The best high-end diving watches for under US$5,000
Dive watches are, perhaps, the manliest of the manly men's tool watches.
They do a job, they tend to be big and rugged and the best examples tend to have done time in the military. All of which makes particularly appealing if you're the kind of guy who ever worries about their luxury watch being considered jewellery.
You can spend a fortune on a diving watch, but you don't have to. Here, we've rounded up best divers for a budget below US$5,000 which is a level of spending that could be defined as 'less than a Rolex Submariner'.
However, that would be a very dismissive way to describe some of the most accomplished and most carefully designed watches no the market right now.
Ball Engineer Master II Skindiver II
Ball’s watches are at their best when at their simplest. The 43mm Engineer Master II Skindiver: twelve thick tritium gas tubes for the hour markers (plus two thin ones on the hands), a ceramic dive bezel and options of steel or rubber for the straps. You’ll get hands-down the best night-time visibility of any watch, although it lacks the bezel-embedded gas tubes of some of the newest models.
US$3,000 | ballwatch.com
Bell & Ross BR03-92 Diver
Dive watches are round. We all know that. Except no-one told Bell & Ross, who slapped a rotating dive bezel on their recognisable square BR03 template, beefed up the luminova and introduced a tried-and-tested high-contrast-plus-bright-orange colour scheme. And guess what? It really works. It’s rated to 300m, measures 42mm across (and wears snugly thanks to those short lugs) and comes on rubber or fabric. A ceramic case at this price is a bonus, too.
US$4,500 | bellross.com
Breitling Superocean Heritage 42
The seafaring name and the history notwithstanding, the Superocean Heritage never really figures in conversations about dive watches. Partly because the more modern Superocean exists; partly because Breitling is so much bigger on flying than diving. But the Heritage is, to our eyes at least, better looking than its contemporary sibling, and still perfectly capable of getting wet. Resistant to 200m, it uses calibre B20, which is the “in-house” automatic Breitling buys in from Tudor, so it’s identically specced to the Pelagos.
US$4,980 | breitling.com
Bremont Supermarine S2000
Redesigned for 2019, Bremont’s S2000 is one of the most hardcore divers on our list, and now comes with a flashy yellow bezel decoration; it’s just that little bit glossier all round than its forebear. As the name implies, it’s rated to a massive 2000m of water pressure (at which point, the man wearing it would be crushed thinner than its strap). Like Seiko, it moves the crown away from 3 o’clock for greater protection, which also marginally reduces the perceived size on the wrist (it’s a fairly chunky 45mm x 18mm). Movement-wise, you’re looking at a modified ETA 2836-2 with 38 hours of power.
US$5,250 | bremont.com
Doxa Sub 300T
Doxa has plenty of underwater history, but hasn’t always thrived as a business like some of its rivals. In 2019, the brand debuted a wild array of colour schemes on its decidedly vintage designs, from “sharkhunter” black to “Caribbean” blue. Confusingly, the 300T is water resistant to a whopping 1200m; the dual scales are for calculating decompression times. The movement is an ETA 2824-2 and the watch measures 42.5mm across.
US$2,375 | doxa.com
Favre-Leuba Raider Deep Blue 41
Favre-Leuba offers all of its Raider watches in 44mm or 41mm sizes; even the smaller ones feel chunky thanks to that case design, but sometimes that’s what you want in a dive watch. Beyond that, options abound: the watch is available in yellow, blue or orange, with grey, black or steel cases and on leather, rubber or metal bracelets. You get applied hour markers, 300m water resistance and yes, of course, an ETA 2824-2 movement.
US$2,900 | favre-leuba.com
IWC Aquatimer Automatic
Maxing out your budget gets you IWC ownership. The Aquatimer is almost certainly going to get a refresh in 2020 (and with that, expect a price hike) but we’re fond of the reference 329001 and while it’s around, it’s worth a look. It’s 42mm wide, has an internal dive bezel with mint green accents and quick-swap straps (assuming you have other IWC straps to swap in). The movement’s a modified ETA 2892-A2 with 42 hours in the tank.
US$5,500 | iwc.com
Longines Heritage Skin Diver
Many love the Longines Legend Diver, and rightly so. But 2018’s Skin Diver has topped it for pure retro points; there’s no date, and the hands and dial are a direct homage to the Sixties original – although the watch, like the Certina, has swelled from 40mm to 42mm. It’s good for 300m water resistance, has a sapphire crystal, a screw-down crown and a bezel in PVD-coated steel. Strap options include tropic rubber and leather.
US$2,800 | longines.com
Nomos Glashutte Club Sport Neomatik
Better known for being business-like and Bauhaus, Nomos Glashutte now does a 300m-rated Club Sport – and its first ever metal bracelet. There’s no dive bezel, but the crown screws down (and has a red safety warning if it isn’t fully locked) plus the hour markers have a generous coat of Luminova. So yes, you can wear it underwater. It dresses up on dry land too, though. Thanks to the in-house Neomatik movement it’s slimmer than most divers (42mm x 10.2mm), plus you get a a sapphire caseback.
US$4,200 | nomos-glashutte.com
Omega Seamaster 300M Diver
Omega makes a lot of great dive watches. Who knew, right? For right on budget you can have the entry-level Planet Ocean (600m, hard as nails, subtle as a brick) or, same money, the Seamaster 300 Master Co-Axial 41mm (vintage stylings galore). But for nearly a grand less, you get this – the everyday hero. It's got an equally good movement as the vintage-y 300, plus applied lume plots, laser-engraved dial, helium valve and a date. Better than the Submariner? Very possibly.
US$5,000 | omega.com
Oris Divers Sixty-Five
This has been the big success story at Oris. It isn’t a hardcore diver (there’s the Aquis for that) but it is full of personality. The Sixty-Five now comes in literally dozens of versions, all running on basic Sellita SW 200-1 calibres, and all with 100m water resistance. The watch’s strength isn’t in its stats but in the richness of its dial finishing and all-round pleasant looks. We’ve picked out the one with a r-Radyarn strap made from recycled polymers and produced with an eye on reducing emissions.
US$1,500 | oris.com
Panerai Luminor Marina Logo PAM776
Going slightly above budget will get into Panerai Luminor territory. We prefer the small seconds dial of this one, the Marina Logo, but given that they’re otherwise identical, we won’t blame you for banking £300. Both run the hand-wound 3-day P.6000 in-house calibre, both lack ‘sandwich’ lume dials and both measure 44mm across with 100m water resistance.
US$5,800 | panerai.com
Rado Captain Cook 42mm
Best known for slimline ceramic pieces and modern designs, Rado has belatedly discovered there’s gold in them there heritage revival hills. Cynical or not, the 42mm Captain Cook is a fun watch with a distinctive concave bezel profile and domed sapphire. The red date disc, revolving anchor logo and sunburst dial all add the impression someone was thinking about the details, too. Water resistance is 200m and it shares an 80-hour movement with the Certina DS200.
US$1,580 | rado.com
Seiko Prospex SLA033
If there’s one sub-US5,000 diver we would spring for, it’s the Prospex re-creation of a 1970 classic – the original “turtle”. Limited to 2,500 pieces, it measures 45mm across, has 200m water resistance and 50 hours of power reserve. Like all Seiko divers, it has the crown at 4 o’clock for greater protection against knocks.
US$4,800 | Seiko.com
Another watch with its crown at 4 o’clock, albeit without the protective lines of the Seiko’s turtle shaped case. Everything you’d expect from Sinn is here: no-nonsense legibility, German submarine steel, argon-filled cases to reduce condensation and a functional range of -45/+80 degrees Celsius. Most impressive of all, it is water resistant to 1000m – but it gets there by being 47mm wide, so it’s not for the thin-wristed.
US$3,300 | sinn.com
TAG Heuer Aquaracer
Far and away one of the more youthful watches on our list, the 43mm Aquaracer’s standout visual feature is the detailed faceting to the hour markers, hands and bezel; borderline fussy in pictures, it’s much less noisy in real life. Powered by TAG Heuer’s Calibre 5, it’s good for 300m. There are countless versions available, but we favour keeping it simple with this blue/black model.
US$2,750 | tagheuer.com
At this budget, most divers are 316L stainless steel, but at Tudor you get a titanium bracelet, case and bezel (with a steel caseback and folding clasp). The satin finish, combined with the matt ceramic of the bezel and matt black dial make this easily the most business-like watch Tudor makes. No flashes of colour or retro details here, just pure legibility. Since 2015 the Pelagos has used Tudor’s in-house calibre MT5612, with 70 hours power reserve. Depth rating: 500m.
US$4,500 | tudor.com
Somewhere between a field watch and a true diver, the U1-DZ from Unimatic takes the minimalist cool of the brand’s debut watches and adds an olive drab paint job. It’s still rated to 300m, however. Inside is a Seiko automatic movement, which scores highly for reliability and price, but poorly for daily accuracy. Rather than showing calibrations for elapsed dive time, the bezel is set up for second timezone tracking. Limited to 400 pieces.
US$700 | unimaticwatches.com