Alongside chronographs, diving watches rank among the most popular timepieces, which is why we are presenting the top 10 diving watches here. In addition to legends like the Rolex Submariner or Omega Seamaster, the list also includes lesser known alternatives such as the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms or the Oris Aquis.
Rolex Submariner and Sea-Dweller
The mother of all diving watches is the Oyster Perpetual Submariner from Rolex. Unchallenged, it tops all the lists of the most-loved diving watches. First presented in its original form back in 1953, it comes with all the technical details required for use at great depths: screw-down crown, rotating bezel for marking dive times as well as readability under water and in the dark thanks to intensely luminous material on the dial and hands. Even in this basic form, the waterproof Oyster case (reference 6204) was designed to withstand dives at depths of 100 meters.
The first Submariner featuring the characteristic date display with a magnifying glass did not come onto the market until 1969. Collectors are especially keen on the models from the first decades up to the 1980s. Many people remember the Submariner cult watch from various James Bond movies. The Submariner is the Royal Navy’s official watch even in real life – namely with references 5513 and 5517.
Starting in 1967, Rolex began to offer a special version of the Submariner – the Sea-Dweller. The original Sea-Dwellers were developed in partnership with the French diving company Comex, which needed a diving watch for professional use. Rolex continued to extend the pressure tightness of its watches in the following years. Its latest models thus only begin to run the risk of water ingress at a depth of 3.900 meters.
The Panerai Luminor has enjoyed a long career, ranging from use as a professional watch for military divers to obtaining the status as a cult object. Founded in 1860 in Florence, the Italian brand can look back on a long tradition. Panerai began its collaboration with the Navy in 1900, with pocket watches and precision instruments. They subsequently developed new, self-illuminating dials based on radium and patented as Radiomir. In the late 1940s, Panerai replaced the radioactive luminous material Radiomir with Luminor, a luminous material based on tritium. However, only very few watches were made for the Italian and Egyptian Navies over a period of 60 years.
It was not until the 1990s that the Navy classic was also sold to ordinary customers. Panerai presented the first watches for the civilian market in 1993: the Luminor and Luminor Marina models. Actor Sylvester Stallone, a fan from the very beginning, wore the Luminor in the 1996 movie “Daylight”, triggering a boom. His colleague, Arnold Schwarzenegger, likewise wore a Luminor in the 1996 movie “Eraser”. Case diameters of 44mm and up were thereafter seen as acceptable. In 1997, the Vendôme Group, now Richemont, took over the brand, including all the technical documents, patents, and the stock.
From its first appearance at the 1998 Geneva Watch Fair, specialist retailers scrambled to get hold of one of the few Panerai licenses offered, while collectors hoped for limited edition models. Several inhouse-calibers have been created since 2005. One of the best sellers is the Luminor 1950 3 Days PAM 372. Today, there are the historical lines Radiomir 1940 and Luminor 1950 and the contemporary lines Radiomir, Luminor and Luminor Due.
IWC Schaffhausen Aquatimer
IWC reacted to the rising demand for diving watches by presenting the Aquatimer in 1967. Reference 812 AD, now a popular collector’s item, has a rather large diameter (37.5mm) for that time period. The diving watch has two crowns: one to set the time and the other one to operate the internal diving bezel. It is powered by the famous IWC manufacture movement caliber 8541. Shortly afterwards, the Aquatimer appeared in a reworked version as reference 816AD with an extravagant, cushion-shaped case and a blue, red or black dial. In the late 1970s, this model was replaced by reference 1822. In 1998, IWC presented a new line of sports watches under the name “GST” that included the GST Aquatimer, reference 3536, powered by the ETA 2892 automatic movement and pressure resistant up to 200 bar. The GST line was discontinued in 2004. The Aquatimer becomes its own product family. The most spectacular model of the new generation is the Aquatimer Split Minute Chronograph in titanium, an automatic watch that can measure two time periods simultaneously.
In 2009, IWC presented the legendary Aquatimer diving watch family with new technical attributes: including a flyback chronograph in pink gold and the new Aquatimer Deep Two featuring a mechanical depth gauge, an extremely rare mechanical function. The current Aquatimer Automatic 2000 (still) holds the record in the family, with 200 bar pressure resistance. The collection also includes various case materials, ETA- and inhouse-movements and even a highly complicated perpetual calendar with digital display.
The Seamaster, first presented by Omega in 1948, was to become an economic success story. The rather elegant watches by today’s standards were not immediately seen as particularly robust. They nevertheless boasted a screwed back and the innovative O-ring seal. Automatic movements already ticked inside the early Seamaster models, something that was not a matter of course back then. The Seamaster 300, presented in 1957, was the first of its line that can be considered a proven diving watch, withstanding a pressure of 20 bar. This was ensured by the newly developed double crown seal and the glass, which was three times thicker than a normal glass and set in place with a tension ring. Arrow hands with luminous material on a matte black dial and bezels with luminous markers were further characteristics.
The next Seamaster 300 generation was launched in 1960. Although it once again used the Arabic numerals 3, 6, 9 and 12, this was accompanied by a diamond-shaped hour hand and a pointed baton minute hand. Two years later, the Seamaster 300 featured a pointed baton hour hand, rectangular markers, and a large luminous triangle in place of the numeral 12. The rotating bezel with larger numerals and a more evident luminous triangle was introduced in 1964. It was tested by the famous oceanographer Jacques-Yves Cousteau.
In the movie Casino Royale, James Bond wore two different watches: the Seamaster Professional Diver and the Seamaster Planet Ocean. Presented in 2005, the latter is a watch that takes up the design of the first Seamaster 300 from 1957. The Planet Ocean Chrono was added in 2006. The Seamaster Aqua Terra line has been around since 2002. The Seamaster Aqua Terra > 15,000 Gauss, with automatic caliber 8508, even boasts magnetic field resistant materials.
Blancpain Fifty Fathoms
Blancpain’s presentation of a 50 fathom waterproof diving watch (Fifty Fathoms) in 1953 marked a milestone in the history of diving watches. It was built according to the exact specifications that had been drawn up by the two French naval officers Robert Maloubier and Claude Riffaud for a professional diving watch. Optimal readability was accompanied by a rotating dive time bezel (an innovation at the time since it locked into place) with noctilucent five-minute graduations. It boasted water tightness of up to 50fm, i.e. 91.45 meters, and was powered by the automatic movement from AS SA.
In 1958, Blancpain presented the Fifty Fathoms Sportsman PF1, alongside the now up to 200m waterproof Fifty Fathoms Professional PG model. Professionals and recreational divers alike were impressed by the models. Over the next two decades, frogmen, mine clearance divers, and general diving services relied on the various versions. They continued using the name Fifty Fathoms even after the case’s water tightness had increased to several times its original value.
With the Concept 2000 line, Blancpain offered three new models with a diving depth of up to 300 m as well as sophisticated rubber coatings over crown and pushers just in time for the dawning of the new millennium. With its 2003/2004 edition of Fifty Fathoms, limited to 150 pieces, Blancpain harked back to the legendary 1950s in its design of case, dial and hands. Instead of a scratch-sensitive rotating bezel, Blancpain introduced a sapphire crystal reinforced rotating ring for the first time.
Tudor Heritage Black Bay
They are intended to be more favorably priced yet just as reliable as Rolex watches – the timepieces of its sister brand Tudor. Founded in 1946, Tudor presented diving watches early on: with Rolex cases but more individual designs, such as the characteristic snowflake hands. The Heritage Black Bay, launched in 2012, recalls the brand’s first diving watches.
It indeed seems to be a vintage watch at first glance. The dial sports the historical logo, the Tudor Rose, which was used until 1969, after which it was replaced by the blazon. Famous and much sought after at auctions are the old Tudor diving watches with snowflake hands. The latest version of this beautiful retro-homage timepiece is even powered by a Tudor inhouse-movement.
Breitling launched the first Superocean in 1957. Perfect visibility in dim lighting conditions in the depths of the oceans was a top priority in the design of the dial and hands. Although originally designed for professional divers and the military, the model immediately impressed the first recreational divers.
It laid the foundation for a whole range of chronographs and diving watches characterized by their extreme robustness and water resistance up to a depth of 2000 meters. Breitling has been busy reviving this legendary collection since 2010. Powered by automatic movements the new Superocean comes with flanges in blue, yellow, red, silver, and black. A distinctive mark is the safety valve at 9 o’clock, which balances the differences in pressure inside and outside the watch.
Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore Diver
The Royal Oak Offshore diver, which Audemars Piguet presented in 2010, is almost too beautiful to take diving. The sportiest version of the watch icon from 1972 is also one of the most expensive diving watches ever. It is pressure-resistant to 30 bar and features a dive-time ring with a luminous zero.
The diver is powered by an automatic caliber 3120. The beautifully ornate movement is nevertheless not visible because it is covered by base plate held in place with eight screws. This extraordinary watch is available in different materials, such as stainless steel, pink gold, tantalum, ceramic, or carbon.
Jaeger-LeCoultre Deep Sea
A diving watch with an alarm clock is a rarity that Jaeger-LeCoultre has offered since 1959: the Deep Sea has an alarm function that even works under water. Jaeger-LeCoultre has continuously developed the manufacture caliber in the course of half a century and completely reworked it particularly in the last few years. The reliable movement ensures a power reserve of 45 hours. The hanging gong, which the hammer hits for 20 seconds after the alarm mechanism has been fully wound, reminds the diver that it is time to return to the surface.
The Master Compressor Diving Alarm Navy Seals from 2010 is quite popular with both professional and recreational divers. Since 2012, the Deep Sea has also been available as a chronograph. A year later, Jaeger-LeCoultre presented the Deep Sea Chronograph in the new, ultra-light composite material of cermet. Its aluminum basis is permeated with ceramic particles.
The traditional Swiss manufacturer Oris has many different versions of their diving watch Aquis in the collection. Founded in 1904, the company has presented innovations on an annual basis since the late 1980s. The Aquis Chronograph impresses with its high, up to 50 bar, pressure resistance. The case accommodates an ETA/Valjoux movement 7750.
With the 2013 model Aquis Depth Gauge, Oris presented a mechanical watch with an integrated depth gauge. The diving watch uses a special patented technology: Water flows through a hole at twelve o’clock into a channel in the sapphire crystal during diving. The diving depth is indicated counter-clockwise on a scale by means of the water level.
What about the Seiko divers ? I think at least one should get a mention.
Dear Mr. McClaron,
the Seiko pieces are indeed fantastic diving watches.
Without doubt they belong into the list “Top 20 Diving Watches” and they would probably have even 2 models included.
If there are only 10 watches to pick it’s always difficult to make the right choices.
For sure. I have changed a lot of diving watches, and seiko is the BEST.
I would take out Oris and put in a seiko diver as well as the ZRC from france but overall the list is solid.
What about Invicta watches? 😉
I would believe that DOXA, BREMONT, SEIKO are more qualified divers-watches than PANERAI to my humble opinion…
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