40 Years of Beautiful Dive Watch Inspiration

Dive Watches Through the Decades

May 7, 2016 Buying Guides By Photo by Henry Phillips
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For the diver, tracking time is as critical as tracking depth. So, since man first ventured under the sea with an air tank on his back, he’s also had a watch on his wrist. Nowadays, most divers wear digital wrist computers, but that hasn’t stopped companies from building rugged dive watches that look back to the heyday of subaquatic timekeeping, from the 1940s to the 1980s. Here are five examples that draw inspiration from those decades.

1940s: Panerai Radiomir 1940 3 Days Acciaio


Officine Panerai built some of the earliest known diving watches, commissioned by the Italian Navy for its fighting frogmen in World War II. Panerai’s claim to fame was the stenciled-out “sandwich” dial that provided ample luminescence for nocturnal maneuvers. The Radiomir 1940 Acciaio pays tribute to those early divers with its 47mm cushion case, hand-wound movement and legible dial.

1950s: Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe


After World War II, a French diving commando approached Blancpain to build the perfect dive watch — one with a rotating elapsed-time bezel, luminous dial and hands, and a screw-down crown. The result was the Fifty Fathoms, a watch released at the 1953 Basel Watch Fair that became the archetype for every dive watch that came after it. The Bathyscaphe came soon after, with a smaller case and simplified dial. The new Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe carries forward its forebear’s aquatic prowess but increases the water resistance to well beyond 50 fathoms.

1960s: Oris Diver Sixty-Five


The Oris Diver Sixty-Five is a dead ringer for a watch the Swiss brand made in the mid-1960s, with a high-domed crystal, a thin rotating bezel and blocky dial markings. In a nod to the more modest depth ratings of the day, Oris kept the Diver 65 to 100 meters — still more than enough for recreational diving.

1970s: Seiko SRP775


Seiko’s long history of rugged diving watches included the vaunted reference 6309 of the late 1970s, a watch known lovingly as the “Turtle” for its case shape and aquatic leanings. The new SRP775 is a faithful re-issue of the 6309, with the same dial markings and flat, cushion-shaped case. But the movement now can be hand wound, the watch comes on a steel bracelet and water resistance has increased to 200 meters.

1980s: IWC Aquatimer 2000


When the German Navy asked for the ultimate dive watch in the 1980s, the International Watch Company answered with the Ocean 2000. A modernist masterpiece penned by Porsche Design, it’s crafted of titanium and features a crenellated bezel, an antimagnetic movement and an abyssal 2,000 meters of water resistance. The current Aquatimer 2000 gives a nod to that seminal diver with a titanium case, the same depth rating and a unique internal timing ring operated via an external bezel that looks like its historical inspiration.

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A version of this story appears in Issue Two of the Gear Patrol Magazine, 286 pages of stories, reports, interviews and original photography from five distinct locations around the world. Subscribe Now: $35

Jason Heaton

Only wears mechanical watches, drives an adequately patina’d Alfa Romeo Spider right up until the snow flies, and always keeps an open bottle of single malt close at hand.

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