What Makes the Perfect Dive Watch?

 In Collecting Watches

An enormous amount of watches is marketed as dive watches. Sure, they often have a brilliant water resistance rating, as well as a rotating bezel to keep track of the time. However, many of them aren’t the ideal choice for a dive.

Most pros only use a dive computer. The watch usually serves as a back-up tool if they wear one at all.

But what if you’re looking to buy a watch to wear while diving? Here’s a short list of useful features that a dive watch should (or shouldn’t) have.

A legible dial and handset

In any tool watch, legibility comes first. The hour markers shouldn’t be designed at the expense of the legibility of the minute track. And even if the watch has a legible minute track, it also needs to have a handset that points precisely to a particular minute marker.

A minute hand that’s too short is an absolute showstopper. The same goes for one with a blunt, wide tip. That’s because every minute matters. The same goes for the seconds hand – if you can’t read it, it’s no good.

The dial color is crucial. You don’t want something that becomes illegible at a certain depth. Colors disappear one after another as you go deeper and black remains to be legible the longest. Orange, often associated with dive watches, is actually one of the first colors to go. It disappears at circa 10m/33ft.

An orange Seiko “Monster” might be groovy, but it’s the black dial version that’ll perform way better on a dive.

A practical crystal

The crystal is also very important. It needs to have some form of an anti-reflective coating. Otherwise, you can’t see a thing if you look at it from a slight angle.

It’s best to stick to a flat and low-dome crystal. I know, a vintage-style high dome crystal is very attractive, but it’s simply more prone to damage.

A bezel that serves its purpose

While the history of rotating bezels on dive watches starts with the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms from 1953, the bezel on it was borderline useless. The first 15-20 minutes weren’t fully indexed, so it was difficult to read.

One of the first entities to realize how much a fully indexed bezel matters was the British Ministry of Defence. When they ordered watches for the Royal Navy in the 1960s, they included a requirement for a fully indexed bezel.

What makes a useful dive watch

Squale 1521 with a fully indexed bezel.

Rolex and Omega, ever the competitors, complied. Gone was the straight-lug Seamaster 300 with an exposed crown and a bezel with markers every 5 minutes. The reference 165.024 was introduced, replacing the 1st generation of the 300. It has a fully indexed bezel and an asymmetric case with crown guards.

Rolex, meanwhile, simply added a fully indexed bezel and fixed lugs to its ref. 5513 Submariner.

Many brands, however, still stick to indexing just the first 15 or 20 minutes. Well, it worked in the 1950s, so it isn’t bad per se. However, a better concept was introduced along the way.

Another important thing – a lumed 0/60 marker, aka the “pip”, is also a must-have. As it gets darker and darker, the last thing you want is to lose track of the starting point of the timing.

Crown guards

To be honest, I like dive watches with unprotected crowns.

The looks of the 1950s Submariners and Super-Compressor case dive watches are certainly great, but an unprotected crown is risky. A strong impact could misalign the crown and compromise the water resistance.

Water resistance, but not in excess

Many manufacturers like to develop watches with a water resistance to extreme depths like 600m, 1200m, etc. The thing is, do you really need that? Not unless you’re out for beating depth records.

A water resistance of 200-300m is plenty for recreational diving. If you only plan on snorkeling, a water resistance of 100m is enough.

Summary

Some brands pay attention to the various norms for dive watches – Seiko, Orient, Citizen, Sinn, and Squale, to name just a few. However, as long as you keep the listed criteria in mind, you can find safe options from a variety of manufacturers.

These criteria aren’t meant to degrade your Rolex Submariner or Omega Planet Ocean. It’s only meant to help you choose what will do the job best. After all, if you rely on a watch as a piece of equipment, the function is more important than the looks.

What are your criteria for a dive watch? Let me know in the comments below.

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  • Avatar
    Peter Ellis
    Reply

    There is no way I am doing any diving. However I do like the divers watch, and I like it best with a metal bracelet.

    For that the Seiko 5 sea urchin is your item, very much a Rolex submariner homage, or the Seiko solar or kinetic. There are many others of course but I happen to love and trust Seiko. I have not been let down by one yet.

    Infuriatingly, about 1993, when I was in the South of France we bought a copy Rolex Submariner auto on the beach. It is the only automatic I have known that ever kept perfect time. I was absolutely livid when it was mislaid at home. I still live in hopes that some day it will come to light.

    It just goes to show you that you can never judge.

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