These days we tend to take water resistant watches for granted, but that has not always been the case. Before the two great wars, watches were not made to withstand the elements. They tended to be fragile, prone to rust and shock damage, and although many were beautiful, they had no chance of surviving under water.
Hans Wilsdorf, founder of Rolex, made the first great leap, or perhaps I should say the first great ‘dive’, with the famous Rolex Oyster, and soon enough, water resistant watches were everywhere. Today this feature is pretty much expected in a premium watch, and there is a huge variety of great watches designed specifically to be used while enjoying the underwater world.
In this article, I would like to take a look at three of the most enduring, adventurous and, in my opinion, also the coolest dive watches of all time.
1 – The Rolex Submariner
It was the marketing genius and visionary insight of the Rolex man – Hans Wilsdorf. He was the one that first convinced the ever-skeptical world that wristwatches could withstand the elements, and even survive under water. He used the influence of popular news stories to convince us, showing submarines descending to great depths – with his famous Rolex strapped to the outside – and triumphantly returning to the surface, with the watch still in perfect working order.
The Submariner has been around for more than sixty years now. Introduced in 1953, this classic has remained a design stalwart over the years. The early models didn’t have the standard ‘Submariner’ on the dial, and there were also no crown guards, but very little else has changed. It remains one of the most recognizable and most popular watches of all time, for landlubbers and ocean-dwellers alike.
2 – The Omega Seamaster
Around 1957 Omega introduced its sports watch trio – the Speedmaster, Railmaster, and of course, the Seamaster.
To recount the story truthfully, the original Seamaster wasn’t a really bona-fide diving watch, but with the release of the Seamaster 300, Omega finally had a watch to rival the Submariner in every way.
By the 1960’s the Speedmaster was evolving, with more dive-friendly features, including a bigger case, broad luminous dials and hands that lit up more efficiently, vastly improving visibility in poor light. It was used extensively in Navy diving during those years.
Over the decades Omega experimented quite a bit with the classic design, but the latest Seamaster 300 Master Co-axial is more of a return to the original. The thin bezel, straight lugs, and absence of crown guards, plus the iconic broad-arrow hands make this one of the most rugged and also one of the most popular dive watches of all time.
3- The Panerai Luminor Submersible
Panarai has a long history with Navy diving watches, with links in the early years with Rolex. In the 1950’s their watches featured a time-lapse rotating bezel, making the all-important dive time check that much easier.
With their modern submersibles, they stay true to the rugged, purpose-built style, and with the huge 47mm case, they are just the tool for undersea exploration. Unlike the two watches above, this one comes standard with a chunky, vented strap, ideal for staying firmly attached underwater, as the pressure changes. As expected, Panarai made no mistakes with this one, and it remains a true dive watch classic.
So whether you’re choosing a dive watch just for show, or plan to actually take one with you on a submarine adventure, there are plenty of options out there that combine the best water-resistant engineering with enduring style. You won’t be disappointed with any one of these three classics.
Published at Esquire Online, July 2015