You’ll hear it a lot these days: “so many people love dive watches, but nobody actually uses them!” And sure, you can bet that most Rolex Subs and Seiko SKX007s are going to spend more time swimming in a sea of hashtags on Instagram than in, well, an actual sea.
The subtext of the aforementioned phrase is more-or-less “there’s no reason for you to have that watch,” but there are two big reasons why you should be snatching up those deep sea timepieces. The first falls under the basic watch enthusiast truism “buy and wear whatever you damn please.” The second is possibly the less considered fact that dive watches make a lot of sense in everyday life.
Let’s start with breaking down exactly what a watch needs to have to truly be considered a dive watch, and fortunately, we have a genuine, bona fide list of expectations curtsey of the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). According to ISO 6245, there are a few key elements a Dive watch must have. The obvious is water-resistance to at least 100 meters, but beyond that there is: the presence of a unidirectional rotating bezel with markings at least every five minutes, “clearly distinguishable” markings on the face and adequate legibility in total darkness, not to mention resistance to magnetism and shock without greatly affecting timekeeping accuracy.
The idea with those last two is that when you’re role-playing Thunderball or snorkeling, you’ll inevitably encounter equipment that emits magnetic fields (which can mess up your watch’s hairspring) and bang your watch on a rock, which will inevitably damage the movement. But similar dangers exist at work or at home, too. Your everyday appliances and gadgets — computers, refrigerators, speakers, etc — spend a lot of time next to your wrist and can throw off your watch’s accuracy, so much so that demagnetization is a common part of watch service. Similarly, door jambs, countertops and plenty of other mundane objects can strike out of nowhere. With a dive watch on, you should feel pretty good about conquering these obstacles.
You should feel good swimming with one, too, and not only diving. Because the system for rating water-resistance on watches is somewhat misleading (you can read more about that here), it isn’t actually recommended that you take 30-meter or 50-meter watches to such depths. Some manufacturers don’t want you submerging them at all. A dive watch has to be rated to at least 100 meters, and each actual piece needs to be tested for water-resistance (as opposed to other watches which can just go through batch testing) so it’s really the best thing to have if you want to wear your watch at the beach or in the pool.
Then we have the dive bezel, whose original purpose was specifically for tracking the time a diver’s been under water. But in everyday life, the dive bezel’s practicality goes well beyond this, as the bezel can be used as a rudimentary stopwatch instead of a chronograph movement. Just line up the 12 o’clock marker with the minute hand, and you have a pretty handy timer. It’s not going to be as precise as an actual chronograph, but the ballpark estimate is great for cooking, doing laundry, feeding a parking meter or simply combatting boredom by timing random things. It’s not as precise as a chronograph, but we’re not exactly timing race laps here.
I could go on about how a diver’s inherent legibility and thick globs of lume make time at a glance, day or night, easier and simpler than in many other timepieces. You could also argue pilot’s or field watches have the same. But by combining these features with a chunky case and a rotating bezel, you have a watch that reliably fulfills all of the timekeeping functions you really need into a reliable package. Better yet is the fact that divers, despite these features, can still be had all day for under $1,000, packing mechanical movements, no less. It should be no wonder, then, why divers are taking over your Instagram feed.