex Deep Sea Special watch to accompany the bathyscaphe Trieste as it descended to what was then the deepest-known point in the ocean.
In 2012, it also took an active part in the historic Deepsea Challenge of director James Cameron. He piloted the submersible Deepsea Challenger to the deepest part of the Mariana Trench and the world’s oceans, accompanied by the prototype Rolex Deepsea Challenge. The watch worked perfectly throughout the expedition.
Both watches were never made commercially available due to their size, but they have inspired the Rolex Deepsea Sea-dweller, the new generation diver’s watch that is waterproof up to 12,800 feet. Building off the history of innovation around diving, its Ringlock System is able to withstand unprecedented pressures equivalent to three tons, and illustrates the supremacy of Rolex in mastering waterproofness.
The Blancpain Fifty Fathoms was the first modern dive watch. Many people would give this title to the Sub, but the Fifty Fathoms actually debuted a year before. Designed in 1952, it was borne out of a partnership between Blancpain and the French Navy division – they wanted to address the needs of intense underwater timekeeping, such as the need for underwater legibility and readability, luminescence, and the means to measure oxygen consumption.
By 1953, Blancpain has fulfilled this request and debuted innovations that continue to be in use today, including an automatic movement, a simple and readable dial and a thick case with a screw-down case back. Its single most important innovation was the unidirectional bezel, which was necessary in helping divers determine their oxygen consumption and meet their surface time. The combination of these elements helped the watch reach a depth of Fifty Fathoms (300 feet, or 91.4 meters), the maximum depth thought possible during its time.
During World War II, Officine Panerai was contracted by the Regia Marina (the Royal Italian Navy) as their official supplier of watches. In 1935, at the request of the navy, they dedicated themselves to building a watch that would meet the needs of the Italian Frogmen – professional divers who conduct their operations deep into the night, stealthily encroaching into enemy territory.
They dedicated themselves into creating the perfect dive watch, and sought to create one that embodied three things: a large face to optimize visibility, readability in the darkest waters, and most importantly, waterproofness. Its name is derived from the radium-based powder that makes the numbers and markers luminous.
Only ten of the prototypes of the watch were made, equipped with a Rolex movement and case back that protected it from water, and a winding crown that could be screwed down. Two years after, Panerai started mass-producing the Radiomir, and is today considered the first underwater military watch.