Field Test

SCUBA Diving in Bermuda With the Seiko SKX007


May 19, 2019 Watches By Photo by Allen Farmelo

Though the Seiko SKX007 has received countless write-ups, I’ve yet to find much about actually SCUBA diving with it. And why bother? Hardly any divers these days wear mechanical watches underwater, let alone rely on them. Alas, digital dive computers have relegated our beloved analog dive watches to the lowly status of lifestyle accessory.

Still, many of our favorite dive watches — the SKX007 included — were meant for use as serious underwater tools, and diving with them reveals aspects of their functional design that remain invisible here on terra firma. I took my SKX007 underwater in Bermuda recently to get a fresh perspective on this old friend.

Introduced in 1996, the SKX007 emerged as the SCUBA industry was still transitioning to digital dive computers, such that Seiko earnestly intended the SKX007 to function as a professional tool. At 42.5mm across, 46mm long, and a beefy 13.5mm thick, the watch feels ultra-capable on-wrist. With 200 meters of water resistance, undeniable legibility, a solid uni-directional timing bezel, a heavily guarded screwed-in crown at four o’clock, and a solid case back, the SKX007 is one of the most reliable and rugged divers Seiko has ever issued. Factor in its sub-$200 US price, and its value was, and still is, undeniable.

When I got to the dive boat in Bermuda’s Grotto Bay, I started yammering about taking photos of watches, and to my surprise two total strangers showed unprecedented interest. Turns out these college-aged twins, Aiden and Isabelle, knew about and loved watches, especially dive watches. Aiden’s eyes widened when I unraveled my watch roll, so I instantly offered him the SKX007 for our dive to the WWII-era Pelanaion wreck; in turn, his sister Isabelle dove with it on our second dive to the coral reef site called The Cathedral.

Having others dive with the SKX007 wasn’t my initial plan, of course, but it gave me an opportunity to photograph and observe the watch from an interesting perspective. Diving more or less side-by-side with Isabelle as we made our way through The Cathedral, I saw the SKX007 gleaming in the filtered blue light of coral canyons, and I saw its Lumibright markers and hands maintain bold legibility as we descended into dark tunnels. Of all the watches I’ve taken diving, the SKX007 handily won the legibility contest, and all the fussing over aesthetic minutiae that I so readily engage in on land gave way to a blunt appreciation for the fact that Seiko designed the SKX007 for one purpose: SCUBA diving.

My sole complaint about the SKX007 while diving is that its bezel edge is a little slippery. The polished knurling is inferior to sharper, overhanging coin-edging on watches like the Doxa Sharkhunter, the Rado Captain Cook, and the Oris Divers 65. This isn’t to say that the SKX007’s bezel doesn’t work; it’s OK with bare hands, but a twist-test with wet neoprene gloves demonstrated the lack of grip.

Most would agree that when you buy an SKX007, you’re paying for the watch head, not the strap or bracelet. The rubber strap that ships on most SKX007s lacks suppleness, is a little chalky, and has visible — perhaps even irritating — seams. The bracelet that Seiko ships with some SKX007s lacks the elegance and close tolerances of superior Jubilee-style bracelets. However, given the $200 price tag, no one really complains, and pretty much any third-party strap looks great on this watch. I typically sport my SKX007 on nylon NATOs in all sorts of colors — everything matches.

Though dive watches readily reveal their functionality underwater, that doesn’t mean there’s no aesthetic experience to be had at depth. To the contrary, in fact. Among the canyons, caves, and catacombs of The Cathedral, the SKX007’s off-axis Hardlex crystal distorts like a fun house mirror, and its blue aura in deep water is downright psychedelic.

We reached peak surrealism after wending through a narrow cave and arriving in a circular clearing flanked by coral cliffs that shot straight up all around us. This was The Cathedral proper. Shafts of hazy gray light danced with the motion of the surface fifty feet above, filling the space with an undeniably spiritual ambiance. The closest I’ve come to this experience on land was basking in the light shafts that descend through the occulus of the ancient Parthenon temple in Rome, a space that reliably takes my breath away. Picture your most awe-inspiring architectural experience; now add water and erase gravity, and there you have it.

In the center of this underwater temple is a memorial to Ryan Craig, a professional diver who drowned in 2012 while testing a rebreather device that “scrubs” carbon dioxide from exhalations and recycles unused oxygen. Ryan didn’t drown in The Cathedral, but it was his favorite dive spot and, thus, a fitting site for his memorial. Isabelle and I swam over to his grave marker, while the SKX007 on her wrist cast a chilling reminder that human lives depend on robust, professional SCUBA technology. Watches and mortality, it seems, are forever intertwined, but so much more so when they’re serving us in risky situations.

Back on the boat, Isabelle handed the SKX007 back to me and asked how much it cost. “Around $200,” I said. Her father, who had frowned upon hearing the prices of the other dive watches I had with me, took the SKX007 in hand and marveled at the obvious bargain.

Early the following morning, my partner Shelley and I headed out to the coral heads off of Bermuda’s Pink Beach for hours of snorkeling and mellow free diving with the SKX007. We soon learned that early morning is feeding time for the local critters, and we latched onto a sharptail eel for a tour of the local breakfast nooks.

Snorkeling among the coral mounds, the SKX007 once again proved its capabilities as a diving tool. Fair-skinned, Shelley likes to set the bezel timer to gauge how long she’s been exposing herself to ultraviolet light — the only real and present danger we’d confront while snorkeling that day. We swapped the SKX007 from her wrist to mine and back a few times, timing our dives, snapping photos, and getting a heck of a workout. In the end, Shelley prefers her 38mm SKX013, which is nearly identical to the SKX007 in everything but size — a great alternative for those who prefer a smaller watch.

It’s not uncommon for me to have instructed watch-curious friends to “just get an SKX007,” and now that I’ve actually gone diving with it — and especially because Seiko has discontinued it — I find myself commanding such acquisitions with a hint of newfound urgency. Even as Seiko issues new comparable models, the SKX007 remains an excellent companion on land, and, for those who insist on wearing a mechanical watch underwater, the SKX007 will hang tough with even the most iconic and revered dive watches. Given the price, professional specs, and classic diver aesthetics, it’s no wonder so many of us watch fans are forever smitten with the SKX007.

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