Rolex dive watches

We’ve talked about tool watches before, and while dive watches can almost always be classified as tools, they deserve a category unto themselves. Dive watches found popularity with the rise of recreational diving in the 50’s, not as a fashionable accessory, but as a vital tool to the act of diving safely. Timing decompression stops, total dive time, and surface intervals were but a few uses of the dive watch. These days, far more sophisticated dive computers worn on the wrist have relegated actual dive watches to mere formal wear for post-dive beers at the pub. Paradoxically, dive watches are more popular than ever, with brands rushing to one-up each other in-depth ratings and obscure complications that will likely never be put to use. What’s all this supposed to mean to you? Here’s our guide to understanding dive watches, and what all that fancy marketing means to regular buyers like you.

Rolex dive watches
The Rolex Deep Sea Sea-Dweller, with 3,900m depth rating, may be overkill for most

First off, don’t stress about depth ratings. The ability to go beyond 2,000m into the depths may sound impressive, but in reality, watches with a mere 100m depth rating will be more than enough to get you through everyday casual swims, to any bit of recreational diving you have planned, nearly all of which are done in less than 40m of depth. This should ultimately be a non-factor when looking for a dive watch to add to your collection. Watches with 100m depth rating enjoy a few other benefits you might appreciate, such as slimmer cases and lower price points, two things that you will notice.

Omega Dive Watch
The Omega PloProf, supremely capable underwater, not the most practical daily wearer.

Next up, look for the practical elements of dive watches to inform your purchase, rather than exotic sounding complications. Trust us, you’re aren’t going to need that helium release valve. Think about features that you’ll notice on a day to day basis, such as legibility, which is generally pretty good on dive watches, but sometimes emphasis is placed on an oversized minute hand, which may not jive well with your needs. You might find a date complication more useful than a decompression chart around the bezel (or on the dial itself), and you’ll definitely appreciate a slimmer a case with a 150m depth rating over a 15mm thick watch with a 1,000m depth rating.

Rolex Dive Watch
The Rolex Submariner, archetypal dive watch, easy to wear.

Finally, understand how to take advantage of dive features for your own needs. We all love dive watches for their rich history, and rugged good looks, but when they start to make sense in the context of your daily grind, they take on a whole new meaning. Most dive watches feature prominent rotating bezels, some of which can be used to track a second time zone, others are great for tracking the time left on your parking meter. Odds are good you’ll get more use out of ad hoc assignments of the mundane variety than actually timing decompression stops.  

A dive watch isn’t defined by a single feature, but it’s a style that resonates deeply with enthusiasts for what it’s come to mean in regards to mechanical watch history as a whole. They are watches that say a lot about human ingenuity and speaks to our nature as explorers. These are watches that, at their core, are the tools that we make of them, whether that’s diving shipwrecks off the coast of Sri Lanka, or timing the perfect hard boiled egg.