There was a time when water was like kryptonite to watches. Any got inside the case and, well, the delicate little system of gears inside was more or less screwed. Nowadays, there are many watches you can even take swimming or diving, and it's pretty reasonable to expect that you shouldn't have to worry about your watch in the normal conditions you face day to day — including wet ones.
While many watches are built to handle water, how wet a watch can get is a matter of degree — rather than an absolute quality of either "waterproof" or not. This is why watch companies are careful to use the term "water-resistant" instead of "waterproof." Perhaps some prototype watches like Omega's Ultra-Deep qualify as waterproof for all intents and purposes: it was tested to withstand 15,000 meters worth of water pressure, while the deepest known point in the ocean is 10,984m.
That's not the kind of watch you can buy, though — and even if you could it's a pretty unwearable 52mm wide and 28mm thick. What you want is a watch that's easy to wear, that you like and that you don't have to worry about getting wet. The good news is that whether you're a professional diver or generally just don't want to worry about your watch getting wet, there are great options at every level. The not-so-good news is that the way most watch companies label their watches' water resistance isn't always so clear to the general consumer.
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Can I swim or shower with my watch?
You can learn more about what water resistance ratings mean here, but here's what you need to know. Water resistance ratings usually refer to water pressure, and that's measured in "bar" or its equivalent depth in feet or meters. So, a watch that's water-resistant to 3bar is the same as one that's rated to 30m or about 100ft. (Meters being the most commonly used unit.) That sounds pretty deep, but those ratings refer to controlled environments and water pressure is only one of the variables to consider before swimming with your watch.
Since gaskets can degrade over time and other factors like salt water can make a difference, most watchmakers will clearly tell you not to take a 30m water-resistant watch swimming. Sorry to break it to you, but 30m is typically equated with "splash-resistant" and is mostly relegated to dress watches. A 50m water-resistant watch is still better, but personally, I avoid swimming with, submerging or otherwise getting very wet (like showering) with any watch rated to less than 100m.
Get yourself a 200m or 300m water-resistant dive watch, though, and you can go nuts. Shower or explore sunken wrecks with it: no problem. Because water resistance is often read as a proxy for overall durability, many watchmakers have even created watches that are rated to go far deeper than any human being possibly could.
A Note on Waterproof Watches and Straps
When buying a watch for its water-resistant qualities, also consider the strap. You'll notice a lot of 30m-water-resistant dress watches come on leather straps — that's because they're not really intended to be gotten wet anyway, and leather straps should avoid water all around. What's best for watches that you intend to take in or around water are steel bracelets or rubber straps. Even NATOs are ok, though they'll take longer to dry.
Waterproof Watches Buying Guide
Since most watches are water resistant to some degree, here are some great ones to consider at each of the most common levels of water resistance.
30m Water-Resistant Watches
30m = 3 bar = 100ft. We're talking dress watches that should be treated as no more than "splash-resistant." In other words, they have some degree of water resistance, but you mostly want to keep them dry.
While 30m might be about the minimum of what's considered water-resistant, you can't ask for a lot more than Orient delivers. For a hundred bucks or so you get a great-looking, automatic dress watch. What more do you want?
Movement: Orient F6724 automatic
Water resistance of 30m might not seem like enough for a field watch made for rugged or even military use, as the Bulova Hack originally was during WWII. But what makes this watch feel more legit is that those soldiers' watches probably weren't much more water resistant.
Movement: Miyota 82S0 automatic
50m Water-Resistant Watches
50m = 5bar = 164ft. A significant step above dress watches in daily wearability, some people might even be comfortable swimming with a 50m water-resistant watch — but that comfort must be inversely related to the watch's price. In other words, do you really want to risk it?
Hamilton Intra-Matic Auto
This thing's just gorgeous, with a thin case, a high-quality automatic movement and a dash of character. It's dressy, but also a great daily watch offering more water resistance than expected of a watch with its formal style.
Movement: ETA 2892 automatic
Though only 50m water-resistant, the Apple Watch is genuinely intended for swimming with applications such as those that count your strokes and offer other fitness data. Apple fine print, however, notes that it shouldn't be used for "activities involving high-velocity water or submersion below shallow depth."
Length: 40mm, 41mm, 44mm, 45mm
Platform: Apple iOS
100m Water-Resistant Watches
100m = 10bar = 300ft. You're now in the realm of sport watches those that are meant to be banged around and survive significant water exposure. Most (not all) watches with 100m of water resistance or more will feature a screw-down crown to help achieve that rating. You can confidently take watches like this in water — just not diving too deep.
Seiko 5 Sports SKX Sports Style GMT
The whole Seiko 5 Sports collection is rated to 100m and just generally offers tons of value. Sure you could get a field- or dive-style watch in the collection for even less moolah, but we love to recommend the GMT with its extra time-zone-tracking functionality that you won't otherwise find in an automatic watch under $500.
Movement: Seiko 4R34 automatic
Oris Divers Sixty-Five
Though billed as a diver (it's even in the name), Oris is among a few brands pushing the boundaries of what's considered a dive watch. Though 100m is less than most modern dive watches, it's what a lot of vintage dive watches were originally rated for — and the Oris Divers Sixty-Five is strong on vintage vibes and style.
Movement: Sellita SW200 automatic
200m Water-Resistant Watches
200m = 20bar = 660ft. Bonafide dive watches! You might find a lot of serious dive watches rated to 300m, but 200m is more than sufficient for anything you're likely to do. Anyhow, more water resistance might mean thicker cases, and you'll see that watches in this range can be highly wearable.
Seiko Prospex SPB237
The vast majority of dive watches in the Seiko Prospex line are rated to 200m. And Seiko dive watches get respect. This SPB237, based on a famous vintage watch known as the "Willard," is just one example — but a darn cool one.
Movement: Seiko 6R35 automatic
Tudor Black Bay Fifty-Eight
The Tudor Black Bay Fifty-Eight stands as one of the most impressive values in all of watchdom. Made by Rolex's sister brand, it's the perfect size, features an in-house automatic chronometer movement and just oozes handsome quality.
Movement: Tudor MT5402 automatic
300m Water-Resistant Watches
300m = 30bar = 1,000ft. A watch with this rating is likely made expressly for diving, and among dive watches you're talking the serious kind. It's the rating found on the most famous dive watches from big brands.
Doxa Sub 300
One of the OG dive watch makers, Doxa watches today start at 200m and go much deeper. The Sub 300 sits right in the middle at 300m and offers a worthy successor to its vintage heritage. If you want the most iconic Doxa look go for the orange "Professional" model.
Movement: ETA 2824 automatic
Yes, the Rolex Submariner. The watch is so famous and respected for good reason. Rolex is excellent at offering a watch without compromising on anything it should have, but also without packing on anything that's unneeded: a water resistance of 300m promises a high level of robustness, while anything more would be overkill for most people or purposes.
Movement: Rolex 3230 automatic
Extreme Water-Resistant Watches
Anything above more than 300m of water resistance qualifies as overkill. But that doesn't stop watchmakers from producing watches that can dive even deeper than any human being. What's the point? Knowing that your watch can survive more than you can possibly subject it to.
The next level of watches that are rated to dive deeper than 300m usually start at 500m. There are watches that go much deeper than them, sure, but something like the Sinn U50 offers plenty of deep-diving cred and is a damn badass watch, to boot. Did we mention that it's made from "German Submarine Steel?"
Movement: Sellita SW300 automatic
Omega Seamaster Planet Ocean Ultradeep
Mentioned above is the current record holder for the deepest diving watch ever. Since you can't actually buy that exact watch, though, Omega also announced a collection of watches alongside it that, while not rated for quite as deep, are sufficiently ridiculous with a depth rating of 6,000m (six kilometers) under the waves.
Movement: Omega 8912 automatic