Look at the wrists around a typical boardroom table, and chances are the watches strapped to them are one of the following: Rolex Submariner, Omega Seamaster, or Panerai anything.
All three of them were born of the murky depths, built like miniature submarines to keep frogmen aware of their remaining oxygen supply, but nowadays – like the Range Rovers driven at the weekend by aforementioned board members – roaming Civvy Street as statement wear, their extraordinary capabilities are unchallenged, unfulfilled.
Or maybe not.
Quite apart from the fact a certain Commander Bond has been a keen advocate of those specific Rolex and Omega’s ever since Dr No, diving watches deserve their ubiquity for plenty of reasons: for a start, they look damn cool and they’re genuinely practical, whether you’re PADI Level 3 or still working on your doggy paddle. It may just be all the watch you need.
What Is A Diving Watch?
As with most fundamental developments in the modern wristwatch (self-winding rotor, date window, anti-magnetism) it was Rolex who patented the first practicable ‘waterproof’ wristwatch: the Oyster of 1926, with case front and back screwed down onto the case middle and the crown screwed down onto a cylindrical pillar protruding from the case – just like a submarine hatch. Save for the addition of tighter ‘O-ring’ rubber gaskets, it’s a system that’s barely changed since.
A diving watch is essentially that: a watch that has the ability to withstand the pressures of deep water. But as with anything in the world of luxury watches, it needn’t stop at the golden formula of water resistance, bezel ring and luminescence. You can opt for a diving watch with at least three other largely unnecessary features. Because, you know… because.
Rolex Submariner – the archetypal diving watch
Some divers have an internal timing bezel, sitting below the sapphire crystal flush with the dial. It’s more slender and classic-looking but requires its own screw-down crown to adjust and is therefore a right fiddle if you’re wearing diving gloves or simply have freezing-cold and wet fingers.
Any diver who really needs to know their depth is also unlikely to trust a mechanical system integrated into their wristwatch – if only for how difficult it is to read on such a tiny scale. And then there is the helium escape valve. The least understood, nearly always unnecessary, but by no means most useless function found on nearly every luxury diving watch.
It was invented by (you guessed it) Rolex in the late sixties, for its beefed-up ‘Sea-Dweller’, and essentially allows accumulated helium gas to escape the watch during decompression. It’s a fancy addition, totally unnecessary for daily wear, but also quite cool.
The Best Diving Watches You Can Buy Right Now
Seiko Prospex Turtle Save the Ocean
The name ‘Cousteau’ is synonymous with the life aquatic, and it’s the grandson of fifties pioneer Jacques-Yves who perpetuates the family tradition today.
The Fabien Cousteau Ocean Learning Centre and by default the Earth’s greatest resource now directly profits from its new partnership with Japan’s watchmaking giant Seiko – a brand whose Prospex range embodies a continuous lineage of super-affordable and ever-evolving diving watches since the sixties.
This one’s good to 200m with precision mechanics and a bang-on-trend gradient dial thrown into the bargain.
Longines Heritage Skin Diver
The museum at Longines’ St Imier HQ is a near-bottomless inspiration for the venerable brand’s ongoing ‘Heritage’ collection – a line kickstarted in 2007 with the now-cult-collectible (no-date-display) Legend Diver.
This latest Heritage revival goes even further back, reviving the very first Longines diving watch of 1959, but going even deeper down – to 300 metres’ water resistance. The flawless gleam of that black-PVD-coated bezel just begs to be twizzled at first sight.
Omega Seamaster Diver 300M
Launched in 1948, the Seamaster line was Omega’s first official “family” of watches. Modelled on the “Watch. Wrist. Waterproof.” MoD-spec pieces made for Allied troops, it was soon ramped up to Submariner-matching 300m water resistance in 1957.
Thanks to Pierce Brosnan’s costume designer for Goldeneye, it’s the blue-dialled 1994 ‘Diver’ version of the Omega Seamaster 300 that we know best, as Oscar-winner Lindy Hemming wanted to play on the Irish heartthrob’s piercing (sorry) blue eyes.
A quarter century on, it’s been revived with a scratch-proof ceramic bezel, wavy dial motif still intact but now – presumably referencing the incumbent James Bond’s grizzled looks – in grey.
Oris Aquis Clean Ocean
Adding to Oris’s established oceanic endeavours in shark conservation and Great Barrier Reef restoration, this limited edition launched at Baselworld 2019 hails a new partnership with Pacific Garbage Screening – a pioneering organisation developing technology that captures plastic before it enters the ocean.
All 2,000 of the aqua-dial, 300-metre water resistant watches come in boxes made from environmentally friendly algae and feature uniquely marbled caseback inlays made from recycled-plastic.
Panerai Submersible BMG-TECH 47mm
Panerai has come a long way since its primitive days kitting out shallow-depth, covert frogmen with short runs of converted Rolexes. For a start, it’s now Swiss rather than Italian, and while its iconic cushion shape has been retained, the brand’s got a whole lot more high-tech.
The Submersible range benefits from a new model in BMG-Tech, an intriguing alloy made from titanium, zirconium, copper, aluminium and nickel. This cocktail is injection moulded at a high temperature and pressure (so far so normal) but then it is rapidly cooled, just for a few seconds, which stops the atoms from reforming into a regular structure, leaving it 70 per cent more scratch resistant than titanium.
Bell & Ross BR 03-92 Diver
During its nascent nineties years, Bell & Ross won a place in the Guinness Book of World Records with 1997’s Hydromax, which boasted an unprecedented water resistance rating of 11,100 metres. Why not a rounded-down 11,000? Simple: the deepest place on Earth is the Pacific’s Mariana Trench, which is a mere 11,035m.
Every swimming badge thus unanimously earned and stitched to its Speedo’s, B&R became a fashion-forward watchmaker favoured as much by fighter jet pilots and bomb disposal teams as tortoiseshell-bespectacled architects, always with a formidable diving bell for the wrist somewhere in the catalogue.
It’s especially technically impressive that the current 300-metre model comes dressed in the square ‘Instrument’ case, as water pressure acts unpredictably around a non-circular joint.
As loveable as the wildly successful Heritage Black Bay is, it’s ultimately a tribute act; a Now That’s What I Call A Tudor Submariner greatest-hits mix of retro details drawing from the days when Tudor fitted-out Rolex’s ultimate diving watch with cheaper movements, making them favourites of the American and French navies from the sixties to the eighties.
The Tudor Pelagos on the other hand, launched quietly in parallel to the first Black Bay reboot in 2012, was designed on a blank sheet of paper with a simple brief: make the perfect modern diving watch. Much like the Submariner back in 1953, in fact.
Nothing was overlooked and everything is just-so. Its potent cocktail of saltwater qualifications starts with the titanium case – a super-tough metal that’s incredibly tricky to engineer to diving-watch tolerances – followed by the switch from an ETA movement to Tudor’s own top-flight MT5612 calibre, adjusted to chronometer precision. Then there’s the use of scratch-proof ceramic for the bezel, meaning glances against coral, or brick walls inside trendy pubs won’t scuff things up.
Bremont Supermarine S2000
The restless action-man watchmaker of Henley-on-Thames ventures even further beneath the waves here, with a fresh new take on a collection named after the 1930s aircraft company, Supermarine, whose 1930s’ Type 300 waterplane won the Schneider Cup and paved the way for the Spitfire.
In fact, Bremont evolved its seminal pilot-watch DNA with 500m-water-resistance and high-luminescence just a few years into Bremont’s lifespan, before upping its sub-aquatic game to a whopping 2,000 metres down in 2013, even inviting the interest of commercial ‘saturation’ divers. If the bends aren’t going to get you light-headed, then the toothsome claret of this year’s bezel re-design certainly will.
Rolex Sea-Dweller Deepsea
Commemorating James Cameron’s record-breaking 10,908m descent to the deepest part of the Mariana Trench in 2012 is the newly face-lifted blue-dial version of Rolex’s Deepsea – a hardcore version of the Sea-Dweller, designed for industrial divers who spend days on end in helium-saturated bathyscaphes.
While its wearer would expire far sooner, this wrist-born bathyscaphe is good all the way down to 3,900 metres – or, as a trial run proved just a few weeks prior to Cameron’s historic dive off the coast of Papua New Guinea, 4,000 metres, since a standard Deepsea was attached to his sumbersible’s hydraulic arm throughout, resurfacing in perfect working order.
Breitling Superocean Automatic 46mm Blacksteel
Thanks to its extraordinary run of pioneering chronographs during the first half of the 20th century, establishing Breitling as every military and civilian’s go-to timekeeper, we often forget this Swiss watch brand has an equally formidable reputation for diving.
Relaunched to industry-wide raptures in 2007, fifty years after its first appearance beneath the waves, the retro-in-feel, but most certainly modern-in-build Superocean collection is now a catalogue fixture – refreshed and revived for 2019.
This super-precise ‘chronometer’ certified model will be right at home with the fishes as well as bottom feeders and all manner of unidentified species, thanks to an extraordinary 2,000m water-tightness (10 times the usual Superocean rating), its tough-as-old-flippers Diver Pro II rubber strap and a rockhard ‘diamond-like carbon’ coating to its steel case.