Everything began with a letter from a commercial diver living in the region of Hiroshima in Japan. The diver indicated that while employing a diving capsule and saturation diving procedures at depths more than 300 meters, most timepieces become damaged. In response to this request, Seiko assembled a brand-new research and development group. After many years of research and development, the first Professional Diver watches with a titanium case were finally brought into existence.
In the beginning, diver watches were nothing more than simple tools: indispensable swimming companions that assisted divers in remaining on time and, consequently, alive. These days, though, they are something else entirely: fashion statements, conversation pieces, and rough companions for trips to the beach or pool. This is an excerpt from Timeline’s “Diver Watches Through the Decades” article, which traces the history of the diver watch from its beginnings in the 1920s, when the first fully water-resistant casings were invented, all the way up to 2014. (This category only includes mechanical timepieces.)
1926 Rolex Oyster watch
The first watches designed specifically for use by divers came on the market in 1926. They have crowns that are insulated (the crown is the chief point of entry for water into a watch case). In the same year, Hans Wilsdorf, the founder of Rolex, introduced the Oyster case. The Oyster case is distinguished by its screwed crown, screwed case back, and securely sealed crystal. It is the very first case of its kind to be completely water-resistant. A year later, Wilsdorf approached Mercedes Gleitze, a stenographer who was attempting to become the first British woman to swim the English Channel, and asked her to wear an Oyster during one of her attempts. Mercedes Gleitze was successful in becoming the first British woman to swim the English Channel. She does not make it all the way, but the Rolex that she wears around her neck continues to tick even after she is no longer there.
1936 Panerai prototypes
The Italian Navy gives Panerai a commission to construct the first prototypes of a timepiece that will eventually become the “Radiomir” model. These prototypes would later grow into the final product. Two years later, the watches, which are water resistant to a depth of thirty metres, went into production. Rolex was responsible for the manufacturing of both the cushion-shaped and 47 mm in diameter cases, as well as the movements, for the early Radiomir watches. They got their name from the radium that was used to make the dials on their instruments readable even in muddy water.
1953 Blancpain Fifty Fathoms
The Fifty Fathoms is Blancpain’s first timepiece designed specifically for diving. The watch is resistant to water up to a depth of 100 metres. (Fifty fathoms are equivalent to 300 feet, which is approximately 91 metres.) It refers to the utmost depth that divers are capable of reaching using the equipment that was available at the time.) Captain Bob Maloubier, who served as a secret agent for the British during World War II and later became the chief of the combat diving corps for the French armed forces, placed a request for the watch. It is the product of his request. He gave Blancpain the specifications for the watch he wanted, which included a rotating bezel, large Arabic numerals on the dial, and legible indicators. After some time had passed, Maloubier recalled that they had “intended in effect that each of the markings be as clear as a guiding star for a shepherd.”
1957 Breitling’s first dive watch
The Superocean is the first dive watch that Breitling has ever produced. The water resistance of the watch is rated at a depth of two hundred metres, which is achieved in part by the watch’s monocoque (i.e., one-piece) case and its very robust crystal. It is possible to secure the bezel of the watch, preventing it from becoming dislodged in the event that you go underwater. In 1959, a chronograph model of the watch was made available to consumers.
1967 First Rolex Sea-Dweller
Rolex introduces the Sea-Dweller, a deeper-diving version of the Submariner. Its distinguishing feature is its helium valve, through which helium that has entered the watch case during time spent in a diving chamber can be released. The watch is produced at the request of the French company COMEX (Compagnie Maritime expertise), which specializes in deep-diving equipment and services, chiefly for offshore oil and gas extraction. The watch is water-resistant to 610 meters.
1983 First diver computer watch
The very first diving computer is released to the public. Diver watches are relegated to the role of primary backup equipment as the usage of dive computers becomes more commonplace in the 1990s.
The late 1970s saw the introduction of digital dive computers. The XDC-1, resembling a cash register, was a desktop gadget created in 1979 for use in research facilities. Between 1979 and 1982, 700 of these devices were sold, laying the groundwork for what would eventually become the first digital portable computer, the XDC-3 or CyberDiver. The XDC-4, developed later, was able to operate with gas mixtures but was prohibitively expensive for widespread use.
The 1980s saw a rapid evolution of technological advancements. The first dive computer with commercial viability, the Orca Edge, appeared in 1983. Despite its basis in the US Navy’s dive tables, the model did not produce a decompression strategy. It looked like an iPod Nano, so it was futuristic even back then. Nonetheless, daily output was limited to a single unit. It would never have been able to match Apple’s sales.
1996 ISO invents diver watch standard
Standard 6425, which is issued by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), defines the characteristics that a watch must have in order for it to be referred to as a “dive” watch. They include standards for water resistance (the watch must be 25 per cent more water-resistant than indicated on the dial), legibility under water, resilience to thermal shocks, and the ability to estimate the amount of time that has elapsed. The standard that was established in 1984 has been superseded by Standard 6425, which remains in force today.
2009 CX Swiss Military
The 20,000 Feet was introduced by CX Swiss Military, and it immediately entered the Guinness Book of World Records after breaking the record for water resistance previously held by the Rolex Deepsea. 20,000 feet is approximately 6,100 metres. (From 2005 until the Deepsea was discovered in 2008, CX Swiss Military had the record for deepest dive until the Deepsea was discovered.) The watch has a chronograph and a casing that is 28.5 millimetres thick with a dome on the rear. According to CX Swiss Military, it is genuinely water-resistant to 7,500 metres, which provides the margin of safety of 25 per cent that is required to meet the standards of ISO 6425.
2014 IWC Aquatimer
IWC modernises its Aquatimer range by adding a unidirectional bezel to the interior of the watch and a bidirectional bezel to the exterior of the watch. The Aquatimer Automatic 2000 is the most impervious of the new models offered by Aquatimer. It is water resistant up to a depth of 2,000 metres.
The Aquatimer line was revised again in 2009, now with an external rotating bezel with specially coated sapphire glass. Further redesigns then occurred in 2014, including a new case construction with an external/internal rotating bezel.
A dive watch is a type of watch designed for use while scuba diving, and most are waterproof. Sometimes referred to as a “diver’s watch” or a “scuba watch”, the first commercially successful dive watch was released by Rolex in 1953. The first diver’s watches were not intended for sport but more so for professional diving such as commercial fishing, shipwreck salvage, and oceanographic research.