A quick guide to Diving Watches
Diving watches are tools that come with the promise of keeping you safe deep underwater, and yet most will never see action beyond a beach holiday. That aesthetic is invariably broad-shouldered and heavy-set, built up with industrial-sounding hardware like uni-directional rotating bezels and automatic helium escape valves. Some advertise water-resistance to bone-crushing depths: Rolex’s Deepsea is claimed to function at a depth of 3,900m. Unless you’re a commercial diver, wearing such a watch is akin to driving to the supermarket in a tank. Sounds absurd, but given the chance, most men would.
The origins of diver’s watches lie, as is so often the case, with Rolex, which helmed advances in water-resistant watches first with its Hermetic watch in 1924 and then its Oyster in 1926.
Two world wars necessitated further developments, ushering in designs such as Panerai’s Radiomir in 1936, which was made for the Royal Italian Navy, and followed in 1950 by the Luminor, made famous by its signature crown-protecting device.
But it wasn’t until the Fifties that the first watch water-resistant to 100m emerged. Rolex’s now ubiquitous Submariner debuted in 1953 at a time when submarine exploration was gathering momentum. Jacques Cousteau and his crew wore Blancpain Fifty Fathoms watches during the filming of Le Monde du Silence, which won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival in 1956.
Some 60 years on, a diver’s watch must now conform to ISO (International Organisation for Standardisation) standards, which demand water-resistance of at least 100m, a unidirectional rotating bezel for timing and a visible running seconds hand to show it’s working.
1. Dive back in time
Today’s diving watches are driven by brand history and associations with the sea. Rolex Sea-Dwellers and Submariners are highly popular, most often purchased for the brand appeal and watch aesthetic, rather than because the customer intends to dive.