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What Are Dive Watches? Can They Be Worn As An Everyday Watch?

Rolex Oyster dive watch

What is a dive watch?

What sets it apart?

The dive watch has a number of technical and aesthetic features that makes it unique from other styles. It’s often considered as being in the realm of ‘sport’ timepieces given its utilitarian-minded engineering, yet we will see that this doesn’t hold it back from being a staple accessory in business attire or even formalwear.

To be considered ‘dive-ready’, the timepiece in question generally needs to abide by the ISO 6425, a series of international guidelines, tests, and standards to measure the quality of the watch.[2] While Rolex and Omega’s in-house testing is shrouded in secrecy, all major dive watch manufacturers abide by these same minimum standards. The ISO 6425’s parameters check long-term exposure underwater, condensation, water tightness, thermal shock, water resistance to 100 meters, shock resistance, resistance to saline water, strap strength, and more. Importantly, the ISO 6425 mandates some of the features that make the diving watch as visually iconic as it is today, stating that diving watches need large, easily visible minute markings that glow in the dark as well as diving time indicators.

Traditionally, the dive watch can be most easily identified through its case, the diving time indicator, the crystal, and the bracelet.

The Case

    • The watch’s case is likely the most obvious tell of it being a dive watch. Due to the necessity to protect the inner mechanisms from harsh saltwater and undersea pressure, a diving watch’s case is typically larger than those found on dress watches, as well as made from alloys and materials that will protect it from corrosion. Titanium and steel alloys are commonly-used. Various features are added to the case like magnetic and shock protection.
    • Furthermore, given the need to make the minute markings extra-legible, the body and face of the watch are extra large. This often gives the body and face of the watch a ‘bulky’ and oversized look, mirroring the aesthetic and practical functions of other utilitarian timepieces like pilot’s watches.[3]
    • Features like the crown of the watch are integrated into the case in unique ways to ensure the watch remains waterproof.

Diving Time Indicator

    • All modern diving watches are equipped with a diving time indicator, otherwise known as a tachymeter. These indicators, if analog, are usually found on the bezel of the watch, which rotates counter-clockwise to be aligned with the watch’s minute hand. This gives divers a tool to quickly and accurately keep track of their elapsed time in the water, helping them to coordinate a safe ascent and acclimation to changing pressure.
    • The analog rotating tachymeter is largely an aesthetic choice today given the digital tools available on dive computers. It would still work really well to time your roast in the oven, but it may not feel as cool as using it to safely calculate your ascent from the murky depths…

The Crystal

    • The crystal of the watch, which covers the face, is very thick on dive watches. This is to increase its durability under pressure and allow the time to be easily read underwater. Dive watch crystal is usually made from acrylic glass, hardened glass, or sapphire, each of which have their own pros and cons in durability and shatter proofing. A domed crystal is not uncommon in dive watches.

The Bracelet

    • The bracelet is where some of the greatest variability of the diving watch can be found. At the bare minimum, the bracelet must be able to withstand a significant amount of pressure and force on it from all directions. For this reason, materials like rubber, silicone, polyurethane, and Kevlar are all popular in dive watches. These bracelet materials, while durable, tend to give the watch a very ‘sporty’ look and can often downplay the dressiness of the timepiece.
    • For the same reason it needs to be durable and water resistant, leather straps with dive watches are not as common.
    • Instead, opting for a titanium or stainless-steel bracelet will ensure the watch is protected from galvanic corrosion while significantly elevating its look. Given that many modern analog dive watch enthusiasts like the timepiece primarily for its aesthetic elements (not its deep-sea capabilities) I’d recommend looking into a metal bracelet as the first step to begin pairing a dive watch with your business formal look.

Why wear a dive watch?

It’s safe to say that many dive watches are worn today for their aesthetic. Dive computers are full of specific features that make them key to any modern diving expedition, replacing the necessity for wearing analog diving timepieces in high-tech undersea projects. As such, one may be more inclined to sport a dive watch to tie together an outfit and impress a board member or a date, rather than explore the depths of the ocean.

While investing in a high-quality analog dive watch may cost a small fortune, it is important to remember that dive watches are among the pinnacle of accurate time-telling paired with disaster-proof engineering. Dive watches are built for durability in extremely tough conditions, which makes them attractive pieces to own solely given their hardiness. For someone who is perhaps not a collector but looking for a quality, dependable, and durable everyday watch that can be dressed up or down, the dive watch emerges as a prime contender.

Equally, the dive watch has a unique and prominent appearance. The bold, large face of the watch is easy to read and eye-catching, making it a compelling wrist statement. Modern dive watches like the Doxa Sub 200 seem to balance the loudness of dive watch aesthetics: paired with classic steel bracelets, models like the Sharkhunter[4] and Searambler[5] are classy and elegant while still retaining a sporty feel. Wearing either of these with a crisp navy blue or black business suit would look extremely sharp.

As such, with the large availability and stylistic variation of diving watches, it’s important to know when to wear what.

Is it okay to wear a dive watch with a business suit? 

Next I explore dive watches and whether it’s acceptable to wear with formal business attire.

Short answer? It is absolutely okay to wear a dive watch with a business suitif you’re wearing the right dive watch. The dive watch is an iconic and durable timepiece whose storied past cements it in modern fashion and watch culture. The variation that exists with dive watches in 2022 offers a broad range of styling options and so, with a few key aesthetic choices, dive watches can easily become a staple part of your formal business attire. Long answer? Ask James Bond.

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In one of Goldeneye’s most high-octane scenes, James Bond – played by the great Pierce Brosnan – races his iconic Aston Martin DB5 through the French Alps, battling tight corners and sheer cliff drops against the crimson flash of Onatopp’s Ferrari F355. As Bond – ever the gentleman – waves to his opponent to overtake (lest crash into a peloton of unsuspecting cyclists), the viewer is granted an eyeful of their favorite spy’s high-tech time-teller: an Omega Seamaster 300M fitted snugly on Brosnan’s wrist, whose dark blue face and bezel sit framed within a stainless-steel bracelet and waterproof casing. While built to tell time up to 300 metres underwater[1], the Seamaster’s sleek and simple design give it the aesthetic gravitas that rivals iconic dress watches like Rolexes and Tag Heuers. For Bond’s high-stakes lifestyle, the dive watch is as important as the Aston Martin he drives, the martinis he pounds back, or the many, many suits he wears. One only has to look at Mr. Bond to know that pairing the dive watch with a business suit does more than work – it works well.

On Brosnan, who rocks an understated business casual look during his un-casual romp through the winding Alps, the diving watch looks as at home with a sweater and oxford shirt as it would with a full ‘frogman’ outfit or a suit and tie. On a different Bond and in a different movie, Casino Royale’s Daniel Craig would sport the same Seamaster 300M, this time dressed in a tuxedo and playing poker for millions of dollars. With Craig, we see the same watch dressed as ‘up’ as it gets, yet it never feels unbalanced, ostentatious, or informal.

The Seamaster seems to evoke the figure of Bond himself: proud, elegant, and stylish, yet equally tough and full of surprises. While none of the dive watches available for us to purchase come equipped with laser beams or remote detonators, Bond’s unique stylistic relationship with the diving watch represents the adaptability of these pieces to different outfits and scenarios. The formal dive watch, now-synonymous with the gentleman spy, is the perfect blend of elegant and sporty. Whether in the boardroom, at the golf course, on date night, or in a high-speed pursuit, knowing how to pick out and style a dive watch will add an extra dimension of elegance – and danger – to all of your fashion choices. If anything, wearing a business suit with the right dive watch is the closest to feeling like Bond any of us will ever get, and I’m man enough to admit I can live with that.

History of the dive watch

Put simply, a dive watch is a timepiece designed to be used underwater at depths lower than 100 meters. In the beginning, this type of watch was conceived for purely utilitarian purposes: explorers, professional divers, and navies operating in harsh conditions needed a watch that they could count on in life-or-death situations. In the early world of deep-sea diving, a waterproof timepiece would allow divers to properly coordinate their ascent to the surface. Without timing their ascent properly, divers risk decompression sickness (the bends) and potentially fatal outcomes.

While waterproof timepieces were around as far back as the mid-1920s with Rolex’s ‘Oyster’ case heralding the future of water-resistant watches, proper ‘dive watches’ would not emerge until Omega released the ‘Marine’ in 1932. The release of the Swiss-made ‘Marine’ was a watershed for diving design, tested at depths entirely unheard of before then (135 m) and taking its place in watch history as the Seamaster’ tough-as-nails, walked-uphill-to-school-both-ways predecessor. Rolex and other watchmakers would perk up at this watch’s release, studying Omega’s developments closely.

With the outbreak of the Second World War, significant demand for underwater timepieces would prompt various companies to begin developing their own deep-sea technology for naval purposes. Some of the key features of modern dive watches like glow-in-the-dark dials, rotating bezels, or strengthened crystal cases would emerge out of this period and become iconic to the style. Brands like Panerai, Blancpain, and Omega led this period of innovation. Rolex would even set a (still-unbroken) record with their concept watch ‘Deep Sea’, which they attached in 1964 to a submersible and successfully trialed it to nearly 11 000 meters below sea level. With the iconic looks of the ‘Submariner’ by Rolex and the ‘Fifty Fathoms’ by Blancpain (famously worn by the one and only Jacques Cousteau), diving watches would quickly capture the imagination of explorers and collectors alike.

In modern deep-sea diving and exploration however, dive watches have been rendered largely obsolete. The emergence of extremely precise and high-tech ‘dive computers’ that use algorithmic programming and pressure gauges to calculate a diver’s unique ascent profile offer a safer and more technologically-advanced alternative to analog diving watches. They are designed purely with utility in mind, something that is painfully obvious when looking at their hard corners and complicated design. It’s perhaps due to the timeless look of the classic dive watch that, despite a shift in diving tech, it continues to defend its key place in the pantheon of iconic and desirable timepieces.

Diving watches seem to tread a space between elegance and adventure, using the ultra-precise engineering of the watchmaking greats to push outward into new frontiers of space and ocean. To observers, the dive watch became emblematic of exploration and human resilience in the harshest of conditions. While not exclusively used in the water, these timepieces retain that spirit of adventure in their symbolic and historic resonance.

Rolex Oyster Perpatual watch

How to pair a diving watch with a suit?

I now go back to our friend and style icon James Bond, this time in the mid-60s and played by Sean Connery. An iconic scene in Goldfinger has Connery emerging out of his wetsuit already wearing a crisp ivory tuxedo with a bright red boutonniere. On his wrist he sports a beautiful Rolex Submariner 6538 with a black face and bezel. The outfit (literally, given he just got out of the water) drips classic Bond swag, explicitly demonstrating the dual utility and look of a waterproof watch that can be a part of a formal party as readily as a covert tactical operation.

However, on further inspection, something begins to seem horribly wrong: the bracelet of this beautiful Rolex is a dull RAF nylon strap in green and black. Even worse, the strap seems to be too thin, like it can barely hold the body of the watch up. In the few moments where the watch is on screen, the tuxedo and nylon watch combo utterly take away from the outfit’s elegance, which begins to appear disjointed. In a way, the balance of style and utility of the diving watch is rendered null with the wrong bracelet, which positions the diving watch as exactly – and solely – that: a watch made for diving, out of place at a business meeting or cocktail party.

James Bond, an eternal teacher in stylish business attire and formalwear, illustrates one of the great potential pitfalls of pairing a diving watch with a suit: the wrong face, strap, or body can jeopardize the entire mission. While most of us aren’t going undercover within secret parties of the criminal elite, I’d argue given the history of the watch and the variability of its style that swapping the nylon with a steel bracelet would look a lot sharper and tie the entire look together.

While a bit of a dramatic and nitpicky take on one of the silver screen’s most stylish characters, I admit, it serves as a decent reminder of some things to keep in mind when pairing a dive watch with more formal looks. I am of the firm belief that the watch can either make or break an outfit. For instance, I love my black G-SHOCK DW5600BB-1, a 200 meter-graded diving watch whose understated rubber body and negative digital display makes it a slick, sporty every-day piece.[6] It is a light, comfortable watch that goes well with nearly any outfit and scenario, from working out on my bike to meeting with friends at the bar. However, if I’m wearing a business suit or any formalwear, I find the style of the watch immediately takes away from the rest of my outfit. Its boxy look and digital face is too sporty and becomes reductive to the overall formality of the look. It sticks out instead of blending in to the outfit –this dive watch and others like it couldn’t work with business formal attire.

For those moments, I bust out my beloved Seiko 5: it is an entry-level diving watch with a clean, dark blue face and stainless-steel body, given to me nearly a decade ago as a birthday gift from my Uncle Robert. My uncle is a pilot and avid watch collector. His treasure trove of aviation and diving watches span all sorts of styles, bracelets, faces, and quirks, yet he always seems to know the right one to wear. I believe he gave me that Seiko knowing I’d be able to dress it up and down and always have it for the right occasion. Through first dates, job interviews, lake dives, formal Christmas parties and more over the years, my humble and sturdy Seiko diving watch has been a steadfast companion and key element to my formal (and informal) looks. My Uncle Robert taught me that while watches are a statement, they must always support the rest of the cast. This is especially true with dive watches and suits: if the pairing is right, such a combo can be as deadly as if the watch came equipped with a laser beam.

In this way, if wearing a diving watch with formal business attire, it’s worth it to look at more elegant and toned-down options that, while still bold, can serve to complement your outfits rather than clash with them.

Dive Watch Examples

To round this deep dive off (fully intended), let’s take a look at a couple of examples of dive watches and do some snap takes on how their look might go with a business formal fit.

Citizen Eco-Drive Promaster Navihawk A-T Quartz Men's Watch, Stainless Steel with Polyurethane strap, Pilot watch, Black (Model: JY8035-04E)

 

Citizen – Navihawk A-T JY8035-04E

    • Way too much going on to work well with business formal attire in my opinion
    • Looks like something Bond would have to deactivate

Tissot Men's Seastar 660/1000 Stainless Steel Casual Watch Black T1204071704100

Tissot – Seastar 1000 Powermatic 80

    • A bold and classic looking dive watch that would look great with a suit
    • Despite the large face, its minimal design helps balance the look out
    • Great price for a high-quality watch

Nomos AHOI Neomatik Atlantic Automatic Unisex Watch 561

Nomos – Ahoi Neomatik Atlantic

    • Despite the nylon straps, the minimal design of the face actually gives this a really elegant feel
    • An example of a modern, aesthetically oriented dive watch that would look great with the right business formal look

Omega Seamaster Diver 300m Co-Axial Master Chronometer 42mm Mens Watch

Omega – Seamaster Diver 300M Co-Axial Master Chronometer

    • Bond’s iconic timepiece
    • The quintessential ‘formal’ dive watch – probably looks better with a suit than in the water
    • Worth a very pretty penny

Conclusion

  • Dive watches are stylish and essential features of any watch collector’s arsenal
  • They balance sport and elegance in a way no other watch style does
  • Despite their typically-bold look, choosing the right face, bracelet, and body can make the dive watch a staple of business formal attire

References

  1. https://www.omegawatches.com/watch-omega-seamaster-diver-300m-co-axial-master-chronometer-42-mm-21030422003001
  2. https://www.iso.org/standard/66517.html
  3. https://manofmany.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/Pilot-Watches-Featured-Image.jpg
  4. https://doxawatches.com/collections/sub-200/products/sharkhunter?variant=32317119889517
  5. https://doxawatches.com/collections/sub-200/products/searambler?variant=32317119955053
  6. https://www.gshock.com/watches/digital/dw5600bb-1