Plenty has been written already about the Rolex Submariner, the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms, and the Zodiac Sub 300 amongst many professional and iconic dive watches. So I will not bore you with detailed historical tidbits about these iconic models. But I did want to share something that they all have in common and perhaps not talked about that often. All of these watches were created for professionals. And as such, they were designed with particular needs in mind and, consequently, unique solutions. So for each one of the watches below I will highlight one unique feature and explain its purpose.
The Rolex Submariner: The Twinlock Crown
While most would agree that the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms was the first professional dive watch to be released (it was made available to the military in 1953 while the Submariner to the general public in 1954,) Rolex had created three innovations that paved the way for Blancpain to create the first dive watch. Indeed, besides creating the Oyster case in 1926 and the Perpetual movement in 1931—two attributes that all professional divers released since the 1950s have in common—Rolex created the first sealed crown, aka the Twinlock crown. This innovation protected the movement from water and dust particles that could jam it. And Rolex was the first brand to hold a patent for this innovation.
The Blancpain Fifty Fathoms: The Unidirectional Bezel
While Rolex created the Oyster case, the Perpetual movement, and the Twinlock crown, Blancpain was the first brand to hold the patent for the unidirectional bezel until the 1980s. That is why the Submariner was fitted with bi-directional friction-fit bezels until then. Blancpain had created the unidirectional bezel to prevent accidental under-reading of the submerged times of divers, therefore reducing the danger of exposing them to grave danger. The unidirectional bezel can only move counter-clockwise and is less likely to move by accident while diving.
The Doxa Sub 300: The Orange Dial
Although Doxa had been making watches since 1889, it introduced its first diver in 1967 with the Sub 300T. While Rolex and Blancpain were making dive watches with black dials that contrast with the hands (aiding in legibility,) Doxa set out to create the most practical diver of its time. Studies concluded that orange was the most legible dial color at any depth, and pairing it with black hands guaranteed the most legible dials ever made. Additionally, Doxa also innovated by creating a unique bezel with two scales: a 60-minute count up scale to track submersion time and a decompression time scale to calculate safe decompression times.
The Zodiac Sea Wolf: The 15 Minute Markings on the Dial
Just like Doxa, Zodiac has a history that goes back many decades to 1882 however the brand started making robust tool watches in the late 1940s. Indeed, Zodiac released the Autographic which was known for being the first watch to display a power reserve and for having a nearly unbreakable crystal. The latter was included in the first dive watch from the brand, the Sea Wolf, that came out in 1953. What made it stand apart from the first Submariner and Fifty Fathoms was the fact that it was the first dive watch to highlight the first 15 minutes on the bezel scale (it was fully graduated), something that Rolex wouldn’t add until later.
What I did not mention earlier is the fact that each innovation these brands are known for was the result of close collaborations with professionals. Rolex collaborated with the famous French underwater explorer Jacques Cousteau to create the first Submariner; Blancpain collaborated with French navy frogmen to design the Fifty Fathoms; Doxa collaborated with Jacques Cousteau (him again) for the development of the Sub 300T. Therefore, each feature mentioned here stems from the needs of professionals, and I don’t think we keep this in mind enough when looking at our favorite dive watches.
The watches mentioned above were not the only ones to have brought something unique to this genre of watches. However, they are the most iconic ones and are recognized as such for very good reasons. Lastly, whenever I look at images of Jacques Cousteau or any other pioneer diver from the period of 1950s-70s, I notice that they tended to wear their divers on rubber straps. So I love to pair my favorite diver with this kind of strap, and if you are looking for a good option, I recommend you check out Everest Bands’ selection of rubber straps for the Rolex Submariner and Tudor line up.