When it comes to style, function, history, and downright ruggedness, there’s nothing like a good dive watch. For decades, dive watches have stood stronger than most and have given us some of the more enduring designs in wristwatch history.
For the greater part of the 20th century, dive watches served as one of the single most important lifelines in a diver’s arsenal. They were (and still are) useful for tracking bottom time, decompression periods, safety stops, and more. With their sporty appeal, dive watches quickly grew in popularity among professionals, adventurers, and even the everyday desk job crowd. Today, you can find them serving dive masters everywhere and even hiding quietly under the shirt cuffs of some of the world’s most prominent national leaders.
Characteristics of a Dive Watch
There are several details that separate a dive watch from a regular sports watch:
- At least 100 meters of water resistance—one of the primary requirements dictated by ISO 6425, the international standards regulating dive watches
- A generous application of luminous paint on the hands, markers, and even the bezel for maximum legibility
- A unidirectional rotating bezel to accurately track elapsed time with ease
- Bezel markings—the standard is usually that the first fifteen minutes are highlighted or differentiated
- A helium release valve to protect against damage from potential helium saturation (Read: What is the Helium Escape Valve?)
Now that you know what to look for in a dive watch, there’s one thing you should know: you’ll rarely ever use all of its functions. Even dive computers have in essence eliminated some of the need for a dive watch. However, divers still prefer to use a mechanical watch in some capacity, even if it’s just for the redundancy.
As collectors, we’re still drawn to tool watches whether we use them for their intended purpose or not. Therefore, it’s best to really choose your dive watch based on your own specific needs.
For The True Diver
You want to make sure that the watch you choose can handle your next underwater expedition and serve you well. Keep an eye out for these features which happen to be preferred for actual diving.
- Full compliance with ISO 6425 standards, generally possessing at least 200m of water resistance
- 316L stainless steel case construction
- Anti-reflective sapphire crystal to minimize underwater dial distortions
- Either a metal bracelet with a diver’s extension or a long rubber strap that can easily fit over a wetsuit
- Unidirectional diver’s bezel
- Strong lume on the dial, hands, and bezel for maximum visibility in low-light situations
Our Pick: The Tudor Pelagos
For The Intrepid Do-Anything Adventurer
If you just want a watch to take everywhere and handle anything, consider “hybrid” designs. Think about:
- A budget-friendly price point
- Durable construction that’ll perform well on land, air, or sea
- Additional complications like a GMT function or a chronograph
- Internal or external bezel variations: compass navigation, mission time, or tachymetric readings
- Easy compatibility with nylon straps, leather straps, and metal bracelet options
Our Pick: The OMEGA Seamaster GMT
For The Desk Diver
Versatility is key when you find yourself in a variety of environments. You’ll need a dive watch that can dress up or down with you. Look for:
- Something that works with both casual and formal attire—the thinner the better
- Neutral dial colors
- A steel bracelet or an overall case design that works with leather straps.
- Polished design touches that elevate the overall formality
- Interesting designs that move past the bare-bones utilitarian look
Our Pick: The Blancpain Fifty Fathoms
With so many options to choose from, it’s easy to see why watch enthusiasts are drawn to these sea-dwelling hunks of stainless steel. Dive watches provide a universal and appealing wearing experience. As a result, a diver may be the only watch you’ll ever need. But remember, always buy a watch that works for you. Be curious and dedicated to the hunt. Use your resources well because your next watch could be the one that stays with you for a very long time (so make sure you know how to take care of it).