Into the deep

Ocean's resident watch expert takes a look at the world of dive watches.

Written by Norman Burns

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You’d think, from the number of models released every year, there’d be a diver on every corner. But the truth is, most of these watches are aimed squarely at the desk diver who wants something that’s rugged, sporty, packed full of functionality and is generally cool – even though they’re unlikely to dive deeper than the local pool or a bath at home.

Dive watches present a great opportunity for their makers to show off their engineering nous and claim bragging rights over competitors. Your watch can go 100 metres deep? Ours can go 400 metres! And so on and so on …

There are a couple of important caveats with dive watches. I’m referring to mainly mechanical or quartz ones, not the specialist dive computers that are sold mainly to scuba divers. The most crucial caveat, however, is that although a watch may be rated to perform perfectly well at, say, 100 metres deep, it is not necessarily going to be waterproof – or even water-resistant – if you wear it doing bombie after bombie in your backyard pool. That’s because water-rating testing is done under strict (and static) conditions.

Then there’s the matter of what constitutes a true dive watch …

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According to the International Standards Organisation’s 6425 regulation, to be construed a dive watch, a timepiece must meet very specific parameters, which includes being waterproof to a minimum of 100 metres, having a uni-directional bezel with a 60-minute graduation and clearly defined markings for five-minute periods that are distinctly visible from 25 centimetres in darkness and more.

There are quite a few brands out that are over-engineered to the max, with models that the makers say will tick on without a care in depths of 1000 metres or more – way, way beyond what the human body can take (unless you are safely inside a submarine).

Watchmakers love to be able to boast that their product is the best in class and can handle the most extreme conditions imaginable. Even top-line luxury watchmakers have caught the dive watch bug over the past few decades, and I doubt the demand for them – even if their owners never dip even a single toe in the sea – will fade any time soon.

Besides, having a spare, tough wear-it-anytime-anywhere watch makes great sense if you want to keep your regular dress watch in pristine nick for formal or special occasions.

So, let’s take the plunge and look at some of 2020’s snazziest dive watches.


    1. Seiko Prospex Street series
      Seiko’s dive watches of the late 1960s through to the 1980s have gained quite a cult following, so it’s no surprise that the Japanese watchmaking giant’s classic Prospex model continues to inspire modern releases. Seiko has given the Prospex range a funky, street-cred makeover. These models, while more compact than the 1975 originals, still boast a rugged, three-dimensional bezel and are water-resistant to 200 metres. You can pick from several models, including a solar-powered one with analogue–digital display, with prices ranging from $675 to $895.


    2. Panerai Luminor Marina
      Panerai produces some kick-ass watches and the three new limited-edition Luminor Marina models (just 270 of each), not only look fantastic but they come with a 70 year – yep, year – warranty. There’s the Luminor Marina, Luminor Marina Carbotech and Luminor Maina Fibratech. The latter’s case and bezel is made from a special composite mineral material previously used in the aeronautical industry that, says Panerai, is 70 percent lighter than steel and 55 percent lighter than titanium. All models are 44 millimetres and water-resistant to 300 metres. Prices range from around $18,500 to just over $28,000.


    3. Tudor Black Bay 58
      For some, the sheer size and bulk of most dive watches is off-putting. Not so with the quite-beautiful Tudor Black Bay 58 – yes, this model is navy blue – which owes its name and proportions (just 39 millimetres in diameter) from a Tudor model launched in 1958. Like its ancestor, the new Black Bay 58 is waterproof. (Tudor, like Rolex, stands by its watches as being waterproof, not just water-resistant) down to 200 metres. The automatic Tudor movement is chronometer-certified and provides 70 hours of power reserve. $5000 on steel bracelet.


    4. Blancpain Fifty Fathoms
      Blancpain’s Fifty Fathoms is a legendary dive watch, initially produced in the early 1950s for an elite commando unit of the French Navy. Modern iterations of the Fifty Fathoms began in 1993 and Blancpain continues to refine the watch. This version (45 millimetres) now comes with a titanium bracelet, which is super- light but super strong. An automatic movement provides a five-day power reserve and the Fifty Fathoms is water-resistant to 300 metres. A see-through case back allows you to peek into the amazing mechanical engineering. Fifty Fathoms Automatique Blue/Black $24,050; Grande Date black $26,400.


    5. Ulysse Nardin Hammerhead Shark
      The Hammerhead Shark is the hero model of three new 44-millimetre chronograph diver models from Switzerland’s Ulysse Nardin. Just three-hundred pieces are available. An in-house automatic movement provides 48 hours of power reserve as well as controlling the chronograph functions – central second/minute counter and hour counters. All models are water-resistant to 300 metres. Prices range from $19,250 for the Hammerhead to $56,900 for the Diver Chronograph in a titanium or rose-gold case.


    6. Omega Seamaster Planet Ocean America’s Cup
      This new 43.5-millimetre Omega Seamaster Planet Ocean has all the hallmarks of a dive watch – it has a helium escape valve for ultra-deep diving and is rated water-resistant to 600 metres – but it has in fact been specially created for the 2021 America’s Cup, due to be held in Auckland, New Zealand. The rotating blue bezel, for example, has red and white ceramic inserts so yachties can set a five-minute timer for the all-important race start. Omega is Official Timekeeper for the America’s Cup, so naturally, this watch is – thanks to its Certified Master Chronometer movement – extremely accurate. The power reserve is 60 hours, and the blue/red/white combo of strap, dial, hands and indices is a killer. $10,725.


    7. Alpina Seastrong Diver Gyre Automatic models
      Alpina ticks more than a few boxes with these new timepieces. For a start, the Seastrong Gyre includes two smaller women’s models. (Yes, dive watches aren’t just an obsession for men.) The Swiss brand is also doing its bit for the marine environment – the case and strap are partially made from recycled plastic debris culled from the ocean. The men’s ($2123) is 44 millimetres in diameter, powered by an automatic movement with 38-hour power reserve, and is water-resistant to 300 metres. The women’s model ($1971) is 36 millimetres and mirrors the functionality and features of its male counterpart.

 

To subscribe to ConTEMPORAL, please email norman@normanburns.com.
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