So you’re ready to pull the trigger on your first dive watch — nice. But where do you begin? There are seemingly countless options, most of which look exactly the same, some of which are affordable and some of which are astronomically expensive for no discernible reason. How do you tell one from the other?
We put together a list of 5 questions to ask yourself as you’re shopping around for your first diver that should make the process a bit easier. You don’t have to worry too much about water resistance — technically, a dive watch should be water-resistant to at least 100m anyway, which is more than enough for 99% of humanity — but there are certain other considerations to keep in mind:
1. What will you be using it for?
An Omega Seamaster Planet Ocean 600 with an HEV
It’s telling that the term “desk diver” has come into regular use in the watch world — “desk diver” being a dive watch that is relegated to the dry, non-aquatic world of, say, the office. If you’re not inclined to, you know, actually go diving with your dive watch, then there are certain features you might not (or definitely do not) need: a helium escape valve, for instance, or a count-up (dive) bezel, even (certain dive watches come with 12-hour bezels, which are better suited to travel), or a rubber strap or a bracelet with a dive extension clasp. Ask yourself what you’re actually gonna do with the watch, and it’ll help make your purchase easier.
2. Do you want an automatic or a quartz movement?
An in-house Panerai P9003 movement with GMT complication
Of course, the first 30-40 years of dive watches (if you begin counting when Panerai debuted its naval watches) were powered by mechanical movements, of the handwound or automatic variety. These days, you can get a quartz version that will keep time even more accurately, and the question is more one of personal preference. A solar-powered watch alleviates the concern of having to change the battery for long period of time (if at all), whereas an automatic will require service at some point but should last perpetually if taken care of. Underwater, it doesn’t make much of a difference — though there’s something psychologically satisfying about watching the sweep second move and being sure that it’s functioning correctly.
3. Do you want a bracelet?
The Rolex Glidelock clasp and Fliplock extension expand the Oyster bracelet for use with a wetsuit
Steel dive bracelets such as the Rolex Oyster were designed specifically for diving, and improvements over the years have led to incredibly ergonomic systems for easily donning and doffing the watches and wearing them over a wetsuit (think: dive clasp extensions; the Rolex GlidLock system; etc.). If you’re gonna make use of the bracelet while diving, then you should probably buy a watch with a bracelet featuring a dive extension. However, many people wear watches on steel dive bracelets out of the water as well, so you may simply favor one for this purpose. If it’s a choice between buying a watch that’s available with or without a dive bracelet, we say shell out for the metal — you can always swap it out for a NATO or rubber down the line.
4. How visible is the dial?
A Dan Henry 1970 Diver with improved LumiNova for high visibility
There’s a pretty good chance that if you dive, an analog watch isn’t your primary timing instrument — you’re likely using a dive computer. However, it’s always good to have a backup, and not everyone dives with a computer. Thus, you definitely want a highly visible dial, which will likely be done up in Super-LumiNova (if a modern watch) or tritium (in self-contained tubes on modern watches). Without going into the minutiae of tritium vs. SLN, suffice it to say that having an uncluttered, highly visible dial is key both underwater and on dry land — find a bright enough watch on a bracelet and you can likely use the thing as a bedside clock.
5. What kind of warranty comes with the watch?
Repairs to mechanical watches can be expensive, so a good warranty goes a long way
Many of the major players are now offering extended warranties of several years (Rolex’s, for instance, is five years, and IWC’s is an incredible eight). Though these warranties largely cover manufacturer defects and not routine service (which is recommended by many brands every 3-5 years and can be quite expensive), the peace of mind that comes with a long warranty accompanying one’s expensive timepiece goes a long way if you’re taking it underwater. What’s more, most authorized service centers extended the warranty for another period of time after performing warranty-covered repairs. The warranty won’t cover routine wear and tear, but if you have a catastrophic fail underwater resulting from poor manufacturing, you’ll be glad to have it.