Often people think a dive watch is less than what they might imagine. That may be, in part, because the big things dive watches have to do are not what they’ve been specifically designed for. They’re made to withstand the pressure of the ocean and provide visibility underwater. But in reality, dive watches are mostly worn on land (often far from the sea) so they need to stand stylistically in a versatile space.
That can make buying a dive watch difficult. It’s not like picking up a gift dress watch — round, minimal, alligator strap and done. No, when you are looking for a serious dive watch it’s a good idea to run through the common considerations on a check-list.
1: Check Your Budget
The “dive watch” field has certainly grown into some unexpected areas since the bow of the Rolex Oyster nearly a century ago. Technology has improved by cosmic leaps since that first-ever waterproof watch and today the variety can be overwhelming. That also means a wide price range.
- Most Affordable: There’s a lot to choose from in the under $300 group, often matching the higher-priced timepieces in terms of looks, function, and reliability. The Invitca Pro Diver owes some design credit to the Rolex Submariner, but in an honorific way. Orient, Seiko’s arm that has done a good job with affordable elegance, goes full dive with the Mako II and Ray II. Your best bet is to go Japanese here, think Citizen, Seiko, and Casio.
- Mid-Range: When you approach, and cross, the $1,000 threshold a lot of choices pop up. We’re talking about high-end materials and semi-precious metals in solid bracelet links along with military-tough tech in the casings.
- Upscale: At the high end you are in with history-making timepieces. We’re talking here about an Omega Seamaster or a Rolex Submariner, the dive watches that set the pace for decades. Or go into elite sci-fi throwback mode with a Panerai Luminor Submersible. A Hublot Oceanographic will set you back some cash but put you in with the pros.
2: Check the Overall Endurance
This one could bring to mind the fundamental question of, “Do you really want a dive watch?” It’s fair enough to ask. A lot of pilot watches run in similar design circles as dive watches. Will this watch actually be underwater or do you just like the peace of mind it’ll stay safe if accidentally submerged. You want to go with something that has a lab-tested depth rating of 100 meters, at least, and that’s the floor. Durability skyrockets from there.
A quick side note on the use of dive watches while diving. Do you need one? Well, no, unless you are setting off to dive Corsica in the year 1974 you will almost certainly have a dive computer along that monitors your depth and dive time.
But if you’re serious that your watch should be up to pro-dive standards, run through these on the specs.
- International Organization for Standardization, or ISO-6425, compliant with up to 200 meters of water resistance.
- Casing of 316L-grade stainless steel.
- Sapphire crystal for less reflection underwater.
- Unidirectional bezel, a dive-watch must.
- Rubber strap adaptable (for fitting over a wetsuit).
- Hands, dial and bezel with lots of lume for low-light visibility.
3: Check the Seal
This one is just about water (you are buying a dive watch!). You want to make sure that absolutely nothing from the outside gets on the inside of your dive watch. So, roll through this sub-list and see if the watch you have in mind is secure in these three traditional problem points.
- The Gaskets: If the water’s coming in, it’s likely coming through these guys, specifically designed to stop water from entering. Dive watches live and die by these rubber rings that will eventually dry out and fail no matter how good the watch. Most dive watches have gasket-heavy systems and yours should too.
- The Crown: You’ll want to look for a screw-down or screw-in crown. As the names suggest, screw crowns work like screws in threads to seal out water when tightened.
- The Case: Look for a screw back case over one without screws. They may tell you it’s a full seal, but if you’re just popping that case back on and off then there’s a pretty good chance that you’ll have a leak from a crack or opening there.
4: Decide Between Quartz and Mechanical
This is largely driven by the price range you choose but worth noting. On the low end, you have quartz movement. While it lacks the prestige of mechanical movement, you might be reminded that quartz is generally more accurate. On the mid-range and higher scale, you’ll probably want to go with automatic mechanical movement. Swiss with a long brand history is optimal but the big Japanese producers also make some solid mechanical movement.
5: Envision Where You’ll Wear the Watch
On the checklist’s final item you may decide you don’t want a dive watch at all. Here you ask where this watch will be going with you. No matter how much you spend, this is not going to be your go-to dress watch. Dive watches are meant for days of sports, casual gathering with friends and, yes, they can go business formal in a pinch.
So if this is you, if this is how you see your next watch purchase, then take the plunge and get yourself an amazing dive watch. You might not be James Bond and his Omega Seamaster, or A-listers jetting across the globe with Rolex Submariners, but you will have a pretty cool dive watch on your wrist.