What Does Water Resistance in Watches Mean?

When you’re shopping for a watch and checking out the specs, you’ve likely seen information about the model’s water resistance. You’ve also heard us talk about this particular feature on Unwound, in how to care for your timepiece and what “waterproof” really means when it comes to your watch. Whether you’re an avid diver, already looking ahead to that summer beach trip, or just eager to learn more about your watch and its capabilities, it’s important to understand your watch’s water resistance and how to care for your watch from the shower to the deep blue sea and beyond.

water resistance in watches

The Difference Between Water Resistance and Waterproof

Water resistance and waterproof mean two different things. Although the watch world uses the term “waterproof,” no watch can actually be completely waterproof. There are just varying degrees of water resistance. A watch described as water resistant most likely has a relatively low degree of water resistance. It often means it’s just designed with some moisture protection. For example, your average water resistant watch can endure getting caught in an afternoon rain shower but not being submerged in a swimming pool.

ISO 22810:2010 prohibits the use of waterproof when used with watches. Older (vintage) watches may say “waterproof” on the back as this change happened around 1990 with ISO 2281. This was done to clarify that no watch is truly “waterproof.” With sufficient pressure every watch will leak.

Water resistance itself is a measurement of static pressure at a specified depth. A 30m (3.0 Bar) watch is the minimum standard for being able to be labeled “water-resistant”. In the real world, this means that water shouldn’t get inside of a watch during a normal day. However, this does not mean that the watch is safe for activities that introduce dynamic pressures. As an example: diving into a pool could result in pressures that are  far in excess of what a watch may experience at 30m, if even for a brief second. This can cause the seals on the watch to fail and for water to enter.

It is recommended that a 30m watch is not submerged in water for any amount of time.

Diving Watches

Some watch styles are built to endure time in the water. Diving watches feature a high degree of water resistance. A watch must be able to withstand total submersion in water to be considered a dive watch. It also must be able to withstand a depth of at least 100 meters. If you’re a diver or even an avid swimmer, surfer, or sailor, a diving watch is an ideal option.

water resistance in watches  

Caring for Your Watch

Now let’s explore how you should care for your watch. Whether it’s exposed to a bit of water through daily wear or a full submersion, it’s important to know how to maintain your watch’s water resistance. Your watch’s water resistance should be tested yearly at minimum. We recommend this for a normal daily wear only.  However, if you’re a diver, swimmer, surfer, sailor, or someone who wears your watch in the water often, it should be tested more regularly. This is particularly imperative if you wear your watch frequently in salt water. Over time, the salt causes corrosion and additional wear and tear on the watch, diminishing the water resistance over time.

It is important to rinse any dive watch off once its had exposure to salt or chlorinated water. Prior to any dive you will want to secure the crown and pusher sleeves. To do this, make sure they are screwed down and properly secured. Do not operate or attempt to operate the pushers and/or the crown of the watch while submerged in water. This will introduce water to the inside of the watch.

Water resistance in watches

What to do if Your Watch is Exposed to Water

All it takes is a single drop of water to do serious damage to the mechanism of your watch. It is important to take your watch to a certified professional immediately if you notice water inside your watch. This would include droplets or condensations.  The longer that moisture stays inside a watch the more damage the watch sustains. Moisture can cause damage to all the internals portions of a watch including the movement, dial, hands, and luminosity.

Err On the Side of Caution 

When in doubt, always err on the side of caution when it comes to your watch and moisture. Simply showering with your watch and exposing it to soap and water  could result in water getting in the watch and causing serious damage. Even if your watch says it has a water resistance up to 100 meters, you should still avoid things like diving in a pool. A watch’s water resistance isn’t just about moisture, it’s about changes in pressure. An act like diving into a pool causes an abrupt change in pressure that can shock your watch and instantly push it over its water resisting capacity. Fixing water damage can be a costly repair, so it’s best to take the necessary precautions and keep up with regular maintenance so your watch stays in tip top shape.

Written by

Caitlyn is the founder of Grey Ghost, a New York City-based boutique content marketing agency with a passion for artists, entrepreneurs, small businesses, and startups. She believes in quality over quantity, creative thinking, and, above all, using language as powerful tool to build lasting connections.

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