The dive watch, by its very nature, is a blunt instrument. Developed in the 1950s as a means to track elapsed time underwater, its design brief was very simple: be accurate, legible and don’t leak. This led to a fairly standard form factor for subaquatic timepieces for the first two decades of their existence: white hands on a black dial, with a rotating timing ring.
Given this brutally straightforward spec, watch brands have been left with either a very easy, or a very difficult task when they set out to create a new dive watch: hew close to the archetype, or get creative and stand out from the crowd. By the late 1960s and into the 70s, dive watches got funky, with colorful dials and bulbous cases – but still, they had to perform their primary task.
In the twenty-first century, digital dive computers have replaced analogue watches on the wrists of most underwater explorers. This has freed watch companies from the constraints of a “function first” specification, and has also coincided with modern advances in materials and manufacturing techniques. This means that dive watches are, ironically, more capable than ever, with anti-magnetic movements and abyssal depth ratings, but can also embrace unconventional design.
DOXA SUB 300 Carbon, 42.5mm, £4,590
Doxa, a Swiss stalwart that traces its origins back to 1889, arguably reinvented the dive watch in 1967, with its SUB 300, a watch that sported a dual-scale timing bezel that indicated no-decompression times, an orange dial, and an oversized minute hand (tracking hours is not important underwater). For 2020, this retro classic has been given a contemporary overhaul, with Doxa’s first case made from forged carbon, a lightweight material more commonly used in Formula 1 and aerospace. It lends this 50-year old form factor a dynamic new twist.
Grand Seiko SLGA001 with titanium case, 46.9mm, £10,000
While the form factor of a dive watch is its calling card, what’s inside counts as well. Grand Seiko, the high-end arm of the Japanese watch giant, has fitted the newest generation of its vaunted Spring Drive movement inside its limited edition 60th Anniversary Professional Diver. Now with an extended power reserve, the movement shares a conventional geared drivetrain with a mechanical watch, but mates it to an electrical impulse regulator for extreme accuracy. For the latter, Grand Seiko has even introduced new temperature compensation technology via a thermal sensor to improve accuracy even further, all to ensure you don’t overstay your time in the octopus’s garden, even by a millisecond.
Rolex Submariner in Oystersteel case, 41mm, £6,450
Then there is what may arguably be the most well-known dive watch, Rolex’s Submariner. First introduced in 1953, it has defined the category to such a degree that this is the design most people imagine when they picture a dive or sports watch. As such, any change to the Submariner is big news, and as Rolex’s diver was last updated 12 years ago, the interest surrounding a new version will always be intense. This new ref. 124060 Sub matches closely (it is a mere 1mm larger at 41mm) to the unerring aesthetic of the model lineage, but there are significant improvements nonetheless. A new bracelet is a shade wider, while slimmer lugs afford the piece a profile reminiscent of a vintage Sub. The major improvement however is a new calibre (the 3230) – complete with Rolex’s Chronergy escapement and paramagnetic pallet fork and escape wheel – which increases reliability even further and boosts the power reserve to 70 hours (a healthy 46 per cent increase on the 48 hours offered by the old movement).
Sinn U50 silicone orange with steel case, £2,180
Lastly, Sinn, a German brand known for its utilitarian timepieces issued to soldiers and pilots, has long been a proponent of high-grade materials, and has relied on corrosion-resistant submarine steel for its dive watches. Unsurprisingly, such watches tend to be on the bulky side, but this spring Sinn re-sized its distinctive U-series diver in a way that can take it from diving tool to everyday wearer. The U50 is a relatively svelte 41mm watch that can nevertheless survive at 500 meters beneath the waves.
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