The Sub is a classic for a reason, but it isn’t the only undersea timepiece available
A chunky dive watch has long been a symbol of the rugged Alpha male. Nearly 20 years after the introduction of the likes of the Radiomir (see below), submersible timepieces began to grow in popularity when undersea exploration broke to the surface in the 1950s with the commercialisation of the Aqualung and some high profile expeditions by its co-inventor, Jacques Cousteau.
Bond favourites the replica Rolex Submariner and the Omega Seamaster are the two great deep-sea rivals. Launched in 1954, the Omega was the first to make the leap from specialist piece of equipment to fashion accessory in the 1960s with the addition of a date window. Today, the waters are teeming with rival predators.
Blancpain Tribute to Fifty Fathoms
Blancpain’s original 1953 Fifty Fathoms was designed in partnership with the French Navy and saw it patent the unidirectional bezel, crucial to calculating oxygen consumption safely. This made it a widely popular choice for divers – including Cousteau. Its black face and chunky numerals also made it something of a classic. The latest version sticks firmly to its signature essentials: polished steel case, anti-magnetic cage, self-winding and 120 hours’ power reserve. The original was water resistant to 300ft (91m or 50 fathoms, hence the name) but the latest will descend to 985ft (300m). Different Fifty Fathoms models offer different dial and bezel colours, but you’d have to be suffering nitrogen narcosis to go for anything but the ultracool black-on-black.
Ball Engineer Hydrocarbon Nedu
Ball replica watches made their name over a century of keeping time on the US’s railroads and its Engineer range applies the same rigorous safety principles to its dive watches.
Nedu stands for Navy Experimental Diving Unit, but there’s nothing untested about this replica watch’s features. The titanium case has a luminous unidirectional rotating bezel and optional blue or black dial. It’s shock resistant to 7,500Gs and operable to a depth of almost 2,000ft (600m) thanks to a patented helium system allowing gases to escape as the watch resurfaces from the depths.
Its night-reading capability comes from 21 micro gas tubes on hour, minute, chronograph second hands, dial and buttons. A high watermark in dive watches.
Oris ProDiver Chronograph
Swiss manufacturer Oris’s ProDiver is a relatively new entrant to the underwater scene but it goes deep – more than half a mile (1,000m) deep, to be precise.
The patented Rotation Safety System claims to be the safest unidirectional lock available and there’s an automatic helium valve for saturation dives. The vast, super-sized two-inch (51mm) titanium case, black ceramic bezel with rubber ridges and cool black face all mean business, too. A domed sapphire crystal with non-reflective coating covers a wave pattern face with subdials at 12, 6, and 9 o’clock while the indices, hour and minute hands are all coated with glowing Super-LumiNova. It’s hard to argue with its claim to be “the ultimate professional divers’ watch”.
Panerai Luminor Submersible 1950 Three Days Automatic
In its original Florentine incarnation (it was acquired by Richemont in 1997), manufacturer Panerai was responsible for the very first Navy dive watch, the Radiomir, used in World War I. The Luminor Submersible 1950, originally produced for the Egyptian navy, was notable for the luminescence of its tritium dial which replaced the toxic radium of its predecessor. The current version features that distinctive crown guard, a chunky 1.75ins (47mm) case (optionally composed of titanium, carbon or its own special alloy), unidirectional bezel with graduated scale, three-day power reserve and anti-magnetic field. Water resistant to almost 1,000ft (300m), it’s a classic, but you could probably buy a used submarine for the same price.
Seiko Prospex Diver SPB051J1
Japanese manufacturer Seiko issued its first dive watch in 1965 and was first to employ double-layer case construction. Its latest top-of-the-range model features a specially designed L-shaped gasket and a screw-down glass fixing ring and crown increasing impermeability still further. The chunky high-vis hands and markers are coated with a new version of its patented Lumibrite, which glows 60 per cent longer than before apparently. The glass is super strong, anti-reflective sapphire and the trademark concertina strap is made of extra-strength silicone for greater durability. A real top-end contender.