A short guide to the diver watch
The diver watch is a very modern obsession, starting in the Fifties with the launch of two of the best-known diver watches, the Rolex Submariner and the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms.
The first – the Submariner – is probably the best-known watch on the planet today!
But to fully get to know them, we need to start from the beginning – and plunge deep into horology history. Are you ready?
A bit of history of the diver watch
The story of the diver watch is pretty recent. Yet, it is the best-known kind of watch globally today, and possibly, the most worn. The first phase was the “professional” one: but after Bond, the diver watch became a trend – and we can thank Rolex for this. Without the House of the Crown, the world of wristwatches of today would be very different. But now, back to our timeline!
- 1926: Rolex patents the Oyster case
- 1931: Rolex refines the Perpetual (automatic) movement; Omega launches the Marine, but without much success
- 1940: Italian military frogmen use Panerai watches
- 1953: Rolex and Blancpain release their first commercial divers, the Submariner and the Fifty Fathoms
- 1956: The Fifty Fathoms is featured in Cousteau’s documentary “The Silent World”
- 1962: The Submariner is worn by James Bond in Dr. No
The “waterproof watch”, which today is better named as “water-resistant watch”, is the modern heir of another kind of timepiece, which was much acclaimed at the beginning of the century: the dust-proof watch.
People noted that watches subject to extremes in climate, that is, temperature, humidity, and the like, began to behave erratically.
Dust was one of the main culprits. It entered into the movements and tended to accumulate in the recesses, namely the settings of the jewels where the pinions of the wheels turned, effectively slowing them down by building friction.
We should also note that watch oils used back then were organically based, subject to natural decay and gooing. Water caused similar issues because it instead provoked the generation of rust inside watch movements: so, companies posed much effort into creating hermetically-shut cases.
The first experiments to get rid of dust and water were pretty rudimental. It was challenging to seal away the movement, creating a complete dust-proof and waterproof case. The first companies which tried to eliminate these issues were Rolex and Omega.
Rolex was the first brand to successfully refine a working waterproof case in 1926 with a screw-on back and patented it under the name of "Oyster."
The automatic movement, essential to assure that the crown remained waterproof, debuted a few years later - in 1931: from then, the automatic diver watch became the industry standard. Omega’s solution, the Omega Marine, tested in 1931, was not as successful as Rolex’s, as the crown could not be easily accessed.
Back then, waterproof watches remained exclusively a professional tool, mainly destined for military operators: for example, Italian frogmen used Panerai diver watches during their activities, in 1940. But with the diffusion of recreational scuba diving after the war, diver watches started to penetrate the commercial world as well.
The first diver watch models available for public use were two, released in the same year: the Rolex Submariner and the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms.
The latter, launched in France in 1953, was the diver watch of choice of the celebrated underwater explorer Jacques Cousteau - and he used it during his award-winning documentary "The silent world" of 1956.
The Blancpain Fifty Fathoms (its name derives from a nautical measurement of around 1.9 meters, indicating its maximum water resistance) was created at the request of the French Navy. Some of the elements used in their specifications became the basis of the ISO 6425 certification, which defines what a true ”diver watch" is.
However, the diver watch became really trendy for the masses when it was used by the most acclaimed fictional secret agent of all time, James Bond, in 1962.
From this appearance of the ref. 6538, the Rolex Submariner - and with it, all diver watches - skyrocketed to glory and became the style icons that we know today. Wearing a diver watch with a suit? After Bond, it became fashionable.
Today, the diving computer have superseded the use of a diver watch bezel as a tool to monitor safe diving. However, a diver watch remains a testament to the more heroic times of undersea exploration - and it looks perfect as well at the wrist on every social occasion.
How does a diver watch work
The first actual diver watches were certified as water-resistant to around 100 meters, like the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms. Technical advancement brought this limit much forward very soon, with many reaching 500 meters and more, to the current record of the Omega Seamaster Planet Ocean Ultra Deep Professional, which has safely reached a depth of 10,928 meters.
Still, we often use the terms "water-resistant" and "diver watch” interchangeably - and technically, it should not be so.
A real “pro diver watch" has to respect a set of requirements specified in a technical document known as ISO 6425.
ISO (International Organization for Standardization) is an independent, non-governmental, international organization that develops standards to ensure the quality, safety, and efficiency of products, services, and systems.
Between the others, we can name:
- A diving time indicator (e.g., rotating bezel, digital display, or other) to allow the reading of the diving time with a resolution of 1 min or better over at least 60 min;
- Clearly distinguishable minute markings on the watch face;
- Adequate readability/visibility at 25 cm (9.8 in) in total darkness;
- A working indicator – so, something that clearly reveals in complete darkness that the watch is running (like a second hand with a luminous tip);
- Assorted resistance levels to magnetic fields, shocks, chemicals, and overall rusticity.
Yes, you have read it right. The amount of the water-resistance of the watch is NOT part of the specifications. It means that you can find a 100-meter diver watch and a 200-meter water-resistant watch, like the Seiko Alpinist, and the second could be hardly suitable for diving!
Remember that a pro "diver watch" has to be certified by ISO. Still, not every company does it, as this is a lengthy procedure involving significant costs. This means that you can buy an affordable water-resistant watch that complies with ISO 6425 specs but is not certified - and it would work exactly like one if the manufacturer is a reputable company. However, without the ISO 6425 certification the manufacturing company could not display the “diver watch” inscription on the dial.
Among other characteristics, one of the other features used to guarantee the watch works at high depths is the helium escape valve used to prevent the watch crystal from being blown off by internal pressure caused by the accumulation of helium. You will find this cool system in the best diver watches.
What do water-resistance figures really mean?
One of the main issues about water resistance is understanding what it indicates. People routinely buy 30-meter water-resistant watches and then splash into a pool, with water getting into them - and getting the watch-wearers undoubtedly puzzled, to say the least.
The levels of water resistance that we see indicated in a watch measure the maximum depth that a watch can attain in static conditions. It means lowering them gradually - like through a wire - until they reach the mentioned depth. In the case above, it would be 30 meters.
But what happens if you dive into a pool? That the watch has to sustain a sudden change of pressure that would probably exceed the stated water resistance.
To make a real-life example of routine situations, the water faucet system of your house has a typical water pressure of 3 bar - that is, around 30 meters. Water from a shower would exceed that pressure by a bit - ordinarily, it is about 50 psi - approximately 3.5 bar. Diving into a pool would subject your watch to a pressure of at least 5 bar: not something that your typical 30-meter water-resistant watch is going to withstand without consequences.
This is the reason why watchmaking companies accompany their watches with handy tables so you can check the activities you can perform while wearing your watch. Too bad that most of the time, people ignore them and instead rely on what is written on the dial, exclusively - and must have a quick consult with their watchmaker afterward.
So, to make a quick recap:
- 30 meter water resistance – resists the occasional drops of water (rain and splashes when you are washing your hands) but nothing more;
- 50 meter water resistance – you can wash your hands with more confidence. The watch could also resist running water on it (no shower, though);
- 100 meter water resistance – you can safely swim and dive in a pool, and could also do some apnea freediving;
- 150 meter water resistance: minimum for recreational diving;
- 200 meter water resistance: minimum for professional diving;
- 300 meter water resistance: for the most professional deep diving activities.
Taking care of your diver watch
Every watch needs some care and attention, but a diver watch need it a bit more than the usual since these are timepieces made to work in a hostile environment - that is, water.
First of all, everyone who works in engineering knows the effects of saltwater on metals. And this was the main reason why diver watches cases are traditionally made in the best stainless steel possible.
It is also true for pool water, which has chemicals added to kill bacteria and algae and preserve the water quality. Unfortunately, these additives have the nasty habit of attacking the material used to make the o-rings that separate your watch from water: silicone.
Silicone - not to be confused with silicon - is a family of artificially-made polymers based on silicon and oxygen that vary in consistency from liquid to gel to rubber to hard plastic and are used to replace natural rubber.
While silicone (which should be better-called siloxane) gaskets are indeed better-resistant than rubber ones, they have an operational life. They must be replaced when the watch gets a routine service - something that every major brand suggests to do every five years.
During the service, the watchmaker has to provide a water-resistance check on the watch to check if it still conforms to its original specs.
What can you do to help maintain the efficiency of your diver watch?
Three quick tips to maintain your diver watch’s efficiency:
Wash it thoroughly. After exposing it to water, it does not matter which, the watch has to be gently washed under running warm water and scrubbed to relieve the case and bracelet of salt and deposits: an old toothbrush would be perfect. Insist with the scrubbing where you find recesses, especially in the back of the watch and the bracelet. After that, wipe away moisture with an old cotton cloth.
Saunas are a no-no. Avoid wearing the watch in any hot and humid ambients like a Turkish bath or sauna: metal is notorious for expanding when warmed, so steam could quickly get into your watch if you do.
Water got in? If, despite all of your attention, you see the watch glass getting cloudy, avoid every DIY remedy and bring your little ticking friend to the watchmaker, so to ensure its perfect efficiency for the future.
The Davosa lineup of diver watches
Davosa makes an excellent range of diver watches suitable for everyone, from the recreational skin divers to the professional scuba operators working with closed-circuit rebreathers.
The Davosa diver watch lineup includes quartz and mechanical-based timepieces divided in several product lines along different price-points so to fulfill the needs of its customers.
Vintage Diver - how to catch the spirit of the Sixties
The Vintage Diver watch line takes a dip into the tradition of the historical diver watch. The timeless design of the case and dial finds a perfect correspondence with the choice of bracelets or wristbands to capture the mood of the Sixties.
The vintage diver watch collection looks vintage in style. Still, it’s powered by a very modern, sturdy, and precise Ronda quartz movement and offers 100-meter water resistance.
Apnea - the perfect watch for freediving
The Apnea diver watch was designed for the specific needs of freedivers.
Its inner ring is divided into colored sections, which represent the three primary phases of breathing for a freediver: 5 seconds of breathing (blue), 15 seconds of apnea (white), 10 seconds of expiration (red), representing the perfect breathing exercise for freediving.
The Apnea line features an automatic DAV3021 movement and offers 200-meter water resistance.
Argonautic - an excellent choice for divers and style addicts
The Argonautic represents the quintessential diver watch. It features everything that a professional diver could ask for: a sizable 43 mm diameter and short lugs that manage to enhance the grip on the wrist, stylish hands, and indices equipped with bright Superluminova or Tritium gas devices (in the Lumis series) to ensure perfect legibility in total darkness, a manual helium escape valve, and a stylish matching bracelet in steel or marine rubber.
The Argonautic line is powered by the DAV3021 automatic movement or the DAV3050 automatic chronograph caliber and offers 300-meter water resistance.
Ternos - the perfect all-rounder diver watch
If you like a fancy diver watch, it is almost certain that you will find what you need in the Ternos collection.
The Ternos line brings together watches with different souls, from the most casual and fancy to the most sturdy and professional.
The first is the Ternos Sixties, with its beautiful “skin-diver” aesthetics and a perfect 40 mm diameter, displaying an aluminum bezel, a matching leather wristband, or steel bracelet; it mounts the automatic DAV3021 caliber and offers a 100-meter water-resistance.
The Ternos Ceramic is the “bigger brother” of the Sixties with its 40 mm diameter, a ceramic bezel, and 200-meter water resistance. It mounts the same DAV3021 caliber and is available in steel or with rose-gold plating.
The Ternos Professional 50ATM is the heavyweight of the Ternos line: it mounts the same DAV3021 caliber, but with its 42 mm diameter, it represents the perfect diver watch, with its ceramic bezel, automatic helium escape valve, full steel bracelet, and excellent 500-meter water-resistance.
It is also available in a very exclusive limited-edition, the Matt Suit, offering a compelling matt satin finish on the case and bracelet.