Recently, we have discussed the history of various watch styles. In the past month, we have covered the history of the smartwatch and the chronograph. This week we will be covering the history of the dive watch. The aspect that sets these watches apart is their ability to use underwater. To be classified as a diving watch the watch must be water-resistant up to 100 meters (approx. 328 feet) below water.
For a time following the advent of the wristwatch, watch users had been seeking a way to wear a watch underwater without the timepiece falling apart. Explorers and professional divers, in particular, wanted this type of watch. A breakthrough came when the creator of the famous Rolex Watch brand came out with the Oyster watch case in 1926. This watch featured a hermetic seal that kept water out. To prove its efficacy the Rolex watch was worn during a 10-hour crossing of the English channel by a British swimmer.
The Dive Watch Market Explosion
Diving became a growing industry by the late 1920s and early ’30s. It was done socially, exploratorily, and militarily. The Rolex watch was a success. Many watchmakers wanted in on the success and created their own iterations of the dive watch. One of these watchmakers was Omega, who was largely credited with creating the first widely available commercial dive watch, the Omega Marine. The Omega Marine watch saw the industry go from a water-resistant specialty to a specific dive watch line. Other companies of note that made early dive watches include Paneri and Cartier.
World War 2 saw heavy development of the underwater watch. Countries requested the waterproof watches for various needs of their armies, for instance, submarine use. Though these watches were limited and very collectible today, their impact was large on future dive watch styles. One of these was the famous Fifty Fathoms watch by Lip-Blancpain. These watches were influenced by the French combat divers of the war. The Fifty Fathoms watch became famous due to its use in movies filmed underwater in the 1950s. By 1960, Edox came out with the first watches able to go 200 meters (approx. 656 feet) underwater. The first Japanese dive watch was made by Seiko in 1965.
Most divers use a dive computer to tell time underwater today. Divers still will bring dive watches with them as a backup on many dives. These watches still have a major influence on the watch market today. Many watches available in the market currently have some sort of water resistance built-in. The dive watches also have a robust collectors industry.
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