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Two-thirds of the earth’s surface is covered with water.  Today, we only know a fraction of what lies below the surface. In fact, the oceans are the largest habitat on our planet. At the same time it is the habitat we have least explored – more people have gone to the moon than visited the deepest point of the sea! The fascination of diving, whether as a hobby or as a profession, is absolutely comprehensible.

The history of diving watches

According to ancient traditions, humanity began exploring the underwater world as early as 7,000 BC. Proof of this is a pearl from a more than 9,000-year-old Neolithic tomb in East Asia.

The 20s: Rolex launches the first waterproof watch in the world

While the development in diving has been going on for a very long time, the development in the diving sector of the watch industry is looking quite different: Rolex was able to present the first, provenly watertight, watch as early as 1926. As the first manufacturer, the company managed to permanently protect a Rolex Oyster, glass and crown against water ingress. The corresponding marketing succeeded in 1927 by the British typist Mercedes Gleitze. She attempted to swim through the 30 km wide English Channel. Unfortunately Gleitze failed – after 15 hours she ended the project due to unfavourable weather conditions. Countless pairs of eyes followed her, accompanied by journalists, paramedics whilst equipped with her Rolex Oyster. It at least provided the evidence of Rolex’s abilities.

Rolex Submariner 116613LB

The 30s: Omega introduced “The first diver’s watch”

In 1931 Rolex launched the first watches with an automatic movement under the name 'Perpetual'. The principle of the rotor would later change the watch industry forever. Thanks to automatic winding movement, the screwed crown had to be opened rarely. A long-term water resistance was thus guaranteed and represented another milestone in the history of divers watches.

In 1932 Omega introduced the Omega Marine, which can be seen as the first real “diver’s watch”. Even then it had a sapphire crystal and a „Stülp-Gehäuse“  whose purpose was to make the watch robust and resistant to external influences. To the astonishment of the developers, a simulated depth of 135 meters was reached with this watch – in the 1930s, this was absolutely outstanding!

In 1934 the brand Mido made quite a buzz with the Aquadura seal. The sealing system based on cork is still used today in some watches.

Sail Yacht from above

The 40s: Rise of the Seamaster

In 1948 the first Seamaster models from Omega conquered the market. Extremely resilient and reliable, quickly gaining a reputation as a watch for every occasion.

Half a decade later, in 1953, the Swiss Auguste Piccard managed a dive of 3,150 meters in a diving capsule. On the outside wall of the capsule, Rolex attached a watch made just for this purpose: a DeepSea Special, which survived the descent unscathed. In 1960 Jacques Piccard reached the deepest dive depth until then of 10,916 meters. He went down in a diving capsule named Trieste. On the outer shell was again equipped with a Rolex Deep Sea Special, which mastered the dive again. 

Omega - Seamaster 600M

Further developments in the diving watch industry in the 60s

The constant development of diving watches meant that in 1964 the first divers watches with a water resistance of up to 1,000 meters was produced in series. The Jenny Carribean 1000 was the first watch to hit the 1,000 meter mark in the history of watches. Shortly afterwards, famous manufacturers such as Seiko and Breguet followed in 1965. Omega launched the Seamaster 300 in 1966, IWC followed with their Aquatimer in 1967. Zenith and Jaeger-LeCoultre launched a diving watch in 1968, while Rolex and Omega pioneered this watch industry.

Also in the 1960s, Rolex developed the helium valve together with the French dive company Comex , which prevents the glass from popping during decompression. In this context, the Sea-Dweller Comex series was launched. Today they are still considered the icons of diving watches. These models were only produced over three years and aretoday as rare as they are expensive. In 1970, the Sea-Dweller finally became an independent model of the Rolex brand.

Later, the industry’s Top Dogs join “The 1,000-meter club”, with the Rolex Sea-Dweller (Ref 16660) in 1980. But the model is the first watch in the world with a trip-lock crown. By combining a variety of high quality materials, it closes the case as tight as a submarine hatch. TAG HeuerTAG Heuer is also catching up and introduces the Professional Super 1000 M (Ref. 840.006 / 349 / M) in 1986.

A quick jump to the present

A small leap into the year 2017: Great depths are, for watches at least, no longer a challenge. Today almost every luxury watch is water-resistant; maybe not up to 1,000 meters, but let’s be honest – how many of us are going to expose their watch to these depths on a regular basis?

Breitling SuperOcean

Features that every diver’s watch should have

  • A one side rotatable diving bezel

    The bezel is characterised by the dive time scale on it. In addition, it is provided at zero minutes with a luminous dot, which is aligned before the dive with the minute hand. So it is always visible under water, regardless of the dive time. 

  • Turning to one side is a pure safety measure

    If you accidentally adjust the bezel, the dive time can only be prolonged. In case of an emergency you should re-surface too early, never too late.

  • A water resistance of at least 20 bar

    This value corresponds to a hydrostatic head of 200 meters. However, the meter specification does not refer to the actual depth, but to the tested pressure, which was applied according to ISO 2281. So you can shower with a watch below this value, possibly even swim, but for snorkelling or diving, the watch should have at least a tested pressure of 20 bar.

  • A waterproof bracelet

    Almost self-explanatory, a leather bracelet is not intended for permanent contact with fresh or salt water. A professional diving watch has a metal or rubber strap, these are extremely durable and easy to clean. In addition, such a bracelet will not discolour or be porous. This should be paid attention to, especially when free-diving in salt water

  • Luminous material

    Luminous material is absolutely needed to read the dive time, decompression intervals or simply the time of day, luminous coated hands and indices - these things are a must. Remember, light is less and less available the deeper you dive. Some waters are dimmer than others. Since your own life may depend on your diver’s watch, both hands and indexes are always coated with luminous mass.

  • Screw-down crown

    A screw-down crown prevents ingress of water or dust inside the housing of the watch. This is done by a, located on the inside of the housing, sealing o-ring. With this, the housing is completely protected against the ingress of water. This principle is today in every diver’s watch – an unwritten law.

Panerai Luminor Marina

What other facts are worth knowing about diving watches?

A large selection of diving watches can be found on our Watchmaster Onlineshop. Among the pre-owned luxury watches, diving watches are among the most popular timepieces. Not infrequently they offer not only fascinating functionality but also an impressive appearance for a fraction of the new price.

Even if they call themselves "diver's watches", the installed seals are wear objects. Depending on the strain and treatment, the sealing elements wear off in daily use, and it is recommended that they be checked regularly every one to two years. Salt water is particularly aggressive - not unlike cars on scattered roads in winter, salt also causes increased corrosion in watches. It also does not stop at the rubber seals, so it is essential that a watch is rinsed with fresh water after use in salt water. The same applies to chlorine in public or domestic swimming pools - keep it under running water for a few days, and the watch will give pleasure for a few days longer.