For almost as long as watches have been worn on wrists, watchmakers have strived to make them function in places they probably shouldn’t, and nowhere is that pursuit more glorified than it is regarding the dive watch. How could it not be? Imagine a tiny network of gears and springs, working flawlessly, shielded from the relentless pressure of the ocean and surrounded by an unfathomable amount of water.

The pursuit for a truly water-resistant watch began in earnest in the early 20th century. In 1927, Rolex debuted the “Oyster,” which is accepted as the world’s first water-resistant watch. In the late 1930s, Panerai developed the Radiomir, a large cushion-cased watch worn by divers in the Italian Royal Navy, meant to be worn for long periods of time underwater.

The Short List

The modern dive watch as we know it, though, didn’t arrive until 1953 when Rolex, Blancpain and Zodiac introduced their dive watch designs — the Submariner, Fifty Fathoms and Sea Wolf — all different but touting remarkably similar features. All three watches featured chunky water-resistant cases, legible lume-filled dials and rotating dive bezels that could be used to calculate the amount of time spent underwater. This final component is at the crux of why the dive watch became such a vital piece of SCUBA kit: it allows divers to know exactly how much time they’ve spent underwater and when it’s time to begin an ascent.

While they were originally intended mainly as tools for military and commercial divers, recreational diving became an exceedingly popular hobby in the decades that would follow, and more and more dive watches would arrive, following the same formula set in 1953 and featuring the same hallmark design traits. Though watchmakers continue to improve said formula — with tougher cases, more substantial depth ratings and other practical features — the many dive watches you’ll see today are still inspired by the ones first launched over 60 years ago.

The reality is this: the dive watch was usurped by the modern digital dive computer a long time ago. Today there are still holdouts (who likely wear one as a backup to a dive computer) but mostly dive watches are worn as style pieces rather than tools, which is just fine, because the best retain their old-school style but can still be used for their intended purpose if needed.

What Makes a Dive Watch?

Today, many watches can be worn and read underwater, but the best guidelines for what makes up a true diver’s watch are laid out by the International Organization for Standardization. The modern ISO 6425 standard stipulates a few criteria, chief of which are: a minimum depth-rating of 100 meters, a unidirectional bezel with markings at least every five minutes, a dial visible in total darkness and an indication in darkness that the watch is running — usually this is indicated by a running seconds hands with a luminous tip or counterbalance. ISO 6425 also stipulates the watch must be anti-magnetic and shock-resistant, as well as well as resistant to corrosion in seawater. The net result is a timepiece that’s rugged, reliable and legible.

Terms to Know

Bezel (unidirectional): A rotating ring surrounding the watch dial that only turns counterclockwise and features markings at least every five minutes. A diver will line up the marker at the 12 o’clock position with the current position of the minutes hand to track elapsed time on a dive. A unidirectional bezel on a dive watch only turns in one direction so it’s less prone to being knocked out of place, thus throwing off the tracked time (and making the diver think he has more available time underwater than he actually does).

Gasket: A soft rubber (or synthetic) ring found inside a watch that creates a watertight seal, keeping moisture from making its way into the watch case and damaging the clockwork.

Helium escape valve: Not a requirement, but useful on dive watches worn at particularly deep depths or worn by saturation divers. Breathing gas worn by these divers contains helium, which is so small it can work its way into a watch case. The valve allows this gas to escape once the diver has surfaced. If it were not there the helium could blow off the crystal from the watch case due to buildup and expansion at surface pressure.

Lume: A term used to describe the luminescent material applied to a watch dial to make the hands and indices/numerals light up in the dark. On older dive watches, radioactive materials like radium and tritium were used, though today most divers use a photoluminescent paint like SuperLuminova.

Screw-down crown: A type of crown that can be screwed in until it is flush with the watch case, creating a seal so that no water can enter the watch through the crown tube.

This content is imported from Third party. You may be able to find the same content in another format, or you may be able to find more information, at their web site.

Courtesy
Tudor Black Bay Fifty-Eight
tudorwatch.com
$3,700.00

Tudor’s Black Bay lineup is inspired by the Tudor-branded Submariners made during the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s, and the Fifty-Eight is the greatest tribute to that era yet, thanks to a vintage-inspired 39mm case and a dial with old-school gilt dial or this crisp new model in all blue. The movement, of course, is wholly modern, and features a 70-hour power reserve and chronometer-rated accuracy.

Movement: Tudor MT5402 automatic
Diameter: 39mm
Water Resistance: 200m
Manufacturer Info: tudorwatch.com

SHOP PRE-OWNED
Courtesy
Seiko SKX007
amazon.com
$450.00

An affordable watch stalwart if there ever were one, this is one of the few ISO-rated dive watches you’ll find around this price and one of the first watches many will recommend if you want a mechanical watch, period. There’s not much to it other than the essentials — a simple but reliable movement, a proper bezel, a clear and legible dial and a case good for 200 meters — but that’s what makes it so damn endearing. (Note that the SKX007 has since been discontinued, and this has driven the price up to around $300 — but it’s still a hell of a deal.)

Movement: Seiko 7S26 Automatic
Diameter: 42mm
Water Resistance: 200m
Manufacturer info: seikowatches.com

      SHOP NOW SHOP PRE-OWNED

      Courtesy
      Rolex Submariner
      rolex.com
      $8,100.00

      We all knew it would be here. This is because the Submariner is arguably the most influential watch of all time, inspiring countless other sports watches since its inception in 1953, and helping make dive watches into style statements outside the water. In its modern guise, it’s a clear evolution from the original, featuring a better movement (an automatic accurate to within two seconds a day), a ceramic bezel and a 41mm case water-resistant to 300 meters.

      Movement: Rolex 3230 automatic; Rolex 3235 automatic
      Diameter: 41mm
      Water Resistance: 300m
      Manufacturer Info: rolex.com

          SHOP PRE-OWNED

          Courtesy
          Baltic Aquascaphe
          baltic-watches.com
          €695.00

          The French brand Baltic makes some of our favorite retro-styled watches, and its flagship Aquascaphe diver is no exception. With a fresh design but a vintage feel, this is a fully dive-capable watch with 200m of water resistance that stills wears easily (and handsomely) at 39mm. Powered by a solid Japanese automatic movement, we love the details and quality for its price.

          Movement: Miyota 9039 automatic
          Diameter: 39mm
          Water Resistance: 200m
          Manufacturer Info: baltic-watches.com

          SHOP PRE-OWNED

          Courtesy
          Zodiac Super Sea Wolf
          $1,095.00

          The Sea Wolf isn’t the only original diver design from 1953 you’ll see on this list, but it is the most affordable and the watch is a spot-on take on a vintage Sea Wolf. While many dive watches on the affordable end of the spectrum tend to rely on bulky cases to remain water-resistant at deeper depths, the Sea Wolf is relatively svelte at just 40mm in diameter and 11mm thick.

          Movement: STP 3-13 automatic
          Diameter: 40mm
          Water Resistance: 200m
          Manufacturer Info: zodiacwatches.com

              SHOP PRE-OWNED

              Courtesy
              Seiko Prospex SPB143
              ebay.com
              $1,200.00

              There’s a great Seiko diver out there for just about any and every budget, from impressively cheap to those competing with high-end luxury brands. The series which includes the SPB143, however, is sits right in the middle and strikes a remarkably adroit balance between vintage and modern. Seiko reinterpreted its famous 62MAS dive watch from 1965 for a more current look, and they got it just right — from its mix of features and price to its 40.5mm diameter.

              Movement: Seiko 6R35 automatic
              Diameter: 40.5mm
              Water Resistance: 200m
              Manufacturer Info: seikoluxe.com

              SHOP PRE-OWNED

              Courtesy
              Oris Divers Sixty-Five
              hodinkee.com
              $2,100.00

              Much like the Zodiac, the Oris Divers Sixty-Five is a super-accurate reinterpretation of a classic dive watch design. The watch is similarly compact at 40mm in diameter and just under 13mm thick (thanks in no small part to the use of a domed crystal), and features an of-the-era 100-meter depth rating — less than that of most other dive watches on this list, but more than enough for most watch enthusiasts and recreational divers. The Sixty-Five has been released in myriad iterations in the few years it’s been on the market, so whether you’re a bracelet or strap person, there’s a version for you.

              Movement: Sellita SW200-1 automatic
              Diameter: 40mm
              Water Resistance: 100m
              Manufacturer Info: oris.ch

                  SHOP NOW SHOP PRE-OWNED

                  Courtesy
                  Sinn U50
                  sinn watchbuys.com
                  $2,430.00

                  Sinn is synonymous with tough, German tool watches, and the 1,000m-water-resistant U1 dive watch epitomizes that image. Its 44mm case, however, precludes it from being worn on smaller wrists and a range of situations (read: with sleeves). That’s why we love the U50 with its smaller 41mm case that still retains all the badass-ness and the same type of high-strength, seawater-resistant steel used for German submarines and the U1. It's water-resistant to 500m, which is far more than the feeble human body can withstand, but Sinn wears the overkill well.

                  Movement: Sellita SW 300-1 automatic
                  Diameter: 41mm
                  Water Resistance: 500m
                  Manufacturer Info: sinn.de

                      SHOP NOW SHOP PRE-OWNED

                      Courtesy
                      Doxa Sub 300T Professional
                      doxawatches.com
                      $300.00

                      Not that your dive watch has to be orange, but when Doxa does it at least there's history behind its attention-grabbing look. The 300T is an evolution of the legendary Doxa divers of the late ’60s and early ’70s and carries the brand’s iconic decompression limit bezel and orange dial — ostensibly to aid in legibility, but it’s an iconic design trait more than anything.

                      Movement: ETA 2824-2 automatic COSC-certified
                      Diameter: 42.5mm
                      Water Resistance: 300m
                      Manufacturer Info: doxawatches.com

                          SHOP PRE-OWNED

                          Courtesy
                          Longines Legend Diver Black
                          hodinkee.com
                          $2,700.00

                          Based on a dive watch design from the 1960s, the Legend Diver reissue has been a longtime watch enthusiast favorite since its debut over 20 years ago. Longines further gave the design the all-black treatment, as well as an upgraded movement with a whopping 80-hour power reserve. The watch manages to perfectly combine a modern all-black aesthetic with a vintage look thanks to the cleanness that the internal bezel provides.

                          Movement: Base ETA A31.L01 automatic
                          Diameter: 42mm
                          Water Resistance: 300m
                          Manufacturer Info: longines.com

                              SHOP NOW SHOP PRE-OWNED

                              Courtesy
                              Omega Seamaster Diver 300M
                              hodinkee.com
                              $5,200.00

                              Omega’s Seamaster 300M, first launched in 1993, got a major overhaul for its 25th birthday. At first glance, you might not see the changes — it keeps much of the watch’s ’90s-tastic charm — but look closer, and you can see the subtle enhancements made throughout. The bezel insert and dial are both made from ceramic, and the wave pattern hallmark is etched by lasers. The movement used now is Omega’s “Master Chronometer” co-axial automatic and the watch now features a helium escape valve.

                              Movement: Omega 8800 automatic
                              Diameter: 42mm
                              Water Resistance: 300m
                              Manufacturer Info: omegawatches.com

                                  SHOP NOW SHOP PRE-OWNED

                                  Courtesy
                                  Panerai Submersible PAM 682
                                  panerai.com
                                  $8,900.00

                                  Early Panerai watches helped pave the way for the modern diver, but they lacked the crucial rotating bezel. The Submersible rectifies this while retaining the brand’s iconic Luminor silhouette, complete with a locking crown guard that protects it from knocks while submerged. The watch features the brand’s excellent P.9010 automatic with a three-day power reserve.

                                  Movement: Panerai P.9010 automatic
                                  Diameter: 42mm
                                  Water Resistance: 300m
                                  Manufacturer Info: panerai.com

                                      SHOP PRE-OWNED

                                      Courtesy
                                      Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Baracuda
                                      blancpain.com
                                      $14,100.00

                                      The Fifty Fathoms debuted at the same time as the Rolex Submariner and Zodiac Sea Wolf as the first dive watches of their kind in 1953. Having outgrown its tool-watch roots, however, Blancpain now offers one of the most luxurious high-end dive watch experiences available. Though the majority of Fifty Fathoms are boldly sized, the Baracuda model offers a compact package at an eminently satisfying 40.3mm wide. With an excellent in-house movement and a high level of refinement, it costs well into the five-figure price range.

                                      Movement: Blancpain 1151 automatic
                                      Diameter: 40.3mm
                                      Water Resistance: 300m
                                      Manufacturer Info: blancpain.com

                                      SHOP PRE-OWNED