The dive watch is arguably the most popular type of timepiece sold these days. Brands large and small include divers in their lineups or even base their entire brands around underwater timepieces; Cartier even stepped into the fray this year with a decidedly luxe diver. Can Patek be far behind? (We hope not.)

Even for those who never dip a toe in the sea, the familiar aesthetic of the large watch with a glowing dial and rotating bezel represents a dashing adventure and derring-do attitude that’s lacking in modern man’s ordinary daily life. The dive watch serves as a reminder of adventurous days gone by and a rugged readiness we hope will match our own if and when push comes to shove.

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Despite their incredible popularity, you’ll be hard pressed to find a single dive watch adorning a wrist should you step onto a dive boat anywhere in the world. Digital dive computers have all but replaced the analog watch, which is more likely to be spotted at the beach bar or duty-free shop. Yet there are a few holdouts, old-school divers who prefer to dive with memorized no-deco tables and a rotating bezel, or those belt-and-suspenders types who want a good old analog backup should their computer go on the fritz at fifty fathoms. More often than not, those guys will not be wearing a dive watch from Switzerland — they’ll be wearing one of Japan’s finest.

In reality, most Japanese dive watches are the best suited for real-world use. Their simple movements have legendary durability, often surviving years of abuse and zero maintenance, even if they aren’t the most accurate. Designs that forgo adornment in favor of readability and functionality win out over fancy locking bezels, helium release valves and shiny slim hands. Of course, their affordability makes them not only more accessible to divemasters that live on tip money, but also more bearable should they be lost of broken.

In short, if you want a real dive watch, look to the Land of the Rising Sun. We recently did just that, procuring three of Japan’s best dive watches representing different brands, styles and price points for a real-world shootout below the waves in the Caribbean. Their shared trait — beyond excellence — is a penchant for getting wet.

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