Since they were made available to the public in the early 1950s, proper dive watches have been popular amongst watch enthusiasts. Perhaps we could say they are the most popular type of watch and this can be said for two reasons: they are versatile and robust for everyday use. Even though now people mock those who buy dive watches who are not divers—calling them “desk divers”—dive watches still make sense in 2022. There are many ways in which one can use such watches and designs have been codified so tightly that divers can be worn in many situations.
Who Were Divers For?
Although we won’t present a detailed timeline of the evolution of dive watches, nor will we enter the debate of which brand made the first “diver,” it’s important to take a look at who these watches were made for initially. Yes, Rolex and the Submariner (LINK) became an instant hit in 1953 as famous underwater explorers such as Jacques Cousteau made this type of watch popular. Back then—and a long time before dive computers—divers had a real need for dive watches: they needed to be able to track how long they’ve spent underwater to make sure they would ascend back to the surface before running out of air.
Furthermore, what the Submariner and the Blancpain Fifthy Fathoms did was to codify the design language for all future dive watches. They needed to be functional, legible, and robust. That’s when basically the dive time bezel appeared (LINK to Ripley’s article), the contrasty dials made of matte black and white indices, luminescent paint (which existed before but was refined in the 1950s,) and screw-down case backs and crowns. Since all of these elements have been put together, nothing much has changed since. That’s basically 70 years of little to no innovation.
So dive watches were designed to keep divers safe. They were tools used by professionals and later on by anyone with the money and time to take diving lessons. It wasn’t until 1970 and the commercialization of the first Buoyancy Control Device (BCD) that recreational diving really took off. For the first 15 years of existence of the Rolex Submariner and the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms, therefore, only few people had a real use for a dive watch. It wouldn’t be until 1983 and the release of the first dive computer (the Orca Edge) that diver watches became somewhat of an accessory more than a tool.
What Makes Them So Popular
Nowadays, anyone from any background wears dive watches. From $100 quartz timepieces to $10,000 and more Swiss luxury watches, anyone can strap a dive watch on their wrist. Whether to go buy a pizza, attend a board meeting, or dive in the Caribbeans. What were life-or-death tools starting in the 1950s became fashion accessories and means of self-expression in the past three decades. But regardless of the reason why one buys a dive watch, they remain well-made everyday timepieces that are practical and reliable. This goes beyond their intended use, as many other things do.
I have this thing about needing a robust watch for everyday use. I may not be climbing peaks or diving trenches on a regular basis (or ever,) but I find it re-assuring to know that the watch I wear can be used in various environments and conditions. Although I don’t need 200 meters of water resistance except when I am actually diving (and I would actually only need 100,) having this water resistance guarantees water won’t enter the watch case and damage the movement when I wash my hands, get caught in a rainstorm, or drop the watch in a puddle.
(We never know what could happen!)
Having a screw-down case back and crown also means dust won’t get inside the case (this is, after all, the reason why these features were invented in the 1920s.) Knowing, therefore, that the movement is very well protected gives us peace of mind. Having a dive-time bezel serves as a timing device which is actually useful on a daily basis (yes, to keep track of cooking time or of how long you’ve been talking to someone on the phone or anything actually more serious than that.) So does having lume on the hands and markers to be able to read time in a movie theater, at night, or during a party.
Looking Good Everyday, Anywhere
Dive watches may not be needed anymore to guarantee one’s safety when diving, but now we’ve come up with different ways to put their solid construction to good use. Although a Submariner or an Omega Seamaster do not look as refined and elegant as a proper dress watch, it is now accepted to wear a dive watch at the office, on the weekends, and for social events. I would actually argue that divers are one of the most versatile types of timepieces money can buy. While chronographs can time things more efficiently and more elegantly than a diver, they are rarely built to be able to be submerged in water.
And there are two trends that have contributed to making dive watches so popular. First, it is the fact that Swiss luxury brands have been using precious materials, top-shelf movements, and superior finishing to make divers, therefore elevating their status amongst watch enthusiasts. Although many moan the fact that the price of a Submariner has increased 10 fold in the past 50 years, a Submariner in 2022 is far better made than it was in the 1950s (LINK to why Rolexes are expensive.)
The second trend is the proliferation of independent brands that produce high quality dive watches and market them as being candidates for one-watch collection timepieces. Although I don’t have statistics to back this up, I’ve observed that oftentimes independent brands’ first release is a diver. Lastly, there has been a resurgence of re-creation of vintage watches in the past few years, with many vintage-inspired divers making their appearance. At the end of the day, everyone has contributed to making dive watches so popular.
You’ve got to wear what you like and make you happy. With that said, there are many reasons that make dive watches great everyday watches and even a first purchase. They are more resistant to dust and water than many other types of watches, they are highly legible, and their design has become accepted as being the standard for sports watches. Which means it’s absolutely fine to wear a dive watch for all sorts of occasions and especially if you get the right accessory for it. One cannot go wrong with a diver.
Featured image: www.manofmany.com