How to look at a dive watch

Dive watches are peculiar in that they originated as tool watches, by companies that weren’t proponents of style or fashion. Their attributes all came about because they served specific functions, that would enable divers to more easily maneuver the catacombs of the sea. They’re bulkier, larger, and more industrial than just about every other variety of watch; but it’s these unique departures in their design that also make them captivating.

Within the last few decades, these once formidable tools have found themselves in the awkward position of no longer being required for their function. They’ve become an obsolete technology in light of recent advancements, but falling victim to antiquity hasn’t seemed to hurt their popularity. In the modern day, these workhorses are still kept around because their practical attributes have turned into dimensions of style. How lucky it is that what should be a dying breed, just so happens to be handsome.

So, when you look at a dive watch, it’s important to take both style and substance into consideration. Given the history of these watches it’s impossible not to do so, but the experience only stands to be enhanced when it is turned into cognizant habit. In figure 1.1 below, the magnificent Grand Seiko SBGA029 diver is the perfect paragon for such a practice.

A dive watch with a black bezel over top of a bright orange diver's wetsuit.
(Figure 1.1) Forester, Jack. “Grand Seiko SBGA029.” Hodinkee, 2015, https://www.hodinkee.com/articles/the-grand-seiko-spring-drive-divers-200m. Accessed 2022.

The bracelet is large and robust enough to make a definitive statement on the wrist, but its size is necessary so that it can fit over top of a wetsuit. The crown and bezel have a set of teeth like the jaws of a gear, but would also be impossible to grip underwater without them. The dial is tastefully minimalistic in a way that directs the eyes; but lacks clutter for legibility in the murkiest conditions. Even the scratch-resistant sapphire crystal that gleams on the watch face has its purpose, as any lesser glass would shatter in the pressure of the deep.

The Rolex Submariner 126619LB featured in figure 1.2 is a more beau monde example, but still a fully functional dive watch nonetheless. Its vibrant blue bezel is eye catching in dimly lit bars or coffee shops, but it is also completely readable in the even more dimly lit abyssal plains. It is made from decadent white gold rather than titanium, or stainless steel; but is still sturdy enough to survive at depths most divers will never dream to venture.

A Rolex Submariner with a blue bezel on the wrist of an individual holding a cup of coffee over a wooden table.
(Figure 1.2) Bues, Jon. “Rolex Submariner Date Ref. 126619LB.” Hodinkee, 2020, https://www.hodinkee.com/articles/rolex-submariner-date-reference-126619lb-introducing. Accessed 2022.

There are any number of reasons why watches remain sought after in the present day, despite being an anachronism. Dress watches for instance are still relevant because of their appeal and prestige, but they were only ever needed beyond that for the task of telling the time. As such, when you look at a dress watch you can do so plainly; as its history doesn’t beckon more. With the exception of its singular function after all, they were used then as they are used now. With dive watches, this was never the case. Their usage in the past was drastically different from that of the present. They spent their formative years as a purposeful tool, only to be relegated down to a fashion accessory in the bronze age of their life. It is essential then, to look at a dive watch from the perspective of history and function, as much as the perspective of cosmetics. Since one couldn’t exist without the other, both are ever present no matter how the watch is used.

Images in this online exhibit are either in the public domain or being used under fair dealing for the purpose of research and are provided solely for the purposes of research, private study, or education.

References

Bues, Jon. “Rolex Submariner Date Ref. 126619LB.” Hodinkee, 2020, https://www.hodinkee.com/articles/rolex-submariner-date-reference-126619lb-introducing. Accessed 2022.

Forester, Jack. “Grand Seiko SBGA029.” Hodinkee, 2015, https://www.hodinkee.com/articles/the-grand-seiko-spring-drive-divers-200m. Accessed 2022.