The History of Dive Watches
Through out our modern history, we a species have tried to push ourselves to do, be physically in places and in environments our natural biology would not normally allow us to be in.
To have a a timepiece capable to telling time under water and be water-resistant (waterproof), as per a diving watch, goes back as far as perhaps the 17th century. In the 18th Century water and dust resistant watches were mostly private commissions and produced as custom one of kind pieces, commissioned by wealthy individuals to take on explorations.
The measurement of time is always important, and in the case of being underwater, it is vitally important to know how much lapses while submerged. During the 20th century watches started to be commercially/industrially produced, with set standards and quality requirements. During this period, watch companies were commissioned by explorers, militaries and professionals to develop watches able to be used in harsh environments, remain water and dust resistant and keep accurate time.
In 1926 Rolex patented the first “Oyster” watch case, giving it a “hermetic” seal. The watch was made famous by being on English Cross Channel swimmer Mercedes Gleitze, surviving 10hours of submersion in the cold water, not losing time and remaining water resistant throughout.
Omega SA is credited as the creator of the worlds first official commercially produced diving watch. The Omega “Marine” with a patented double sliding and removable case, was introduced in 1932. It was tested in 1937 by the Swiss Laboratory for Horology in Neuchâtel, certified as being able to withstand a pressure of 1.37MPa (13.5 ATM), the equivalent of 135 meters of depth. This was a very impressive feet at the time.
In 1935 a small watchmaker, based in Florence,m in Italy, was asked by the Royal Italian Navy to develop and produce a luminous underwater watch for its divers. The first “Radiomir” dive watches were presented in 1936. The timepieces were developed together with and later made by Rolex for Panerai.
During the second world war, many watch brands developed and produced watches following new military specifications. These developments allowed the brands to use new methods of manufacturing, use of materials and gave them new insights on the uses of their watches.
Milestones that followed:
1953 - Blancpain’s Fifty Fathoms was introduced in France.
1954 - Rolex introduces the Rolex Submariner at the Basel Muster Messe, in Switzerland.
1959 - The US Navy Experimental Diving Unit evaluated five diving watches; The Bulova US Navy Submersible wrist watch, Enicar Sherpa Diver 600, Enicar Sea pearl 600, Blancpain Fifty Fathoms and the Rolex Oyster Perpetual.
1961 - Edox launches the Delfin line of watches. These watches had an industry first double vase back design, giving the watches water resistance to 200 meters.
During the same year Rolex includes a skin diver handbook with each Submariner, which at the time were available in two executions. One of them was water resistant to 200 meters and the other less expensive model at 100 meters. The Rolex Submariner was also the watch chosen to be used by James Bond (007), in the first 10 films.
1965 - Seiko introduces the 62MAS into the market, being the first Japanese professional dive watch.
During the 1960’s, commercial activities in the oceans around the world, created the need for professional divers and organisations dedicated to their supply. Demand grew for more robust watches, developed to be used during diving operations at greater depths, than currently available in the market. The next phase of “Ultra water resistant” watches were brought to market, led by Rolex, which developed and in 1967 brought out he Rolex Sea-Dewller 2000 (2000 feet or 610 meters).
In the 1980’s digital and then arm mounted computers come into the market, taking away the need for a professional diver to wear a traditional dive watch.
Today many brands have dive and sport watches in their collections, all with original design cues coming from the pioneers of Dive watch design and manufacturing, dating back to the 1950’s.