Style and Substance

The 12 Best Dive Watches In 2018 at Every Budget


July 26, 2018 Watches By

For almost as long as watches have been worn on wrists, watchmakers have strived to make them function in places they probably shouldn’t, and nowhere is that pursuit more glorified than it is regarding the dive watch. How could it not be? Imagine a tiny network of gears and springs, working flawlessly, shielded from the relentless pressure of the ocean and surrounded by an unfathomable amount of water.

The pursuit for a truly water-resistant watch began in earnest in the early 20th century. In 1927, Rolex debuted the “Oyster,” which is accepted as the world’s first water-resistant watch. In the late 1930s, Panerai developed the Radiomir, a large cushion-cased watch worn by divers in the Italian Royal Navy, meant to be worn for long periods of time underwater.

The modern dive watch as we know it, though, didn’t arrive until 1953 when Rolex, Blancpain and Zodiac introduced their dive watch designs — the Submariner, Fifty Fathoms and Sea Wolf — all different but touting remarkably similar features. All three watches featured chunky water-resistant cases, legible lume-filled dials and rotating dive bezels that could be used to calculate the amount of time spent underwater. This final component is at the crux of why the dive watch became such a vital piece of SCUBA kit: it allows divers to know exactly how much time they’ve spent underwater and when it’s time to begin an ascent.

While they were originally intended mainly as tools for military and commercial divers, recreational diving became an exceedingly popular hobby in the decades that would follow, and more and more dive watches would arrive, following the same formula set in 1953 and featuring the same hallmark design traits. Though watchmakers continue to improve said formula — with tougher cases, more substantial depth ratings and other practical features — the many dive watches you’ll see today are still inspired by the ones first launched over 60 years ago.

The reality is this: the dive watch was usurped by the modern digital dive computer a long time ago. Today there are still holdouts (who likely wear one as a backup to a dive computer) but mostly dive watches are worn as style pieces rather than tools, which is just fine, because the best retain their old-school style but can still be used for their intended purpose if needed.

What Makes a Dive Watch?

Today, many watches can be worn and read underwater, but the best guidelines for what makes up a true diver’s watch are laid out by the International Organization for Standardization. The modern ISO 6425 standard stipulates a few criteria, chief of which are: a minimum depth-rating of 100 meters, a unidirectional bezel with markings at least every five minutes, a dial visible in total darkness and an indication in darkness that the watch is running — usually this is indicated by a running seconds hands with a luminous tip or counterbalance. ISO 6425 also stipulates the watch must be anti-magnetic and shock-resistant, as well as well as resistant to corrosion in seawater. The net result is a timepiece that’s rugged, reliable and legible.

Terms to Know

Bezel (unidirectional): A rotating ring surrounding the watch dial that only turns counterclockwise and features markings at least every five minutes. A diver will line up the marker at the 12 o’clock position with the current position of the minutes hand to track elapsed time on a dive. A unidirectional bezel on a dive watch only turns in one direction so it’s less prone to being knocked out of place, thus throwing off the tracked time (and making the diver think he has more available time underwater than he actually does).
Gasket: A soft rubber (or synthetic) ring found inside a watch that creates a watertight seal, keeping moisture from making its way into the watch case and damaging the clockwork.
Helium escape valve: Not a requirement, but useful on dive watches worn at particularly deep depths or worn by saturation divers. Breathing gas worn by these divers contains helium, which is so small it can work its way into a watch case. The valve allows this gas to escape once the diver has surfaced. If it were not there the helium could blow off the crystal from the watch case due to buildup and expansion at surface pressure.
Lume: A term used to describe the luminescent material applied to a watch dial to make the hands and indices/numerals light up in the dark. On older dive watches, radioactive materials like radium and tritium were used, though today most divers use a photoluminescent paint like SuperLuminova.
Screw-down crown: A type of crown that can be screwed in until it flush with the watch case, creating a seal so that no water can enter the watch through the crown tube.

Seiko SKX007

Produced since 1996, the SKX007 is an affordable watch stalwart if there ever were one, this is one of the few ISO-rated dive watches you’ll find around the $200 mark and one of the first watches many will recommend if you want a mechanical watch, period. There’s not much to it other than the essentials — a simple but reliable movement, a proper bezel, a clear and legible dial and a case good for 200 meters — but that’s what makes it so damn endearing.
Movement: Seiko 7S26 Automatic
Size: 42mm
Water resistance: 200m

Zodiac Super Sea Wolf

The Sea Wolf isn’t the only original diver design from 1953 you’ll see on this list, but it is the most affordable. The watch is a spot-on take on a vintage Sea Wolf, and the blue bezel — while not on the original Sea Wolf — is inspired by an early reference. And while many dive watches on the affordable end of the spectrum tend to rely on bulky cases to remain water-resistant at deeper depths, the Sea Wolf is relatively svelte at just 40mm in diameter and 11mm thick.

Movement: STP 3-13 automatic
Size: 40mm
Water resistance: 200m

Sinn U1

Sinn is best known for aviation-inspired chronographs, but in 2005 it showed it could make one helluva diver with the U1. The watch’s party piece is the case, made from the same high-strength, seawater-resistant stainless steel you’d find on a German submariner. The U1, in its current form, is rated for 1,000 meters of water pressure. That’s far more than the feeble human body can withstand, but the Sinn wears the overkill well.
Movement: Sellita SW 200-1 automatic
Size: 44mm
Water resistance: 1,000m

Oris Divers Sixty-Five

Much like the Zodiac, the Oris Divers Sixty-Five is a super-accurate reinterpretation of a classic dive watch design. The watch is similarly compact at 40mm in diameter and just under 13mm thick (thanks in no small part to the use of a domed crystal), and features an of-the-era 100-meter depth rating — smaller than most other dive watches on this list, but it’s more than enough for most watch enthusiasts and recreational divers. The Sixty-Five has been released in tons of iterations in the few years it has been on the market, but this version, new for 2018, adds some handsome bronze accents.
Movement: Oris 733 automatic (Sellita SW200-1 base)
Size: 40mm
Water resistance: 100m

Longines Legend Diver Black

Based on a dive watch design from the 1960s, the Legend Diver reissue has been a longtime watch enthusiast favorite since its debut over 20 years ago. For 2018, the watchmaker gave the design the all-black treatment, as well as an upgraded movement with a whopping 80-hour power reserve. The Legend Diver manages to combine a modern all-black aesthetic with a vintage design perfectly, thanks to the cleanliness that the inner-mounted bezel provides.
Movement: Longines L888.2 (Base ETA A31.L01)
Size: 42mm
Water resistance: 300m

Doxa Sub 6000T Professional

Lord knows you’ll never need the 1,800-meter depth rating, but it’s nice to know this monstrous diver is up to the challenge. The 6000T is an evolution of the legendary Doxa divers of the late ’60s and early ’70s and carries the brand’s iconic decompression limit bezel and orange dial — ostensibly to aid in legibility, but it’s an iconic design trait more than anything.
Movement: Soprod A10 automatic
Size: 45mm
Water resistance: 1,800m

Tudor Black Bay Fifty-Eight

Tudor’s Black Bay lineup is inspired by the Tudor-branded Submariners made during the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s, and the Fifty-Eight is the greatest tribute to that era yet, thanks to a vintage-inspired 39mm case and a dial with old-school gilt printing around the minute track. The movement, though, is wholly modern, and features a 70-hour power reserve and chronometer-rated accuracy.
Movement: Tudor MT5402 automatic
Size: 39mm
Water resistance: 200m

Tudor Pelagos

If Tudor’s Black Bay Fifty-Eight is a great representation of the brand’s diving past, the Pelagos is the concept’s evolution. The case, bezel and dial are reminiscent of the old Submariners (see the “Snowflake” hands and blocky hour markers), but the watch features a larger titanium case, a helium escape valve and a 500-meter depth rating.
Movement: Tudor MT5612 automatic
Size: 42mm
Water resistance: 500m

Omega Seamaster 300M

Omega’s Seamaster 300M, first launched in 1993, got a major overhaul for its 25th birthday. At first glance, you might not see the changes — it keeps much of the watch’s ’90s-tastic charm — but look closer, and you can see the subtle enhancements made throughout. The bezel insert and dial are both made from ceramic, and the wave pattern hallmark is etched by lasers. The movement used now is Omega’s “Master Chronometer” co-axial automatic and the watch now features a helium escape valve.
Movement: Omega 8800 automatic
Size: 42mm
Water resistance: 300m

Seiko Prospex SLA025

Though Seiko divers tend to be very accessibly-priced (see the cheapest option in this guide), the SLA025 is an example of the watchmaker’s impressive attention-to-detail and incredible engineering. A hyper-accurate recreation of the brand’s first high-beat dive watch, the watch features an automatic movement running at 36,000 beats per hour and front-loading, monobloc case construction. Much like the 1968 original, it’s a chunky beast, but it’s also incredibly handsome.
Movement: Seiko 8L55 automatic
Size: 44.8mm
Water resistance: 300m

Rolex Submariner

We all knew it would be here. This is because the Submariner is arguably the most influential watch of all time, inspiring countless other sports watches since its inception in 1953, and helping make dive watches into style statements outside the water. In its modern guise, it’s a clear evolution from the original, featuring a better movement (an automatic accurate to within two seconds a day), a ceramic bezel and a 40mm case water-resistant to 300 meters.
Movement: Rolex 3130 automatic
Size: 40mm
Water resistance: 300m

Panerai Luminor Submersible 1950 3 Days

Early Panerai watches helped pave the way for the modern diver, but they lacked the crucial rotating bezel. The Submersible rectifies this while retaining the brand’s iconic Luminor silhouette, complete with a locking crown guard that protects it from knocks while submerged. The watch features the brand’s excellent P.9010 automatic with a three-day power reserve.
Movement: Panerai P.9010 automatic
Size: 42mm
Water resistance: 300m

15 New Divers Under $1,000

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The dive watch category is one where you can get a lot of watch for your money. Read the Story

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