Table of Contents
In this 3-part series we cover:
Part 1: A brief history of dive watches, and the features that define them
Part 2: Types of dive watches and an overview of brands and models
Part 3: Our picks for the best dive watches based on style and price range
Luxury Dive Watches
The Rolex Submariner needs no further introduction. Everyone wants one, whether they’ll admit to it or not. It comes with the famous cyclops lens over the date or my favorite, the “no-date.” For more serious divers or those with larger wrists, the Rolex Submariner Deepsea and the Deepsea Sea Dweller offer increased durability, size, and stature. Read more about Rolex in parts 1 and 2.
Blancpain Fifty Fathoms
The Blancpain Fifty Fathoms started it all and if you can afford one, you really ought to consider investing in this little piece of history — which should have stopped there. The first diver’s watch is one of the most beautifully designed of any watch ever. The current version even comes with a built-in insurance policy; should moisture enter the case, a circle indicator changes color to let the owner know an intrusion has occurred.
Jaeger-LeCoultre Polaris is simplicity at its finest in the Polaris Automatic no-date version. Or add the date. With the mechanical alarm version, the original 1968 Jaeger-LeCoultre Polaris Memovox is faithfully reproduced — and it may be the coolest dive watch in this entire guide.
All three Super Compressor style watches have an internal rotating timing bezel controlled by one of the two crowns, located at 2 and 4 o’clock, while the Memovox has a third crown at 3 o’clock to control the alarm.
Ulysse Nardin Diver le Locle
The Ulysse Nardin Diver Le Locle is another drop-dead gorgeous reproduction, this of their 1964 diver. Working for navies since the beginning, Ulysse Nardin was more interested in accuracy advancements than depth ratings.
The movement in this chronometer is made with silicium, an alternative to iron-based metal that is not affected by magnetism. The small second hand makes timing short events less than ideal, but, um, it’s stunning.
Classic Dive Watches
Omega is a powerhouse in the watch world and rarely is there a conversation about dive watch pedigree without the Omega Seamaster coming up, because they’re amazing watches that have been on the arms of serious professional divers, as well as naval combat soldiers and MI-6 agents since the middle of the last century. Fortunately, they’re a lot more affordable than Rolexes and many other Swiss watches.
The Seamaster Diver 300M got a really cool change in 2018, returning the wave patterned dial to the already insane CO-Axial Master Chronometer. It’s a super beast, and dare we say, better than the Submariner.
The DOXA Sub300T from 1967 is the first affordable “true” dive watch and the Conquistador model was the first watch with a helium release valve made available to the general public. This re-release is an exact copy of the original, down to the stainless steel rice-bead bracelet — on the exterior.
The insides are completely modern. Same with the DOXA Sub1200T, which is pretty faithful to the Conquistador, but sacrifices some exactness for modern technology to reach its 1,200M (4,000 feet) depth rating. I consider my orange-dialed Orient Mako an homage to these watches, until I get one.
Tudor Black Bay Fifty Eight
In my opinion, there are two ways to go with Tudor, and both exude vintage charm.
The Tudor Black Bay Fifty Eight is the latest release and a throwback to one of the rarest and coolest Rolex Submariners out there, ref. 5510, before the crown protectors and with a red zero-mark.
OK, it’s pretty much a straight copy of the 1958 “James Bond” Submariner, but with Tudor hands and logo, and it’s about the only way most readers will afford a “Sub” in the more graceful 39mm case diameter.
Tudor Black Bay Bronze
With an ever changing patina, the Tudor Black Bay Bronze is closer to the modern definition of a smaller dive watch, at 41mm. With a brown dial and weathered leather strap, this bronze diver starts, and quickly becomes more, vintage looking right out of the box. Both come with Rolex quality at a fraction of the price.
Longines Heritage Legends Diver
Not mentioned in Part 1, but one of the oldest running luxury Swiss watchmakers, Longines has also made watches for divers since the 1950s.
Longines’ throwback Heritage Legends Diver deviates from the norm by utilizing a Super Compressor style case, and it faithfully hits all the right notes with internal bezel, crowns at 2 and 4, and a minimal, highly legible dial, designed smack-dab in the mid-50s.
Mid-Range Dive Watches (or the Diver Blues)
Christopher Ward C60 Trident Pro 600
It’s hard to believe a company not even two decades old has produced an icon, but the Christopher Ward C60 Trident Pro 600 is all that. The latest version, with sumptuous blue dial and bezel and polished steel bracelet, knocks it out of the park, but really, all the color combinations kill.
Christopher Ward C65 Trident
Old is the new new this year, and the Christopher Ward C65 Trident is a retro homage to a hypothetical dive watch, circa-1965, since the company has only been around since 2004. The blue version with distressed brown leather strap must have been designed specifically for me.
Squale 500 Meter Professional
Maybe I’ve seen The Urban Gentry’s favorite all-blue Squale on his YouTube series so often that, for me, Squale watches should be blue. I don’t know, but I like it.
The blue dial version of the Squale 500 Meter Professional, with blue dial and bezel and orange minute-hand on brown leather, oozes vintage Squale.
Based on the 1970s Squalematic, Squale’s newest Squale Matic reaches depths of 600 meters. The antireflective-coated domed sapphire crystal drives home the retro.
Deep Blue Daynight Diver T-100 Automatic
Things you can get from Deep Blue: tritium tubes, ludicrous depth ratings, proven automatic movements, a dial in nearly any color. Considering their name — which looms large on the dial — I want one that’s pretty damn blue.
You can get the Deep Blue Daynight Diver T-100 Automatic, with tritium tubes that glow all the time, 300M of depth rating, and a sapphire crystal, on a blue or black rubber strap, though the stainless steel bracelet kicks it up a notch.
Or try the Deep Blue Master 1000, without tritium tubes, but with a helium release valve at 10 o’clock, and 1000 feet of depth rating, for even fewer duckets.
The 2018 updates to the venerable Longines Hydroconquest were notable. The line got a lumed second hand, better lume all around, a ceramic bezel, and they upped the power reserve to 64 hours. It should be a contender for your wrist, along with the previous models that are generally a bargain, and often discounted, in black and blue.
Trendy, Modern, or Micro-Brand Dive Watches
Benarus has produced numerous dive watches over the few years they’ve been around, including the 47mm Benarus Megalodon with a 49mm bezel.
Trendy/Modern watches aren’t that big anymore, so stay on-trend with a variation of the much smaller Moray 38, including the Pac Man Date and Pac Man No Date. They run on Swiss ETA 2824 movements and have a depth rating to 1,000 meters. All designs come on distressed brown leather straps.
Moray 40 Brass
You’ll enjoy pairing your own rustic straps with the brass-cased Benarus Moray 40, which comes on a rubber strap that begs to be replaced. The no-date automatic comes in several dial colors, with or without numbers at 3, 6, 9, and 12.
Bremont Supermarine Range
Supermarine 500 & 501
The Bremont Supermarine is now in three sizes and several dial colors and designs.
Bremont released their first dive watch in 2009, the Bremont Supermarine 500, in a 43mm 3-piece Trip-Tick case that retains the curvature, and comfort, of their 40mm case.
Three new versions of the S500 arrive for 2018, as well as the Supermarine 501 that adds a distressed brown leather strap, a slightly revised and more vintage looking dial, and one of the best details ever on a dial: a 501m depth rating, besting the others by a meter. Pairs nicely with Levi’s.
Supermarine 300 & 301
I do have to say, the slightly smaller 40mm S300 with Arabic numerals at 6, 9, and 12, is growing on me fast, as well as the S301, with similar treatment as the S501. They have a depth rating of 300 meters and sapphire crystals.
Bell & Ross: BR 03-92 Diver
No other diver’s watch looks like the BR 03-92 Diver in blue. The blue gleams against the polished and satin steel. It’s. Simply. Stunning.
If you collect iconic square aviation watches, this is the one to have when you’re near the sea. For the rest of us, this is square-watch crack.
Pita Barcelona Oceana
Pita Barcelona makes only 100 watches per year in their tiny watchmaker’s shop in eastern Spain. Just 30 of those are the absolutely unique dive watch, the Pita Barcelona Oceana. The design carries two patents — which has “no crown, no back cover, no weak points” and a depth rating of 5,000 meters. The patents cover the “Time Setting Mechanism” for the ratcheting “Remote Transmission,” which involves using the ratcheting, rotating back of the case to magnetically control the the time-setting gears inside the completely sealed case. Wow. It’s another watch that looks like no other.
Unimatic Modello Uno
Unimatic, a small watchmaker in Italy, has so far released less than a dozen variations on two themes. The Modello Uno is the dive watch and their primary focus initially as they produced at least six versions in batches of 600 pieces or less. The black-dial stainless steel version is sold out, but the Unimatic Modello Uno ref. U1-L, has a blue dial and is currently available in a limited edition of 50 pieces. They also have green and white-dial models, as well as a blackened stainless version on a nylon strap. Modello Due has no bezel. It’s a field watch.
Hamilton Khaki Navy Frogman
The Hamilton Khaki Navy Frogman captures one of the latest trends in dive watch design in a version with vintage pedigree, as an homage to Hamilton watches worn on screen by Navy SEALS in the 1951 film The Frogmen (and in real combat). Extra style points go to the titanium version with red bezel and rubber strap, but the more traditional black and stainless steel version also has the crown-lock bridge that makes this watch so darn trendy — from the company that supplied watches to the US Navy since WWI.
Under $200 Dive Watches
The Casio MDV106 is the perfect watch for anyone that wants a real diver’s watch but has hardly any funds — or wants a spare beater that looks great and is super tough for those more punishing activities. Plus, it’s quartz, so when you put it on every third or fourth weekend to take the kayak out, the time will still be correct (and the date is too small to see by the time you’re 40 anyway). Save up $40, then look for spare change around the flat and you’re in business.
In the $200 ballpark, the Seiko SKX007 is the standard bearer. The flowing pillbox case shape is indescribably comfortable on the jubilee bracelet. The Pepsi-bezeled SKX009 is another classic, with a deep blue, almost black, dial.
If you have $200 to spend on a dive watch and don’t already have an SKX, stop reading the article right now, click one of the links above, and buy an SKX with the silky smooth jubilee bracelet. You’ll live happily ever after.
For a luxurious blue dial and bezel, the Orient Blue Mako II is much more blue than the Seiko SKX009 and lacks the Pepsi bezel. It’s absurdly accurate and has an in-house movement, made in Japan.
My orange-dial Mako 1 is my favorite beater for camping, kayaking, fishing, and a lot of casual activities too, because it looks fantastic even with the big scratch across the mineral glass crystal from kayaking (after I gave away my Casio MDV106 to a friend that sold his Submariner and missed it. I shit you not.).
The Casio and Orient watches in this category are not ISO 6245 certified, and therefore do not say “DIVER’S 200M” on them, though they’re all rated to that depth.
For the money, Orient may be the most value-laden watchmaker around for quality of finish, not to mention the accuracy and ruggedness of their movements.
From diver’s watches to dress watches like the oft-recommended Bambino to these divers, no one gives you an in-house movement with meticulous finishing for what you can get these watches for on Amazon or Jomashop.
Personally, I prefer the look of the bezel on the Mako and Ray to that of the SKX and many other Seiko divers. Why?
- The Mako and Ray’s bezel has a downward angle, ending flush with the case and making it so much more streamlined.
- It makes the watch look and feel thinner, even though they’re almost exactly the same thickness.
- Quality control seems to be a notch higher at the entry-level price point in Orient’s factories than the rest of Asia’s.
Best Solar-Powered Dive Watches
The Citizen Eco-Drive Promaster Diver is ISO certified to 200M and, like the Casio MDV106, is quartz driven, but the solar-powered movement means no battery will ever die, so the case needs never be opened. Automatic watches will require servicing someday but quartz does not, unless there’s an actual problem. Ideal for preppers.
The Citizen Promaster 1000M Professional is the burliest, toughest looking, deepest plunging solar-powered dive watch around. If an automatic movement means nothing to you, you’ll want this watch to survive the Apocalypse and thrive when all other watches are dead.
The title should go to Citizen for their unrelenting dedication to the solar-powered quartz platform, but Seiko has been a big player in all things quartz since inventing it, including solar.
Seiko’s Prospex Solar dive watches are like a modern SKX, but running a solar-powered quartz movement, instead of the automatic movement that has survived some 22 years of punishing treatment in the first watches that carry it, and keeps on ticking (some having never been serviced).
The blue-dial Seiko Prospex Solar PADI is gorgeous, with red highlights and red minute hand and ISO certified to 200M.
Best for Snorkeling
Every single one of the watches in this guide would be great for snorkeling. Like all dive watches, the more legible they are, the better. Since you don’t need to time your oxygen supply when snorkeling, I’m picking a current version of the very first (and bezel-free) diving watch, the Panerai Radiomir, which lacks both the crown-lock bridge that I personally don’t particularly like . . . or the radioactive Radium lume.
I love the minimal, easy-to-read dial that’s essentially written in lume even though the original sandwich-dial is no longer a feature of the purest and least expensive version of the watch anyway.
With a handwinding movement that lasts 8 days on a full wind, the Panerai Radiomir 8 Days should make it through any luxury snorkeling trip.
There’s no reason for the Longines Heritage Skin Diver to be in this category, other than its name. It’s another gorgeous vintage reissue, this one of Longines’ first diver, 1959’s Longines Nautilus Skin Diver ref. 6921. Love the knurled, blackened bezel and how it matches the sailcloth strap. Feel safe skin diving to about 900 feet.
It’s not quite on the market yet, but if you see one for sale, grab it!
Hamilton Khaki Navy SCUBA, especially the black-dial/black-bezel version, is a full-on dive watch with traces of the Khaki field watch in the 24-hrs marking on the inside of the dial, because it pretty much is the field watch, but with a bezel and the word “SCUBA,” and makes an excellent snorkeling watch. Plus, it’s an absolute bargain for an ETA movement modified to increase the power reserve to a mighty 80 hours.
Best Dive Watch Mods
We write at length about the Russian military’s Vostok Amphibia watches that come in an almost infinite variety of dials and case designs. They used an ingenious waterproofing design that is similar in theory to the Super Compressor style of watch. Both use water pressure itself to increase the tightness of the seal between the acrylic crystal, the case, and the case back (which has a unique 2-piece design with a retaining ring that holds the back in place, but not squeezing the hell out of the gasket when not under pressure).
They are inexpensive, rugged as hell, and allegedly go way deeper than their official 200M rating. Used to be, you had to wait 4-6 weeks for your Vostok to ship from Russia. Now you can get them delivered by Amazon Prime. Thanks, Bezos!
Get this particular Scuba Dude version because it comes on a rubber strap instead of Vostok’s “cheese-grater” steel bracelet (unless you’re a masochist with hairy wrists) and on my favorite of their cases, the 420, and not for the reason you think. But because at 39mm, its compact case and vintage acrylic domed crystal are not only incredibly comfortable — and the current trendy size — it also resembles a tiny flying-saucer perched on your wrist, if you look at it right (see previous sentence). As our favorite competition in the Space Race, I can’t imagine that’s not intentional.
The Scuba Dude and The Steve Zissou anchor and wheel version are some favorite iconic models. Bill Murray’s homage to Jacques Cousteau outfitted his entire crew with Vostok Amphibias in the film, while his nephew Owen Wilson, a pilot, wore a Rolex GMT Master. Murray is a watch nut, too. Google “Bill Murray Audemars Piguet.”
Modders focus on the Vostok Amphibia and the ubiquitous SKX007 and have the most choices to swap out dials, bezels and hands. A dead SKX is the starting point for a new mod, not a complete reason for sadness.
My Twisted Bezel Brother (and actual brother) and I have discussed this and neither of us like the idea of f-ing with an icon. We believe the Vostok is the ideal platform. But if you do find yourself with a damaged SKX (as I recently have) . . .