In 1954, 27 years after releasing the world's first truly waterproof watch, Rolex unveiled the Submariner at the Swiss Watch Fair. The watch was a stylish take on the timepieces created for naval divers during WWII and an instant hit. The timepiece's cogged bezel, minute markings, luminous geometric indexes, and a dark face - the design elements that have been passed down through several generations of dive watches - testified to the watch's role as a tool for a new generation of rugged aquanauts. Jacques Cousteau wore one while filming Le Monde Silent. Sean Connery wore one in Dr. No. Steve McQueen, who tried for years to make a movie about an underwater salvage expert, wore one constantly.
The Submariner popularized a business-first look that other brands could run with. Luxury watch companies across Europe and America released similar models throughout the sixties and by the early seventies Omega and Oficine Panerai had become internationally known for their depth-rated models. These masculine timepieces differed in an increasing number of ways, but they all shared an industrial aesthetic. And that's precisely why dive watches are now becoming ubiquitous in American board rooms. Unlike smart phones, which are a completely serviceable way to keep time, dive watches' outside reflect their mechanical inner workings. They are unapologetic machines for unapologetic men.
For connoisseurs and collectors, watchmakers’ eagerness to chase the trend is great news: Luxury houses find themselves pitted against specialty technical brands and vice versa. With designers setting their aquatic timepieces apart by introducing luxury elements, new materials, and fresh complications, a wave of memorable models is flooding the market.
Here are our favorites.
Seiko Prospex SUN019 Kinetic GMT Diver
Seiko announced at this year’s Baselworld horological confab that its Prospex line, long popular among Japanese divers and businessmen, would finally make its way to America. With the window on the side of the case display its inner case and an asymmetrical bezel cover, the SUN019 Kinetic GMT is the most striking of the lot. Seiko was aggressive with the phosphorescents so the watch lights up the dark. It also looks great with a navy suit.
Maurice Lacroix Pontos S Diver
The high-end Swiss brand Maurice Lacroix took a vintage approach to the diver with its Pontos S, a stripped-down, bezel-free timepiece designed to withstand a mind-boggling 778 pounds per square inch and handle the helium in the decompression chambers used by professional divers. The watch pairs a simple face with a bulky case to excellent effect.
Cartier Caliber Dive Watch
The Parisian luxury brand got onboard with the aquatic trend this year, releasing its first dive watch, the Cartier Calibre GMT. The watch’s white-on-black-on-rose gold design plays with convention, adding roman numerals and filing the bezel cogs down to almost nothing. It may be good to 1000 feet, but this watch doesn’t say “diver” so much as it screams “executive.” There’s nothing wrong with that.
SAS Sea Legend
The five-year-old SAS Watch Company, a small operation out of County Wicklow, Ireland, designs watches with a surgical attention to detail and a clinical disdain for ornamentation. The Classic II, the brands most memorable piece, features a prominent jigsaw of a bezel set above a stainless steel cushion. The numbers are big. The band looks battle-ready. The first impression lasts.
Crepas Reserva “Banana Tribute”
The boutique Spanish brand’s tribute to the Omega “Banana” Seamaster 200, a colorful watchmaking milestone flaunted by swaggering French military divers in the fifties, is anything but subtle. A quarter of the bezel is red, the face is road-sign yellow, and the hour hand is comically oversized. It’s a serious watch for men who take diving – not themselves – seriously.