The History of diver watches

by ZHANGJUNJIE on Dec 07, 2023

The History of diver watches

The origins of the dive watch can be traced back to the early 20th century when the first water-resistant wristwatches were developed. In 1926, Rolex introduced the Oyster case, which was capable of withstanding underwater pressure. This paved the way for the development of purpose-built dive watches.

In 1932, Omega introduced the Marine, which was water-resistant to 135 meters (444 feet). However, it was Rolex that truly kickstarted the dive watch revolution with the introduction of the Oyster Perpetual Submariner in 1953. The Submariner was designed specifically for diving and could withstand depths of up to 100 meters (330 feet). It featured a rotating bezel for measuring dive times and a luminous dial for visibility underwater.

Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, other watch brands followed suit, releasing their own dive watches. In 1957, Blancpain introduced the Fifty Fathoms, which was designed for French combat divers. The same year, Zodiac released the Sea Wolf, which was water-resistant to 200 meters (660 feet). In 1965, Seiko unveiled the 62MAS, which was the brand's first professional dive watch.

As diving technology advanced, so did the capabilities of dive watches. In the 1960s, helium escape valves were introduced to allow helium molecules to escape during decompression, preventing the crystal from popping off. Brands like Doxa and Rolex were among the first to incorporate this feature.

In the 1970s and 1980s, quartz technology was introduced, leading to the development of quartz dive watches that were highly accurate and didn't require winding. Brands like Citizen and Seiko were at the forefront of this movement.

Today, dive watches are available from a wide range of brands, from luxury watchmakers like Omega, Rolex, and Blancpain to more affordable options like Seiko, Citizen, and Orient. Modern dive watches often feature features like sapphire crystals, ceramic bezels, and water resistance ratings of 300 meters or more.

Ichthyosaur 500m diver - Grey Dial

While many dive watches are designed for professional diving, they have also become popular as fashion accessories and status symbols. Brands like Rolex and Omega have capitalized on this trend, offering dive watches with premium materials and finishes.

Overall, the dive watch has come a long way from its humble beginnings as a tool for underwater exploration. Today, it represents a perfect blend of functionality, durability, and style, appealing to both professional divers and watch enthusiasts alike.

Here are some other notable technological advancements in the evolution of dive watches over the years:

1. Improved Water Resistance
As explorers ventured deeper into the oceans, watch brands had to continually enhance water resistance capabilities. The first dive watches could withstand depths of around 100 meters, but by the 1960s, models like the Rolex Sea-Dweller and Omega Seamaster 600 could reach 600 meters (1,968 feet). Today's professional saturation dive watches can achieve incredible depths of 1,000 meters (3,280 feet) or more.

2. Helium Release Valves
A crucial innovation for saturation diving was the helium release valve, first introduced by Rolex in the Sea-Dweller in 1967. During decompression from deep dives, helium molecules would become trapped inside the watch case, causing the crystal to pop off due to pressure buildup. The valve allows these gases to escape, preventing damage.

3. Synthetic Sapphire Crystals
In the late 1960s and 1970s, watchmakers began using lab-created sapphire crystals for enhanced scratch resistance over traditional acrylic or mineral glass. Sapphire is second only to diamond in hardness, making it virtually shatterproof and able to withstand intense water pressure.

4. High-Intensity Lume
Luminous materials on watch dials and hands have evolved from radioactive radium and tritium to non-radioactive strontium aluminate and Super-LumiNova, providing superior brightness and glow duration for legibility in deep, low-light conditions.

dark environment-lume dial-watch

Ichthyosaur Collection - Aquatrident.

5. Diving Bezels and Scales
While the rotating timing bezel was first utilized for dive watches, additional scales and markings were added to aid divers, such as decompression stop indicators, dive time remainders, and depth measurements.

6. Quartz Accuracy
The quartz revolution brought unprecedented accuracy to timekeeping for dive watches starting in the 1970s. Battery-powered quartz movements could maintain time better than traditional mechanical movements while being impervious to magnetic fields.

7. Digital Displays and Dive Computers
In the 1980s and beyond, digital LCD displays allowed dive computers and watches to display more comprehensive dive data like depth, time, decompression requirements, and temperature readings for safer technical diving.

8. Titanium and Ceramic Cases
While stainless steel is still widely used, materials like titanium and ceramic have been adopted for their lightweight, hypoallergenic, and highly corrosion-resistant properties ideal for harsh marine environments.

These continual innovations in materials, movements, and features enabled dive watches to better meet the demands of an evolving dive culture pushing further into the deep ocean realm.