As the then-new sport of scuba diving rapidly expanded in the 1950s, divers needed a particular type of watch to wear during their subaquatic adventures. Specifically, these dive watches needed to water-resistant, legible in dark environments, and able to keep track of how long a diver spent underwater. Most of the watches we will be highlighting below were born during this important decade and have since become icons of their genre. Although dive watches have since been replaced by dive computers and are no longer necessary for diving, their appeal has not diminished. In fact, dive watches are one most popular types of sports watches today, loved for their bold looks and durable construction. Join us we take a look at five iconic dive watches to briefly examine their histories, evolutions, and current designs.
Blancpain Fifty Fathoms
Bob Maloubier was a French secret agent of the British Special Operations Executive during WWII and was deemed a war hero for his valiant efforts. Following World War II, Captain Maloubier and Lieutenant Claude Riffaud founded the French Combat Swimmers unit, officially established in 1952.
Along with all the other gear necessary for combat divers, the two men recognized that the frogmen under their command would also need a reliable dive watch. However, they could not find any that would suit their needs–so they set out to design one. Captain Maloubier brought his designs to several watch manufacturers to produce his vision but he was turned down–until he contacted Blancpain watches. The CEO of Blancpain, Jean-Jacques Fiechter was an avid diver himself so he was happy to take on the project.
In 1953, Blancpain unveiled the Fifty Fathoms dive watch based on Captain Maloubier and Lieutenant Riffaud’s designs. The Blancpain Fifty Fathoms featured a rotating black timing bezel that could lock into place for divers to keep track of immersion times and a black dial with luminous hands and hour markers for optimal legibility in dark waters. Furthermore, the watch was named after its water depth rating of fifty fathoms, which is equivalent to about 91 meters.
The introduction of the Blanpain Fifty Fathoms laid the design blueprint for modern diving watches–making it one of the most iconic dive watches ever made. And almost seven decades later, Blancpain still makes Fifty Fathoms watches (though with much higher water depth ratings), available in a range of styles, materials, sizes, and functionalities, while never straying too far from the original concept.
Shortly after the launch of the Fifty Fathoms in 1953, Rolex also introduced a dive watch model that same year in the form of the Submariner. While the Submariner was not the first modern dive watch to market, it was the first to boast a depth rating of 100 meters. The inaugural Rolex Submariner featured a steel case topped with a black rotating bezel, a black time-only dial with luminous indexes and hands, and a steel Oyster bracelet. Up until the mid-1960s, Rolex continued to make numerous Submariner models–all with time-only dials.
In the mid/late 1960s, Rolex finally introduced a Submariner Date model to sit alongside the no-date Submariner. Since then, Rolex has greatly expanded the Submariner Date collection to include different materials and colors while exclusively making the no-date Submariner model in steel and black.
Today, Rolex makes the Submariner with 40mm case–available in steel, two-tone steel and yellow gold, full white gold, and full yellow gold–topped with Cerachrom ceramic unidirectional rotating bezels. The bezels come in an assortment of colors such as black, green, and blue, and are paired with matching dials.
Water-resistance ratings of the Submariner are now 300 meters and the current-production models have Oyster bracelets fitted with Glidelock extension systems. Whether vintage or contemporary, date or no-date, Rolex Submariners are the most iconic dive watches by far.
Omega Seamaster Diver 300M
In 1957, Omega released a trio of professional watches–the Speedmaster chronograph for racing, the antimagnetic Railmaster for scientists and engineers, and the Seamaster 300 for divers. Although it was called the Seamaster 300, Omega’s first dive watch was only officially rated to a depth of 200 meters due to a lack of testing equipment.
The Seamaster 300 paved the way for future Omega diving watch models, of which there are many. Yet, the Seamaster Diver 300M is arguably the most famous of them, first released in the 1990s and made famous as James Bond’s watch in the 1995 film, GoldenEye. The Seamaster Diver 300M collection has expanded tremendously over the years to include a bevy of different models in a variety of sizes, metals, styles, and functions. However, the common design traits found across all Omega Seamaster 300M variations include a unidirectional rotating bezel with a scalloped edge, sword-shaped hands with plenty of lume, and a water resistance rating of 300 meters.
Today, the newest Seamaster Diver 300M watches, which come in time and date versions as well as chronographs, are fitted with ceramic bezels and ceramic dials with a distinct wave pattern. In true Omega fashion, there are plenty of material choices within the lineup, ranging from steel to gold to two-tone. Plus, in honor of the ongoing partnership with James Bond, there are also special edition Seamaster Diver 300M watches made in honor of 007.
Though Breitling is famous for its collection of timepieces for aviators, the brand was also a pioneer in the dive watch space. In 1957, Breitling released a pair of 200-meter water-resistant Superocean models–one automatic time-only version and one manual-winding chronograph version–to serve the flourishing diving community.
Similar to other watchmakers’ dive watches of the decade, the Breitling Superocean divers also had black dials with luminous details such as oversized hands and hour markers, in addition to a black rotating timing bezel.
Fast forward to today, and the Superocean lineage continues in two main ways. One is the collection of modern Superocean watches while the other is the vintage-inspired Superocean Heritage lineup.
Panerai Luminor Submersible
Panerai famously made water-resistant watches with highly luminous dials for the Italian Royal Navy’s frogmen as early as the 1930s, which later inspired the Radiomir and Luminor models. While these vintage watches were used by combat divers, contemporary versions can not be considered as dive watches today due to their lack of a timing bezel.
Yet, Panerai does make a line of modern diving watches, housed within the Submersible collection. Unlike the Radiomir and the standard Luminor, Panerai Submersible watches do have rotating bezels marked to 60 minutes to allow divers to time how long they have been underwater.
Panerai introduced the Submersible in 2000 as an evolved version of the famed Luminor watch, redesigned to meet the needs of today’s divers. Like all Luminor models, the Luminor Submersible also had the characteristic crown guard bridge. In recent years, Panerai branched off the Submersible model away from the Luminor range to become its own standalone collection.
Although the Submersible is a relatively new model compared to the others developed in the 1950s, given Panerai’s long history of making watches specifically for divers, it’s safe to say that it has earned its spot as an iconic dive watch. Although the Submersible is a relatively new model compared to the others developed in the 1950s, given Panerai’s long history of making watches specifically for divers, it’s safe to say that it has earned its spot as an iconic dive watch.
Whether from Blancpain, Rolex, Omega, Breitling, or Panerai, these iconic dive watches have all contributed greatly to this particular corner of horology. Dive watches were once considered essential tools for those who plunged below the surface to explore marine life. While no longer considered a critical piece of dive gear, diving watches are still regarded by many as a vital component of a well-curated personal watch collection.