Given that dive watches were developed as a life-preserving tool for forces frogmen to clock their sub-surface air, it’s ironic that today’s waterborne timepieces rarely even take a dip in the shallow end of the gym pool.
A major factor in their popularity on dry land is the air of athleticism they bring to the wearer. “For ‘desk divers’ – as we call people who like divers but don’t actually dive – it’s the tough and sporty characteristics that appeal”, says Mark Toulson, head of watch buying at Watches of Switzerland. And as dress codes continue to shift to a sportier gear, the diver is morphing into something more urbane: a hybrid of a rugged tool watch with design-led elements usually found on dressier timepieces.
“The iconic [diver] look today finds contemporary expression through the use of exotic materials such as titanium or ceramic, along with a rainbow of dial colours”, says Toulson. Here are seven of the best design-led divers on the market that will make a splash, wherever you’re headed.
Breitling SuperOcean Heritage ’57, Outerknown Limited Edition
When it comes to tales of heroics in the watch world, Breitling has a saga’s worth, with its timepieces worn by flyboys, explorers and elite forces. Its signature diver, the SuperOcean, is regularly revisited and the limited edition Heritage ’57 Outerknown model, designed in tandem with champion surfer Kelly Slater’s lifestyle brand, is a prime example. The classic late-1950s styling is updated with an earthy brown dial and ECONYL® strap – a regenerated nylon made from post-consumer plastic and fishing nets that helps to preserve the ocean.
TAG Heuer Aquaracer Professional 200 Solargraph
Since the Japanese mass marketed solar-powered watches in the 1970s, the technology has been seldom revisited. But TAG Heuer has done just that, with its Aquaracer Solargraph – a dive watch that harnesses the power of light more efficiently than ever before, with a movement designed with La Joux-Perret manufacturer in La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland – a watchmaking epicentre. Just two minutes’ exposure to sunlight is enough to power the watch all day, while 20 hours of light will keep it ticking for six months. If that wasn’t enough innovation, the timepiece’s bezel has been forged from a unique blend of carbon and Super-LumiNova®, giving it a mysterious, kryptonite-like glow that hints at the watch’s source of power.
Blancpain Fifty Fathoms 70th Anniversary, Act 3 Limited Edition
Along with Rolex, Blancpain defined the modern dive watch template with its cult Fifty Fathoms model. This year, the iconic design’s 70th anniversary was marked with the release of its ‘Act 3’ model – a faithful homage to a military-issue original, but an upgrade in materials and technology, from its Bronze Gold case made from 9k gold, copper, silver, palladium and gallium to prevent oxidisation, to its vintage-inspired moisture indicator. The improvements aren’t just at surface level – beneath that handsome face is a self-winding movement with a meaty 100 hour power reserve, so it will still be ticking after a long weekend off your wrist.
Orient M-Force, Magma Red
You might think the watch game is a once-horse race led by the Swiss, but the Japanese are worthy front-runners, too. Orient, established in 1950, offers the solid craftsmanship and value-for-money Japan is renowned for. Its M-Force diver has a professional 200m-depth rating and clocking in at 47mm in diameter, has impressive wrist presence. The model comes in a trio of dial colours: gradient blue-green, lava orange and magma red, which are inspired by sub-surface volcanic activity. It incorporates a distinctive crown shield and anti-shock technology, which makes it ideal for the rough and tumble of an active life.
Montblanc 1858 Iced Sea Automatic Date
Montblanc might be known for fancy pens, but its timepieces combine the pedigree of Minerva – a storied Swiss manufacturer bought by the brand in 1997 – with Montblanc’s singular sense of design. Its latest Iced Sea diver sports a ‘gratté-boisé’ dial, which has been hand-scored with wooden tools to achieve an organic etched effect. This monochromatic grey model is an homage to the Mer de Glace glacier, which has a greyish hue due to mineral deposits trapped in its frozen mass. Add to that SuperLuminova® accents that glow icy blue and a quick-change strap system and you’ve got one smart waterbaby.
£2,610 (rubber strap), montblanc.com
Oris x Bracenet Aquis, 43.5mm
Oris’s well-built, affordable models often come with a side serving of philanthropy that supports some of the worthiest causes of our time. In the case of its latest Aquis diver, that’s cleaning up the seven seas. It’s been designed in partnership with Bracenet, a German firm that salvages ‘ghost’ fishing nets littering the ocean, turning the waste polymer material into purposeful objects. The model’s kaleidoscopic face is made by melting down these nets to form sheets, which are then cut and polished into dials, with no two the same. It’s a unique way to wear your green credentials on your wrist.
Ulysee Nardin Diver X Skeleton Azure
Despite being founded in 1846, Ulysee Nardin has a distinctly future-forward design ethos. For its new Diver Skeleton Azure, the house has combined its pedigree in sea-worthy timepieces with modern material excellence, from a lightweight titanium case to a bezel made from Carbonium® – a composite made from surplus aeronautical parts with a 40% lower environmental impact than standard carbon composites. It’s biggest selling point though, is its hypnotic open-work dial that provides a clear view into the wondrous mechanics beneath which, wound by your own wrist movements, will keep ticking for 96 hours when fully juiced up.