US marine biologist and Rolex ambassador Sylvia Earle.
US marine biologist and Rolex ambassador Sylvia Earle.
Image: Rolex / Alexandre de Brabant

The watch industry’s return to tangible values reflects a change in attitudes, demands and lifestyles of new consumers. This is seen in the increased release of useful, sporty, tool watches such as chronographs and diver’s watches, where function and precision take precedent over complication.

Adding impetus to the diver’s watch trend is the growing concern over the state of the oceans from the new wave of discerning, conscientious young collectors. The release of some fine vintage-inspired, classic revivals and anniversary editions have garnered extra attention for this category, while a new wave of interest on the secondary market has secured vintage pieces some impressive bids at auction.

Our oceans are a magical realm, largely unexplored or understood. We’ve spent more time charting missions into outer space than exploring the unchartered wonders of the deep. We respect the ocean yet at the same time we totally abuse it as the increasing number of tragic media reports reveal. Plastic Free July highlighted just how dire the situation is with all our plastic waste bobbing about in the ocean and clogging up the intestines of innocent sea life.

Open water diving is an overwhelming experience, a privilege that I hope will be enjoyed by future generations. Both intimidating and wonderfully mesmerising, my first time off the coast of Mozambique in 1999 was life-changing. Refracted rays of sunlight dancing through crystal clear water spotlit our slow decent, 20-meters to just above the ocean floor. This quiet new universe was spellbinding and breathtaking – literally. I vividly recall the equally curious sea life and the gold rotating bezel of my dive instructor’s Seiko Scuba Master glinting as he nudged me and tapped its crystal to indicate to me to breath and monitor my oxygen usage. I quickly observed how essential this indispensable companion was for a diver’s safety. Not to mention life-giving oxygen.

Essential for a winning dive watch are reliability, accuracy and legibility. Recognisable design cues are the rotational bezel with bold elapsed-time minute markers; exaggerated minute and hour hands; bold hour and minute markers on uncluttered dials; and screw down crowns. For readability to at least 25cm in total darkness luminous phosphorescent pigments such as Super-LumiNova are applied to the hands and markers. The standards are regulated by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO 6425) and cases must be robust enough to withstand the pressure of deep dives, the corrosive salt water and be water resistant to at least 100m depth. The case must also protect the movement against magnetic fields, bumps and scratches.

Although Rolex patented its infamous watertight Oyster case in 1926, the Submariner was its first purpose-build watch, launching in 1954 to become the quintessential diver. A new 40mm Submariner Date in Oystersteel and yellow gold with blue dial will serve you well but if you’re on a mission to discover lost empires in a dark abyss you’ll require the most advanced Rolex of them all. The Sea-Dweller DeepSea 126660 is the ultimate tool watch, equipped with a new-generation calibre 3235 movement and waterproof up to an extreme depth of 3900m. Its 44mm Oystersteel case features a unidirectional bezel with 60-minute graduated Cerachrom black ceramic insert. Lugs and sides have been redesigned and accommodate a broader Oyster bracelet with Oysterlock folding safety clasp.

Rolex Sea-Dweller DeepSea 126600.
Rolex Sea-Dweller DeepSea 126600.
Image: Supplied
Rolex Submariner Date.
Rolex Submariner Date.
Image: Supplied

Omega is credited with introducing the first commercially available diver in 1932 – the square, dual-cased Marine – but its familiar Seamaster came much later to coincide with their 100th anniversary in 1948. According to Omega, these pieces were intended as “robust yet elegant watches for active individuals who wanted a watch for town, sea and country”. Sounds fitting even today for the new generation of collectors.

The Dive 300M was added to the Seamaster collection in 1993 and has since become one of the most popular professional diver’s watches. Omega celebrates its 25th anniversary this year with 14 updates to the Dive 330M model range. With new 42mm case, every detail had a rethink, including a ceramic bezel and updated laser-etched wave pattern on the dial. For added precision the collection is powered by the Master Chronometer Calibre 8800.

Blancpain’s Fifty Fathoms collection includes notable reinterpretations of the first ‘real’ diver’s watch from 1953 of which this year’s Fifty Fathoms Ocean Commitment III is one of my favourites.

The original Fifty Fathoms gained huge following when it was worn by oceanographer Jacques Cousteau and his crew in the 1956 award-winning documentary film ‘Le Monde du Silence’ (The Silent World) co-directed by French film director Louis Malle. Helped along by an earlier feature in National Geographic, the demand for his improved Aqua-Lung diving apparatus and related diving gear for more leisurely scuba pursuits went through the roof.

Cousteau aka ‘Le Commandant’ is celebrated regularly by IWC who support the work of the Cousteau Society with the watchmaker releasing annual special editions with striking on-trend ocean blue dials in honour of the legendary marine researcher and filmmaker. The Aquatimer Automatic Edition ‘Expedition Jacques-Yves Cousteau’ references the first Aquatimer from 1967 with a simple dial design and unusual internal rotating bezel, while the shape of the external bezel was inspired by the Ocean 2000 designed in collaboration with Porsche Design in 1982.

Although we associate Breitling with aviation, its impressive Superocean Héritage II B01 Chronograph 44 is a reinterpretation of a 60-year-old diver’s watch from its archives, updated with Breitling’s self-winding manufacture Calibre 01 in a stainless steel case with scratch-resistant ceramic bezel.

Eager to attract the Millennial market, manufactures are offering good value proposition for new-comers seeking the prestige of a luxury brand and mechanical movements but more accessibly priced. Young scuba enthusiasts can choose from models such as the Longines HydroConquest (starting at around R16000) first launched in 2007 as part of a new sports collection that builds on the company’s expertise in the world of sport. Watertight to 300m, this year’s bold-yet-elegant HydroConquest collection is reimagined, featuring updated unidirectionally rotatable bezel with coloured ceramic inlay to complement the grey, black or blue dial options.

Of course these are not only tools for boys and with women’s tastes in watches rapidly evolving, the industry has finally woken up. TAG Heuer’s Aquaracer for example is available this year in a new 32mm ladies’ version with automatic Calibre 9 movement and features the collection’s characteristic elements with the addition of a ribbed mother-of-pearl dial, date window with built-­in magnifier, and second­hand with arrowhead tip.

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