Diving watches 2021: history, features, and most important models.

Diving watches 2021: history, features, and most important models.

In this column, we focus our attention on describing the best diver's watches available on the market. We write about all kinds of diver's watches, whose price list starts at 500€ approximate, although they are professional timepieces and ISO 6425 certified like the Seiko Prospex Turtle PADI or high-end like a Rolex Deepsea or a Grand Seiko Hi-Beat 36000 Professional Diver's 600m. The modern professional diver's watch debuted in the mid-fifties, thanks to the Blancpain and its legendary Fifty Fathoms, thus paving the way to the commercial development of a watch conceived initially as a military tool thanks to brands like Panerai. Every brand has today a diver's watch in its catalog; the  Japanese watch brands Seiko and Citizen are with no doubt leading manufacturers of some of the best performing yet most accessible diver's watches in the world. Their design has evolved incredibly over the last sixty years and is no longer necessarily associated with a circular case. Brands like Bell & Ross introduced the first professional diver's watch ever to showcase a square case.


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Modern diving watches - The history, in brief.

The first commercial diving wristwatch in history was the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms. Panerai had developed diving instruments and devices during the World War II period, but their watches were intended for exclusive military-oriented use, and the production of commercial wristwatches only began in the 1990s.

blancpain-fifty-fathoms-1Jean-Jacques Fiechter, CEO of Blancpain from 1950 to 1980 and a professional diver himself, produced a divers' watch for the French Navy, yet the transition from experiment to mass production was quick and allowed the Fifty Fathoms to be officially regarded as the first diving timepiece ever marketed. Simultaneously, in Japan, Seiko engineers were heavily investing in the development of diving watches for professional use: the first-ever mechanical professional Seiko diving watch appeared in 1965, two years before Rolex eventually launched its Sea-Dweller.

When can we define a watch as a true divers' watch.

There's a bit of confusion around what is a water-resistant timepiece and what is a real divers' watch, and there's even more confusion when it comes to comparing two timepieces that, on paper, both appear to be diving watches. The certification that universally defines what requirements have a timepiece to comply with to be classified as a real divers' watch is the ISO 6425; we often refer to this standard when reviewing a diving watch.

seiko-sumo-2019Most people are less familiar than others, with this certification and, to be honest, we sometimes generally referred in the past to some divers' watches as professional watches, according to the specification declared by a brand, even if they are not clearly abiding by the rules requested to be ISO 6425 certified diving watches. However, these watches often satisfy many of the requirements listed in the certification. Let's pick, as an example, two sub-requirements out of the whole document. The ISO 6425 standard incorporates two standards: the ISO 764 and the ISO 1413:

These two specifications, alone, make us understand how intense should the design and test phase be, to create a real professional ISO 6425 certified diving watch, and it's the reason a brand openly declares when a divers' watch is ISO compliant. The Japanese brands are leading the way, with Seiko and Citizen who have long since invested in the development of professional products, with the Swiss Made brands closing the gap by making watches that combine luxury touch and feel to professional specification, as that's the case with the Cartier Calibre de Cartier Diver.

Rolex and Omega diving watches - the never-ending quest for making the best diver's watch

Divers watches have often seen watch brands challenge each-other in the quest for best performing watch. Rolex holds a leading position in the industry and is the first brand to have ever developed the helium escape valve. It originally debuted on the 1967 Rolex Sea-Dweller, and the brand has partnered with many expeditions geared towards exploring the depths of the oceans like, for example, the 1960 expedition on board the Trieste bathyscaphe and, in recent years, the Deepsea Challenge. Omega, Rolex's historical competitor, released in 2019 the experimental record-breaking Planet Ocean Ultra Deep Professional, that holds the record as the timepiece to have reached the deepest spot of the Mariana Trench, so far.

Digital Diving Watches

Among digital diving watches, there are two brands I have in mind: Casio and Seiko. The second one is better known for its mechanical watches but keeps offering digital products for diving professionals outside the European market. The most remarkable piece of this class is, no doubt, the Casio G-SHOCK Frogman, which, in its latest iteration, has turned to a full analog display. The collection we're referring to in this section is the outgoing one, whose functions, and product certification, make the G-SHOCK diving watches much closer to modern diving wrist computers.

casio-g-shock-gwf-d1000b-1ltd-limited-editionThe G-SHOCK GWF-D1000 series is still one of the most sought-after but no longer in the catalog. A GWF-D1000-1ER comes with diving-ready features:

Also, it features a Diver's Logger, dive alarm, and many other options. If you are looking for a professional tool whose attitude is closer to military diving watches, a Frogman is an excellent choice within the 1000 Euro price threshold.

Luxury diving watches

Premium diving watches are the most wanted; they do not usually offer superior technical capabilities compared to low-end diving watches, yet they offer premium craftsmanship and exclusive mechanical movements. If we talk about professional products, I mean those timepieces designed for saturation diving, the Rolex Sea-Dweller and the Rolex Deepsea top this list.

rolex-deepsea-126660-new-watch-2018-caliber-3235-3Rolex has patented the helium escape valve to let the gas being expelled from a watch's case at the end of the diving session. Seiko later introduced a new approach by creating a case so sealed to make it helium-proof. For example, the Seiko Tuna offers a proprietary case design, with an L-shaped sealing.

grand-seiko-hi-beat-professional-600m-divers-sbgh255The Japanese brand is also the only manufacturer to mass-produce diving watches equipped with a one-piece case. However, Rolex's most appropriate challengers are the Seiko Prospex LX and the Grand Seiko Diver's Hi-Beat. The former is equipped with the Spring Drive caliber; the latter houses a less decorated variant of the respected 5 Hertz automatic movement designed by the group's top high-end global luxury brand.

Italian diving watches

Italian brands play a crucial role in producing professional diving watches. Teseo Tesei and the X MAS' legacy inspire Panerai and a long list of small and independent brands who craft some of the sturdiest watches for the most demanding pro diver. We often introduce Italian brands to our audience, the last in a row being Gruppo Ardito Watches, whose Kraken can go as deep as 10,000 meters. Also, there's another Italian brand that deserves the first page, since it engineers rugged watches named after the X MAS, and whose military pedigree is visible in every detail.

memphis-belle-mille-metri-orologio-subacqueo-professionale-compressaThat brand is Memphis Belle, which recently introduced a professional diving watch designed for saturation diving, waterproof to up to 1000 meters. The Memphis Belle Millemetri 1000 MT (the photo above is by Alex Ratto for Memphis Belle) is an ISO 6425 compliant wristwatch. It boasts a chunky 46mm steel case, interchangeable ceramic bezel (the replacement ring comes standard in the package), and plenty of case finish, dial, and strap color options. It houses an ETA 2824.2 based movement featuring a Nivacourbe shockproof rotor. The timepiece is superbly finished, and the 1,080 Euros sticker price is an excellent bang for the bucks.


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