My first dive watch happened to be a pretty fancy one. My father wanted to buy me a nice timepiece for my college graduation way back in 1993. I’m pretty sure my GPA or my utter lack of any diving intentions didn’t qualify me for the watch I wanted, but my father was insistent that I choose an Omega. The dive watch style appealed to me because it seemed to perfectly toe the line between dress and sport. Ultimately I chose the Omega Seamaster 300 Automatic with the wave dial that had just come out, and I was in love.
I wore it with everything from shorts to suits, and it fit the bill perfectly. Ironically, I didn’t start diving until 20 years later, and it wasn’t the Omega that I took with me. It was a Seiko SKJ003, something much less expensive than the Omega but no less functional in the waters near Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.
A well-made dive watch is so much more than a functional tool. Most real divers (a group I don’t include myself in) use digital diving instruments, so the dive watch is almost superfluous these days. Yet a dive watch exudes a sort of tough style that says the wearer just might be ready for anything, from the boardroom, to dinners out, to tropical vacations and everything in between.
The good news is that dive watches run the gamut of styles, sizes, and materials, so buyers can choose the one that best fits their needs and fashion sense.
A Brief History of the Dive Watch
Although Rolex paved the way for waterproof watches in 1926 with its Oyster case, it was Omega that created the world’s first commercially sold dive watch, called the Marine. It looked nothing like modern dive watches and had no rotating bezel or lume. The Marine was a tank watch style that looked like a Jaeger Reverso with its rectangular shape. The inner case was hermetically sealed in a second exterior case, and the Marine had no screw-down crown or screw-down caseback like the Rolex Oyster case. It was able to go deeper than any watch before it to a depth of 73 meters, and it pressure tested to nearly twice that depth at 135 meters.
The dive watch evolved over the years in part due to military needs for frogmen and underwater demolition teams. Leading the way we’re brands like Italy’s Panerai and America’s Hamilton, with innovations such as dial lume and water-tight crown covers. Blancpain’s Fifty Fathoms gained fame in niche military circles and was adopted by the U.S. Navy SEALS, and it was the first legit mainstream dive watch. But it was the 1954 Rolex Submariner that really put dive watches on the style map. That watch is perhaps the most legendary diver of all time, and prices of vintage models at auction reflect that fact.
As diving grew in popularity as a sport and recreation in the ’50s and ’60s, so did the prevalence of dive watches. Zodiac, Enicar, Tudor, Jaeger Le-Coultre, and many others got in on the game, and innovations like saturation divers, 1,000-meter depth ratings, and locking dive bezels improved dive watch capabilities. The onset of highly specialized dive computers changed the dive watch landscape, and dive watches became more popular as a style statement because they were no longer required to take on the rigors of real diving.
Today, dive watches permeate horological circles, and the style is one of the most beloved. Many who wear one have likely never gone SCUBA diving with it, or even hit the local pool while wearing one. No matter. They’re ubiquitous for a reason, and every guy should own one for the sheer style versatility and generally robust construction. Like it or not, a dive watch is a statement of style, as much as it is of a practical nature.
Is a Dive Watch Dressy?
Part of the reason why dive watches are so beloved isn’t just because they’re true tool watches with a narrow functional purpose but also because they give off an air of adventure and exploration, they express a love of the waves, and they’re tremendously versatile style-wise. They can even pair with more formal fare. Just look at Daniel Craig in any of his Bond films, and you’ll see that he even wears an Omega Seamaster with a tuxedo. Ballsy, but totally passable (for 007, at least). You’d have to choose your watch wisely in such cases, but it can be done.
Some of those in horological circles might look down on guys who chose to wear a dive watch with a suit, but there are dive watches that can easily pull off dressier duties, especially when paired with a refined and properly matching bracelet or a premium leather strap. There are some qualifications that need to be met, however. First of all, no matter how good a dive watch looks, size matters. Don’t try to pull off a 45mm diameter, 15mm thick dive watch with a suit. It’s just going to be too big to make it under a dress shirt’s cuff. Very few dive watches are actually thin, so do your homework. Keep the size modest—one that measures in at less than 40mm in diameter and less than 12mm thick.
If you already have a dive watch that seems on the large side and you want to wear it with a suit, make sure to buy dress shirts where you can upsize your shirt cuff to make room for your watch. This way, you don’t have to downsize your watch choice in order to make things work. Brands like Proper Cloth do this very well and for no extra cost.
Another important consideration when pairing a dive watch with a suit is that simpler is oftentimes better. Avoid boldly colored straps, and definitely don’t wear a dive watch with yellow, orange, or green dials (unless your suit is similarly bold and off-the-beaten path). In most other cases, choose a watch with a conservatively colored dial like black, navy, or white and opt for a nicer bracelet or strap. A stainless steel Milanese mesh or an alligator leather strap dress up dive watches nicely, as do smooth leather straps. Avoid nylon or rubber straps since those are pretty much just for casual or sportswear.
What to Wear with a Dive Watch
Shy of a tuxedo, there are very few outfits that won’t commonly work with a dive watch: polo shirt and shorts, jeans and a t-shirt, khakis and a sweater, blazers and sportcoats, and suits. One of the best things about a good dive watch is that you can easily swap out straps and completely change the look. If you remove the OEM stainless steel bracelet off an Alsta Nautoscaph after wearing it to work, you can swap it out with a two-piece suede strap for dinner out. Toss on a rubber Tropic strap for a day at the beach.
The Best Dive Watches for Men
Momentum Sea Quartz 30
Momentum’s latest release is a nod to Tom Selleck’s Magnum P.I. watch, the Chronosport Sea Quartz 30. Momentum is owned by the same folks who helmed Chronosport, so the watch hasn’t left the family. The same sporty look is present, but this time around, it gets upgrades in the way of sapphire glass for the crystal and bezel, C3 Swiss Super-LumiNova, a Swiss high-torque quartz movement, and a soft FKM rubber Tropic strap with quick-release springbars. The same sporty look is present, and it truly is a dive watch icon reimagined for the modern age.
Vaer D5 Meridian 39mm Automatic
The D5 Meridian might be a relatively new dive watch model, but it has the lines and styling of a classic. The 39mm case is sporty but modestly-sized, and the gold trim on the hands and markers add a touch of elegance. We also love the transparent caseback, domed sapphire glass crystal, and your choice of two straps, including an OEM stainless steel bracelet.
Spinnaker Spence 300
The new Spence 300 is a stunner of a watch with its green gradient dial, bold hands, and an incredibly thin 10.9mm case—one of the thinnest in the industry. The fact that it is depth rated at 300 meters is just as shocking. The dimensions make it suit-ready, for sure. The reliable Miyota automatic movement, three-link stainless steel oyster bracelet, and tremendously good wear comfort make it a great addition to your watch collection.
Squale Militaire 500
The new 1521 Militaire series Squale dive watch is inspired by military dive watches and has a 42mm case, sapphire glass, Super-LumiNova, offset screw down crown, a Swiss Made Elabore grade Sellita SW-200-1 automatic movement, and the ability to go down 500 meters. There’s not much else that’s this dive-ready and this brutishly handsome for this price. It’s a new classic.
Serica puts one of the most unique twists on the modern dive watch. It’s so uniquely styled that it’s sure to turn heads wherever you wear it, which will be everywhere. The markers are situated on the dial like no other watch we’ve seen, and the bi-color ceramic bezel also functions as a GMT, as well as a diving bezel. It has a Swiss automatic movement with 44 hours of power reserve and can dive to 300 meters. The mesh bracelet even has integrated end links for seamless connection.
Zodiac Super Sea Wolf Automatic
The Super Sea Wolf is one of the most recognized mid-priced dive watches. It looks like no other dive watch in existence today, and it combines elements of classic and modern dive watch styling. The deep blue dial contrasts nicely with touches of orange, and the squared-off hands and markers look great together.
Rado Captain Cook Automatic 37mm
For those with smaller wrists, the 37mm diameter of the Captain Cook is an excellent choice. It actually harkens back to the 1962 original, and this time around it gets AR sapphire glass and an automatic movement with a whopping 80 hours of power reserve. The beads of rice bracelet means it can slide under any shirt cuff thanks to its size.
Longines Legend Diver
When is a re-issue better than the original? When it’s the Legend Diver. The Super Compressor case and refined vintage-style dial echoes the one from the ’50s and ’60s, and it’s near perfect with great legibility, beautiful hands, and a stunning stainless steel mesh bracelet. The twin screw down crowns, 300 meter depth rating, and the multi-layered AR sapphire glass means it’s no joke in the water.
Sinn’s downsized U1 is the even-better U50. Not only does it use rugged submarine steel, but the case measures in at a hair over 39mm—while still providing an astounding 500 meters of water resistance. The tegimented model gets robust hardness that renders the case and bracelet highly scratch-resistant. If you want a truly badass dive watch, this is it.
Omega Seamaster 300M Co-Axial Master Chronometer
This is the descendant of the granddaddy of all dive watches, the Omega Marine. It’s also the original 007 Bond Omega and worthy of all the accolades. The elegant brushed and polished case, the wave dial, the ceramic bezel, the helium escape valve, and the ability to dive to 300 meters make it worth the money. The completely in-house co-axial escapement movement makes it lust worthy.