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 in 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 insulated from the water surrounding it.

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 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 resistant to corrosion in seawater. The net result is a timepiece that’s rugged, reliable and legible.

scuba diving with seiko skx007 gear patrol lead full
Allen Farmelo

Terms to Know

Bezel (unidirectional): A ring surrounding the watch dial which, on some watches, is also functional and rotates. On dive watches, it 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.

Tudor Black Bay Fifty-Eight

Courtesy
Best Overall Dive Watch
Tudor Black Bay Fifty-Eight
tudorwatch.com
$3,800.00

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

    Rolex Submariner

    Courtesy
    Best Upgrade Dive Watch
    Rolex Submariner
    rolex.com
    $8,950.00

    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

          Seiko Prospex "Turtle"

          Courtesy
          Seiko Prospex
          macys.com
          $495.00

          The famous SKX007 was once the go-to entry-level Seiko diver, but its popularity and discontinuation have seen its price climb (though it's possibly still worth searching on eBay). We'd argue that the modern Seiko "Turtle" (reviewed here) has replaced it as just about the most capable and attractive dive watch you can get anywhere near the price — with only Seiko's own other divers as its primary competition. A distinctive look, impressive build with surprising comfort and ergonomics (don't be put off by its large-sounding 45mm diameter) and available in a range of variants, it's the kind of diver you could wear every day for decades. Also, check out the "King Turtle" for an option with premium features.

          • Movement: Seiko 4R36 Automatic
          • Diameter: 45mm
          • Water Resistance: 200m
          • Manufacturer info: seikowatches.com

                SHOP NOW SHOP PRE-OWNED

                Baltic Aquascaphe

                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 still 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

                  Zodiac Super Sea Wolf

                  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

                        Seiko Prospex 1965 Diver's Watch Reinterpretation

                        Courtesy
                        Seiko Prospex 1965 Diver's Watch Reinterpretation
                        $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. So don't be surprised to see a couple on this list. The series which includes the SPB143 (pictured), however, 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

                          Doxa Sub 300T Professional

                          Courtesy
                          Doxa Sub 300T Professional
                          doxawatches.com
                          $1,890.00

                          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. Aside from those things, Doxa just makes a highly capable dive watch.

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

                                SHOP PRE-OWNED

                                Oris Aquis Date

                                Oris Aquis Date
                                Oris watchesofswitzerland.com
                                $2,200.00

                                It seems that just about every dive watch you see nowadays is vintage-inspired, but if you want something different try Oris's resolutely modern Aquis. This is an impressively built diver with a strong value proposition and distinctive look. You can get it in various sizes and executions, with different complications and even with an impressive in-house movement. Here, we've highlighted the versatile 39.5mm version, but it's worth checking out the whole range. If retro is more your speed, Oris also has you covered with their stylish Diver's Sixty-Five range.

                                • Movement: Sellita SW200-1 automatic
                                • Diameter: 39.5mm
                                • Water Resistance: 300m
                                • Manufacturer Info: oris.ch

                                      SHOP NOW SHOP PRE-OWNED

                                      Sinn U50

                                      Courtesy
                                      Sinn U50
                                      sinn watchbuys.com
                                      $2,520.00

                                      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

                                            Longines Legend Diver Black

                                            Longines Legend Diver Black
                                            longines.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. It 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

                                                  Omega Seamaster Diver 300m James Bond 007 Edition

                                                  Omega Seamaster Diver 300m James Bond 007 Edition
                                                  Omega watchesofswitzerland.com
                                                  $8,100.00

                                                  First launched in 1993, Omega’s Seamaster 300M got a major overhaul for its 25th birthday to an enthusiastic reception. While the standard model is compelling, the edition made specifically for the James Bond film franchise is another level of cool — completely independent of its cinematic association. Like other Seamaster 300M watches, it's got a ceramic bezel insert and dial, Omega’s “Master Chronometer” automatic movement and a helium escape valve — but it's completely in titanium with a cleaner dial (sans date and wave pattern), with brown hands and indices and the British "Broad Arrow" symbol.

                                                  • Movement: Omega 8806 automatic
                                                  • Diameter: 42mm
                                                  • Water Resistance: 300m
                                                  • Manufacturer Info: omegawatches.com

                                                        SHOP NOW SHOP PRE-OWNED

                                                        Panerai Submersible PAM 682

                                                        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. Bonus: Panerai watches are known to look good on almost any kind of strap from rubber to leather.

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

                                                              SHOP PRE-OWNED

                                                              Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Baracuda

                                                              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