Don’t look for elegance, restrained dimensions, comfort on a daily basis or the ability to wear these watches with a sporty-chic attire at a cocktail party this summer. These watches are not meant for that. These watches are not luxury items (well, some have a luxury price tag, but that’s not the point) but tools created to fulfil a mission. Today, in our latest buying guide, we’ll look at some of the most focused, purpose-built diving instrument watches you can imagine. Watches that are meant to explore the greatest depths, watches that are equipped with functions that only a professional diver will ever use, watches that are big and bold for reasons. It’s time to put on your wetsuit and refill your breathing apparatus because we’re looking at five of the most instrumental dive watches.
Today’s selection of watches isn’t necessarily about the greatest water-resistance. Of course, we’ve included the two record-holding models, watches that are the result of experiments and explorations conducted by some of the most fascinating adventurers of our times – Rolex on one side with the Deepsea Challenge and James Cameron, Omega on the other side with the Five Deeps Expedition and Victor Vescovo. But as professional or highly trained divers will explain, most dives are done at much shallower depths than those achieved by the two expeditions. In this context, besides the water-resistance, we’re looking at the functionalities of a dive watch or its conception as a piece of gear to perform a job. For this reason, we’ve compiled a list of watches that are more than just standard dive watches but instrumental timepieces to help divers on a mission.
The Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Tech Gombessa
The latest addition to the Fifty Fathoms by Blancpain (an important collection that kickstarted the modern dive watch back in 1953) isn’t, on paper, the most impressive model created by the brand. The Fifty Fathoms X Fathoms might well be. The Fifty Fathoms Tech Gombessa looks at things from a very specific perspective. While it’s only 300m water-resistant, its 3-hour scale bezel, indicated by an additional hand, makes it unique. It was specifically developed for closed-circuit rebreather diving (or CCR), a device that recycles the air you exhale to be rebreathed, allowing the diver to stay underwater far longer than the typical hour or so limit, up to about three hours. This 47mm grade 23 titanium dive watch with a helium escape valve is geared toward a niche audience, and it is precisely why it might be one of the coolest models ever created by Blancpain. An instrument that will only look good worn over a wetsuit, together with your CCR device.
Quick facts: 47mm x 14.8mm grade 23 titanium case – unidirectional 3-hour scale bezel with black ceramic inlay – screw-down crown – helium valve – 300m water-resistant – in-house calibre 13P8, automatic, 120h power reserve, 4Hz frequency – hours, minutes, seconds, 3-hour dive-time hand – integrated black rubber strap with extension – EUR 28,700
The Delma Quattro
The Delma Quattro is another model that, on paper, feels relatively traditional. Made of steel, its case is water-resistant to 500m… Good, but nothing extraordinary. When worn classically on its rubber strap or steel bracelet, it’s a capable dive watch with all the equipment required (unidirectional bezel, recessed and protected screw-down crown, helium valve), but that’s until you discover its RBES system, a.k.a Rapid Bracelet Exchange System. Comparable to the way you switch out lenses on a camera, it allows you to remove the central container (middle case with dial, crystal and movement) and mount it on a metallic plate with decompression tables to calculate your decompression steps. And it also allows you to use a module attached either to a steel bracelet or a rubber strap. The best is that thanks to a solid but inexpensive SW200 movement, the package is priced at an impressive EUR 2,090… Not bad.
Quick facts: 44mm x 15.3mm steel case – steel or black DLC unidirectional rotating bezel – screw-down crown – helium valve – integrated latch to remove case from watch head (for strap/bracelet or decompression plate) – 500m water-resistant – automatic Sellita SW200-1, 4Hz frequency, 38h power reserve – hours, minutes, seconds and date – steel bracelet and rubber strap – limited edition of 999 pieces – EUR 2,090
The Omega Seamaster Planet Ocean Ultra Deep Titanium 6000m
We now enter the club of ultra-deep dive watches… Timepieces meant to go deeper than most of us will ever dream of, depths that only a handful of adventurers dare to visit. The Seamaster Planet Ocean Ultra Deep is the general public version of a prototype watch that broke records. Strapped to the mechanical arm of DSV Limiting Factor piloted by Victor Vescove down Challenger Deep, this watch reached a depth of 10,928 metres, the deepest point ever explored by mankind. The impressively complex conception of this prototype, using technical solutions and materials from the deepsea vehicle, was used to create a barely downgraded version, the Planet Ocean Ultra Deep. Water-resistant to 6,000 metres (and, in fact, tested with an extra 25% safety margin), it is one of the most capable diving instruments on the market. The titanium edition, with its 45.5mm case, is nothing of a show-off watch. It’s all about breaking records.
Quick facts: 45.5mm x 18.1mm grade 5 titanium case with manta lugs – forged grade 5 titanium unidirectional bezel with ceramic insert – screw-in crown – front EFG sapphire crystal with semi-conical shape – 6000m water-resistant – in-house calibre 8912, automatic, 3.5Hz, 60h power reserve, Master Chronometer certified – hours, minutes, seconds – black NATO strap with cyan stripe – EUR 14,600
The Rolex Rolex Deepsea Challenge RLX Titanium
The beast of the depths… What Rolex has created is nothing less than a mechanical watch with the deepest depth rating. A watch capable of resisting the pressure at the bottom of Challenger Deep, with a claimed resistance of 11,000 metres, 36,090ft or 1,100 bars. And while you can easily imagine this to be a prototype made for James Cameron, it actually is (sort of) available at retailers. Developed according to the research done for Cameron’s prototype watch, Rolex released its most powerful dive watch, the Deepsea Challenge 126067, which also was the first-ever Rolex entirely made of titanium. As you can imagine, to resist such pressure, it comes in a gigantic and ultra-thick case of 50mm x 23mm, with a 61mm lug-to-lug measurement (now that Omega Ultra-Deep feels almost svelte…) The rest of the watch is classic, being an ultra-beefed-up Sea-Dweller. But clearly, even with all its diving credentials, it’s a watch that will be hard to flex on dry land.
Quick facts: 50mm x 23mm RLX titanium monobloc case with Ringlock system case architecture – unidirectional bezel with ceramic insert – 9.5mm sapphire crystal – Triplock crown – helium escape valve – 11,000m water-resistant – in-house calibre 3230, automatic, Superlative Chronometer, 4Hz frequency, 70h power reserve – hours, minutes, seconds – RLX titanium Oyster bracelet – EUR 25,750
The TAG Heuer Aquaracer Professional 1000 Superdiver
While TAG Heuer is mainly known for its racing chronographs, the brand also has a long tradition of dive watches. And the culmination of that expertise takes the shape of a classic yet high-performance dive watch: the Aquaracer Professional 1000 Superdiver. Its name describes it perfectly: an ultra-robust, professionally oriented version of the Aquaracer with 1000m water-resistance. As our resident diver Derek explains, this large 45mm titanium watch is “a modern tool, meant to do a job and to do it well (…) it feels like just another piece of diving gear, and that is all one can really ask of a modern scuba diving watch“. The specs are solid, too, with a black and orange ceramic bezel, a helium escape valve, a full-surround steel crown guard and ISO 6425:2018 certification. Last but not least, it comes with a powerful chronometer movement inside, made by Kenissi. Typically a watch that looks far better over a wetsuit than on dryland.
Quick facts: 45mm x 15.7mm grade 5 titanium case – unidirectional rotating bezel with ceramic insert – screw-down crown – helium valve – full surround steel crown guard – 1,000m water-resistant – calibre TH30-00 by Kenissi, automatic, COSC-certified, 4Hz frequency, 70h power reserve – hours, minutes, seconds and date – titanium bracelet – EUR 6,500