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The Lure of the “Dive” Watch

Omega Seamaster Planet Ocean Ultra Deep Professional

Omega Seamaster Planet Ocean Ultra Deep Professional (2019)

Ok, so lures have nothing to do with diving and everything to do with fishing, but both share a common playground: the water. And water – or, rather, moisture – is one of a watch’s worst enemies, along with microscopic dust particles that might also enter a case to gum up the works. It was the challenge of keeping out unwanted contaminants that inspired watchmakers to make timepieces impervious to such intruders.

Thanks to a number of developments over the past century, watch manufacturers have been able to reassure both those who need such security, e.g. real Scuba divers, and those who are merely paranoid, e.g. yours truly, that H2O will not enter where it’s not wanted. These include assorted new materials for gaskets, helium escape valves for deeper dives, Rolex’s fiendishly clever screw-down crowns, myriad types of plastics and glass and assorted case materials (though stainless steel remains king).

Rolex Deepsea Sea Dweller Ref. 126660

Rolex Deepsea Sea Dweller (2012)

From security to around 30-50m in the early days of diving watches, their descendants (see what I did there?) can withstand the pressure of the sea down to depths so far beyond what the human body can handle that it’s becoming academic. When James Cameron hooked up with Rolex in 2012 to create a timepiece worthy of exploring the remains of the Titanic, they responded with a unique Sea-Dweller called the ‘Deepsea Challenge’ secure to 39,370ft/12,000m. The commercially-available, production Sea-Dweller Deepsea that anyone can purchase is waterproof to 12,800ft/3,900m. Which should preclude any fear of a crushed case or water ingress.

Blancpain X Fathoms

Blancpain X Fathoms (2011)

Hublot responded with the Big Bang King Power Oceanographic 4000M, trumping the production Rolex by 100m, while Blancpain, whose Fifty Fathoms paralleled the birth of the Rolex Submariner in establishing the modern diving watch, issued the marginally less mental 500 Fathoms and then topped the lot with the massive X Fathoms. This features an actual mechanical depth gauge, as does Favre Leuba’s Bathy 120 Memodepth.

Favre Leuba Raider Bathy 120 Memodepth Phoenix Hands-On

Favre Leuba Raider Bathy 120 Memodepth (2018)

Even so, none of these compare to what Omega had waiting in store. Accompanying American billionaire, Victor Vescovo, on his recent world record breaking dive was the Seamaster Planet Ocean Ultra Deep (which we covered here). Designed from scratch, the Ultra Deep can withstand pressures of up to 15,000m. It not only survived the perilous journey, reaching a world record depth of 10,928m, but was left at the bottom of the Mariana Trench by mistake. Fortunately, a testament to the Ultra Deep’s durability and the creativity of the Omega PR team, it was still working when they recovered it two and a half days later.

Omega Seamaster Planet Ocean Ultra Deep Professional

The world’s deepest dive watch, the Omega Seamaster Planet Ocean Ultra Deep Professional, is built to withstand pressures of up to 15,000m.

Just listing all of the diving watches on the market today would use up more than the space allotted to this old fart, but it begs the question: Why so many diving watches? Especially as the vast majority never get wet…

There are two reasons, the first of which is eminently functional. A watchmaker friend, one of nearly a half-century’s experience, posits that a waterproof (and, for that matter, dustproof) case is just about the most important element of a watch after the movement itself, because such a case will help to ensure a long, trouble-free life for the timepiece. He obsesses about it. And it makes perfect sense, especially when compared to such relatively useless pursuits as tourbillons, which only benefit the few, and then debatably.

Undeniably, a diving-certified watch is about as rugged a timepiece as you can buy. It has to be, because lives are at stake when used for its express purpose. But that brings us to the same actuality that affects supercars which never see speeds over the legal limit, or 4x4s that never go off-road. Simply put, diving watches look fantastic. And if that’s too shallow a reason (see what I did there, too?) for a landlubber owning a diving watch that never gets wet, we can always point to the very real benefits of their immunity to moisture and dust, and revel in their superior legibility. Or simply admit to being a sucker for a rotating bezel.

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About the author

Ken Kessler

Ken Kessler is unimpressed by the 21st century and enjoys retro, if costly, boys’ toys, such as cameras, mechanical watches and fountain pens – of late, he is obsessed with Italian red wine. He has written four books on luxury hi-fi equipment and collects chronographs and film noir DVDs.

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