If you are like me and you have an obsession with dive watches, you probably got into skin divers. The latter became popular in the 1960s/80s due to being smaller and easier to wear than the professional divers, you know, the Rolex Submariner, Omega Seamaster, and Doxa Sub 300T of the world. Skin divers were meant to be worn directly on the skin for snorkeling or shallow diving, as opposed to over a wetsuit as serious divers did. Despite their more modest specifications, skin divers were proper dive watches. They also retailed for less than the big boys of underwater adventures and, therefore, were easier to obtain and more fun to wear.
Because they were so popular, many brands pretty much released the same designs but under different names. This was due to the fact that many brands operated like Rolex did at the very beginning of its history: they would buy parts from various manufactures and put them together and stamp their logo on the dial. Et voila. This meant there were many options to choose from at various quality levels. In this article, we’ll take a quick look at key common characteristics all skin divers had, whether it be the design of the hands or case or their water resistance. So let’s dive in!
Most Skin Divers Had the Same Case Design
The most significant visual trait all skin divers had in common is the case shape and design: flat and wide lugs, an overall geometrical shape, and no embellishments in the sorts of polished chamfers and satin brushing. Skin divers tended to be small in diameters, anywhere from 32 to 38mm, so having a flat and simple case shape meant they were comfortable to wear. I mean, just look at the photos below and you will immediately see what I’m talking about here. I don’t know why most skin divers from the 1960s to the 1980s had this case shape, however what is interesting to me—not to say fascinating—is the fact that modern skin divers have the exact same case shape. It’s as if a diver can’t be a skin diver without such a case.
Vintage Skin Divers Often Had a Date Aperture
Nowadays, there is a rift within the dive watch community: date or not date? What is the purest form of a diver and what isn’t? Personally, I prefer to have a date aperture on my diver as I find it to be practical, whether desk diving or actually diving in the blue depths of the Mediterranean Sea. Since skin divers were meant to be easier to wear and practical, they often came with a date aperture, something that wasn’t always the case with professional divers. This means brands opted for maximum utility and practicality since skin divers were more popular and easier to obtain than professional divers. In other words, to appeal to the broadest clientele, might as well make the watches the most user friendly.
Skin Divers Had Ultra Legible Dials
Interestingly enough, skin divers came with complex dial layouts that privileged optimum legibility. One such dial layout can be seen in the iconic Zodiac Sea Wolf Skin Diver showcasing triangular-shaped hour markers complete with Arabic numerals. Oftentimes, these markers were matched with large, arrow-shaped hour hands and long, skinny minute hands. Not all skin divers had this layout, quite the contrary, however there were a few ways of designing dials that were then repeated elsewhere. If not triangular-shaped hour markers and arrow-shaped hour hands, why note baton-shaped hour markers and hour hands? Or fencepost hour hands matched with Arabic numerals at the cardinal points?
Above I listed the most common visual traits skin divers had in common. Others include fully-graduated bezel inserts and friction-fit bezel constructions as well as monochromatic dials. Instead of seeing skin divers as being just another type of dive watch, perhaps we can see them as being a family of watches just like the Dirty Dozen or the A.T.P. models were families, in the sense that they followed strict design guidelines. Although not all skin divers looked the same, many did, and certain design elements were then carried over from one brand to another. This is due, as mentioned in the introduction, to the fact that brands bought parts from the same manufacturers and from the same catalogs, a bit like it is the case nowadays with micro and independent brands buying the same looking parts from the same factories.
In any case, I believe it is this involuntary standardization of the design of skin divers that contributed to their popularity for a period that lasted roughly 30 years—and a popularity that was recently revised both by established Swiss brands and independent brands alike.Featured image: www.wornandwound.com