Diver’s watches are easily one of the most widely seen watch styles on men these days. Any guy sporting a water-proof, steel bracelet watch is likely wearing one, whether they know it or not.
But what exactly is a diver’s watch and why do we see men wearing them everywhere we go? Should I care anyway?
Well, the second question there is a personal one, but we can definitely help with the first.
In this guide, we’ll discuss what specifications are necessary to qualify as a true diver’s watch and how these watches are unique. We’ll also talk about why/how these watches have become so widespread these days.
Off we go.
What Is A Diver’s Watch?
Well, simply put- any watch that a diver wears to go underwater and doing their diving with. That makes sense right? Boom, there ya go. Done and done.
I guess that short is answer is technically right, but I think we can do a little better.
It’s true a diver’s or “dive” watch (aka “diving” watch) is one that is designed to go underwater, but the specifications that set these watches apart goes a little deeper.
The exact specifications that need to be met are created by the International Organization for Standardization (the ISO). This organization consists of a bunch of technical committees that come together to decide on the criteria that must be met for many different products to be what they are.
Sounds like a pretty judgey committee, but it’s actually really helpful- it ensures that products around the world are meeting the same standards (you know, comparing oranges to oranges and whatnot).
Anyway, this group is responsible for setting the criteria for what makes a true diving watch. According to the ISO, a true diver’s watch (mechanical, not quartz) must:
This is the first and most obvious characteristic of these watches. I mean come on, we’re talking about diving underwater, right? So of course these watches have to be waterproof.
But more specifically, they have to be waterproof to at least 100m. That’s over 300 ft to us in the States.
This is why you see a lot of water proof watches that advertise they can withstand being 100m underwater. Many luxury dive watches can withstand being much deeper than this, but 100m is the minimum to be ISO certified.
Another key characteristic of diver’s watches is the large, rotating bezel encircling the face. The bezel on these watches is to be used to keep track of time spent diving underwater.
The bezel must have 60 minutes marked in one minute intervals and rotate only in the counter-clockwise direction.
This is a safety precaution in case you accidentally hit the bezel while underwater (it will only overestimate how long you’ve been underwater, instead of accidentally underestimating, which could lead to you running out of air).
The rotating bezel is a simple, yet effective timer. Simply rotate the bezel so that the “0” is on the minute hand and then the minute hand will point to how many minutes you’ve been underwater (read the marking on the bezel).
Readability In Total Darkness
If you think about the conditions scuba diver’s could face underwater, this one makes a lot of sense. A certified diving watch must be readable in total darkness from a distance of 25 cm (9.8 in).
This means these watches should have large, clear numerals that are strongly luminescent.
These watches also have to have an indicator that they are still running while in total darkness. This means the second hand also needs to be luminescent (so you know the watch is still functioning).
The ISO doesn’t mess around. Certified dive watches need to withstand exposure to a magnetic field and still be accurate to ±30 sec per day.
This means being around magnets or equipment that uses magnetic fields shouldn’t affect the accuracy of these watches.
I’m not sure if diver’s use equipment with magnets or anything, but it’s nice to know these watches can handle it (well, ISO certified watches can anyway).
Diver’s watches need to be able to withstand 2 direct blows from a hard plastic hammer (at a regulated force) without losing or gaining more than 60 sec per day.
This specification makes a lot of sense. Depending on where and how deep you are underwater, there could be plenty of obstacles you could bump into (rocks, coral, etc).
It’s important that bumping into stuff doesn’t affect the accuracy of your watch when you may be dependent on said watch for telling you when it’s time to come up for air.
And by chemical, we’re talking saltwater. Diving usually happens in the ocean, where the water is quite salty. It’s important these watches can withstand long periods of time submersed in saltwater without corroding.
To test this, the ISO submerges watches in a solution of saltwater comparable to the make up of ocean water for 24 consecutive hours.
The watches must show no signs of corrosion or rusting to pass.
The last thing you want when you’re underwater is for your band to snap, causing you to lose your watch to the depths of the ocean.
To ensure adequate band strength, each watch band is tested by the application of a 45 lb force in opposite directions (pulling the band on each side away from the watch face) and checking for damage where the band attaches to the face.
Speaking of bands, many dive watches come with stainless steel bracelets. Luxury watches may come with gold as well.
Popularity Of The Diver’s Watch
Ok, we’ve gone over the criteria a watch has to meet in order to be considered an ISO certified diver’s watch. Oh, I should point out that the above criteria is more specific to purely mechanical watches (no battery).
There are digital and battery powered diver’s watches as well, which will have to meet the same criteria above, but will also have a few extra considerations regarding the battery (like an indicator to tell you when the battery is running low).
As you can see, the specifications set out by the ISO are pretty intense. It’s also completely voluntary for watch brands to send their watches to the ISO for testing.
This means that most dive watches are not ISO certified.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that some of these non-certified watches wouldn’t pass the test, it just means that the watchmakers haven’t sent their watches for testing (and paid the fees that come with it).
Of course, this gives plenty of bragging rights to the watches that are ISO certified.
Regardless of whether or not a dive watch has been certified or not, it can still be a great watch to own and wear- and not just for divers.
When it comes to the popularity of these watches, I think there are a few things to consider.
First of all, these watches look great. The large face, bezel, and stainless steel bracelet are what most of us picture when we think of the perfect men’s watch.
Masculinity embraced at every detail.
The look we take for granted today stemmed from Rolex’s Submariner- the first diver’s watch that was waterproof to 100m. We also have Rolex to thank for the first waterproof watch period (their Oyster which debuted in 1926… great name by the way).
I’m not sure people realize how innovational Rolex has been through the years- their watches aren’t just expensive and pretty to look at.
Ok, before I get on a Rolex tangent, let’s get back to dive watches.
We have the iconic look of the traditional dive watch aiding in the style’s popularity, but price has a lot to do with it too.
You can find nice looking dive watches for as low as a couple hundred bucks. Diving watches can also make a great introduction to the world of luxury watches.
Brands like Tag Heur with their Aquaracers, provide well-made diving watches with prices in the $2000-$3000 range (I currently own an Aquaracer and love it).
Besides the look and price of these watches, something I think a lot of guys appreciate is how versatile they are.
Diving watches are built tough to withstand the pressures of being underwater, which makes them pretty indestructible on dry land.
They’re also waterproof, which is nice whether you’re a diver or not (don’t have to worry about getting them wet in the shower or pool).
And diver’s watches look great with any style. You can wear them casually as a nice sports watch or pair them with formal clothes for a night out on the town.
There’s no wrong way to wear one of these watches.
If you’re looking for a new watch or perhaps looking to invest in your first luxury watch, a diver’s watch is always a great choice. The technology and specs are admirable, but when it comes right down to it, these watches are just fun to wear.