This Article is part of a series written by editors of Hodinkee.com. This Article was written by: Mark Kauzlarich
What started out as practical waterproofing has turned into brands trying to outdo each other at every turn
A lot of people probably take for granted a nice waterproof watch. The most popular dive watches are rated to go to depths 200 meters to 300 meters, safe enough for you to jump in the pool or travel with you even on a deep SCUBA dive with no problems. That wasn’t always the case.
It wasn’t until 1926 when Rolex created the “Oyster” case that the first truly waterproof watches were created. With a screw-down crown, screw-down caseback, and rubber gaskets, the dial and movement were safe from water, and things have never been the same. Those first watches couldn’t go to great depths, but it didn’t take long for watches with higher water resistance to become the standard. Most recreational divers don’t deeper than 130 feet or 40 meters but the famous Rolex Submariner can safely go to 1000 feet or 300 meters. Sure, that’s impressive, but some watches, however, can go much much deeper.
Why? Well, there are certain situations – commercial divers for instance – where a high water resistance against deep sea pressures is needed. But more than that, it’s become point of pride for watch companies like Rolex, IWC, and Omega to try to hold the title for “watches that can go the deepest” for no other reason than to show that they can. In fact, the current world record water resistance can go deeper than the deepest part of the ocean. So if you want a piece of extreme engineering that can go deeper than you can ever dive, take a look at these five watches.
Most watches face the waterproofing problem of keeping water out of the case but stopping a watch from imploding wasn’t the biggest problem in designing a deep-diving watch. When divers started to go deeper (and spend more time at depth, something known as saturation diving) supplemental oxygen had to be mixed with other gasses including helium. The later problem was those helium molecules, smaller than oxygen, would seep past the gaskets and as divers rose to the surface, the watches would explode, popping the dial off as the diver surfaces. Sure, it’s not a concern for 99.9999% of the population but a good trivia tidbit. And it’s also why the Rolex Sea-Dweller is the king of the deep divers.
See, Rolex solved the problem by introducing a “helium escape valve” into a small batch of Submariners before implementing it in all their Sea-Dwellers. That valve, a small circle in the side of the case, allowed the helium out while keeping everything else where it was supposed to be. That meant a watch that could be used down to 3900 meters (a whopping 12800 feet) and stay there for an extended period of time – long enough for it to be one of the rare dive watches where a date might actually be useful underwater.
Would you ever find yourself 2000 meters underwater? I hope not, because it’s not exactly the world’s most comfy place. But IWC’s Aquatimer 2000 is one of the comfiest watches on the list with its light titanium case and rubber strap that comfortably hugs the wrist. With a normal crown for setting and winding the watch and a second crown for rotating the bezel placed inside the case itself, the watch is far from the most normal-looking of the five, but it does have a lot of ocean-going clout behind it. In fact, more than one IWC Aquatimer bore the name of legendary French diver Jacques-Yves Cousteau. But while the famed diver invented the first SCUBA apparatus, he never went as deep as this Aquatimer can
The Omega Seamaster Ploprof is one of the original “Big Daddy” watches of “how low can you go” diving. Ploprof itself is short for the French plongeur professionnel or “professional diver” but it might as mean “statement watch.” Remember the previously mentioned “helium problem”? While other watchmakers have used novel solutions to let helium out, Omega decided to prevent the problem altogether with the most solid watch probably ever constructed – nearly a boat anchor of a design as much as a watch – that doesn’t let in any outside gasses in the first place. It’s a watch you have to wear to fully understand but one that can be more stylish than you’d expect. One of the most rakish men in history – Gianni Agnelli, the late head of the car company Fiat – used to wear one of these watches over his shirt cuff. Now that’s a move.
Breitling might be more known for their pilots’ watches and chronographs but that didn’t stop them from throwing their hat into the ring with an outrageously deep-diving diver. The Avenger II Seawolf can go to depths of 3000 meters or 10,000 feet, deeper than nearly any submarine has ever traveled, let alone a diver. With a quintessential Breitling stainless steel bezel and a bright-yellow dial that looks like it could be seen miles beneath the ocean’s surface, this a perfect beach-to-ocean-bottom watch for summer vacations or dreaming of warmer weather and deeper waters than the local pool.
If you love Omega but you’re looking for something a bit more traditional than the previous Ploprof, look no further than the Seamaster Planet Ocean. While it might not go quite as deep as some of the others on the list, the helium escape valve crown at 10:00 on the case allows the watch to go to depths of 600 meters, nearly guaranteeing you’re never going to push it to its limit. Even with its colorful orange accents, the Seamaster Planet Ocean is a watch that can be dressed up and down depending on the occasion and has a date function to add even more versatility. And with a co-axial chronometer movement, you’ll have one of the most accurate divers on the market, whether you’re on land or sea.
For all of your diving watch needs head over to Crown and Caliber.