The world is getting smaller, travel more prolific and people’s sense of adventure shows no sign of waning. Diving is increasingly popular and it’s not just the professionals and extremists donning the scuba gear and discovering the wonders beneath the surfaces of the world’s oceans.
That said, divers’ watches are not the timepiece of choice for diving enthusiasts only, their aesthetics and capabilities appeal to people with no desire to take the plunge. Recognising the demand for these watches that boast durability, cool style and functionality beyond timekeeping, brands are diversifying their diving watch offer, with some offering more serious diving credentials than others. However, for safety and honest trading’s sake watch brands are being upfront about the environment their watches are suitable for and arguably, rather than diluting the popular watch genre the ongoing developments are merely strengthening and broadening its appeal.
Statistics from global scuba diving organisation PADI revealed the number of certifications for entry level and continuing education diving awarded in 2012 was 945,107, which was 14,1666 up on the 930,941 certifications given in 2011. Meanwhile although there was a slight drop in the number of individual PADI members by 0.2%, comparing 2012 to 2011, individual membership has predominantly witnessed steady year-on-year growth and is up 66.9% to 135,710 on 1996, when membership was 91,321. Retail and resort PADI membership also remains strong, reaching 6,191, which is a 2.1% growth on 6,063 in 2011 and 53.4% overall growth compared to 1996.
While the popularity of diving seems to be rising, so too is the demand for robust diving watches, which are primarily essential safety tools leaving no room for compromise when it comes to accuracy, durability and reliability. Consequently, all water resistant wristwatches must conform to ISO 2281 standards, while to have the word ‘divers’ written on the dial or case back, a watch must also conform to ISO 6425. The latter comprises numerous requirements, which includes the watch being water resistant to a minimum of 100m, being readable at a distance of 25cm even in complete darkness, being shock resistant and having a strap that meets minimum robustness standards.
“As the popularity grows so will the two different strands of the market, the more design-led market and the more professional functional strand of the market,” says Ralf Hilbich, product development manager at Oris. “All divers’ watches have to meet a specific regulation to fall into the bracket of a diver’s watch but, like with all products nowadays, brands will push and push to have the watch that can withstand the most depth or pressure as hero pieces.”
Oris is one of a number of key brands, well known to the consumer, with a lengthy history of divers’ watches that started with the Meistertaucher and has culminated most recently in the Baselworld 2013 release of the Aquis Depth Gauge, a timepiece that is both stylish and practical.
“At Oris our design principle is very simple: ‘form follows function’ and we design all of our watches with this in mind,” says Hilbich.
STYLE AND SUBSTANCE
Diving watches have been a key feature among divers’ equipment for more than eight decades and among the icons that have emerged are the Rolex Submariner, Omega Seamaster and the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms, which was revived and celebrated at this year’s BaselWorld with the creation of a new Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe model to mark its 60th anniversary.
These heritage models and more recent manifestations have not gained popularity merely because of their diving functionality and the unidirectional bezel that indicates when to begin their ascent but, like most watches, because of the design elements too and the message implied – adventure and risk taking.
“Divers’ watches have developed from purely practical instruments to something that can be worn in and out of the water,” says Kirsten Crisford, UK marketing manager for Seiko. “The chunky looks that epitomised divers watches have become appealing to those that don’t dive but like good watches. There is far more choice in the colours and materials too, now, with bright and varied colours available not just the standard black.”
Although Rolex is credited with creating the first “waterproof” watch in 1927, the Omega Marine watch created in 1932 was considered to be the first dive watch. The 1930s also saw Panerai present a number of divers’ watches for the Italian Navy Seals before the 1953 Fifty Fathoms from Blancpain came onto the market and Rolex’s Submariner in 1954. The ‘50s saw the genre truly gain momentum, beyond military use, with the discovery of the freedom offered by using cylinders in underwater diving. Brands including IWC and Omega were among those making significant advances, followed by Seiko in the mid 1960s. By the 1970s, some divers’ watches were able to accompany their wearer to a depth of approximately 600m, with others certified to deeper than 1,000m.
“Water resistance became a battleground of competition as dives reached new depths ,” says Stan Betesh at Deep Blue Watches. “Today we are seeing an increase in new materials and components being used on dive watches such as ceramic or sapphire bezels, adjustable wetsuit extensions on bracelets, not to mention the increase use of luminous properties.”
Although to be a diver’s watch a timepiece must have a water resistence to a minimum of 100m, these days diving watches tend to have a water resistence of between 200m and 300m, with some offering far greater resistance – depths that will never be experienced by most people.
“Equating a dive watch that has true water resistance over 200m ensures a quality timepiece that will perform,” says Betesh. “Retailers want brands that will give their customers the best value as well as performance and reliability.”
Although evolution of the genre has enhanced the efficiency of diving watches, certain features have remained consistent throughout the years, including the unidirectional bezel for measuring elapsed time and the resulting amount of oxygen used, telling the diver when they need to surface.
Meanwhile, cases are fashioned from seawater corrosion-resistant material such as titanium, stainless steel or ceramic and for the strap, which must withstand substantial force, materials used tend to be titanium, stainless steel or rubber. Additionally divers’ watches need to be readable in dark conditions so luminosity is essential.
Take, for example, Ulysse Nardin’s newest Maxi Marine Diver, which carries on the family’s use of large diving scale figures in gold on the dark rotating bezel. The contrast and visibility is emphasised further by a wave-patterned black dial, which supports applied luminous indexes to striking contrast. The watch also has a screwed crown and is water resistant to 200m.
Innovation is taking other directions for some brands. At Linde Werdelin, innovation is at the heart of its diving watches. Rather than having the rotating bezel, its watches capture information via digital instrument The Reef, which fits over the watch, and uses a number of sensors, a low-power multi MPU platform, an advanced three axis compass and alarm systems.
Other brands are developing products too, for instance, Citizen’s professional dive watch has an electronic depth sensor – a world first, while, released in 2010, the Rolex Oyster Perpetual Sea-Dweller Deepsea was created to be water resistant to an extreme depth of 3,900m.
Although practicality is at the heart of divers’ watches, aesthetics also play an important role.
At Seiko, product development addresses looks and functionality in equal measure. “We treat the practical requirements of a divers’ watch with equal weight as the aesthetic requirements of any watch,” explains Crisford. “We think about the watch being worn in and out of the sea and what that consumers would want.” Grand Seiko recently launched the Spring Drive Diver’s 200m with its one-way rotating bezel and screw crown, while Seiko introduced the Sportura Kinetic Divers Watch.
Citizen is also looking to diversify its dive watch offer and use new technologies. “When thinking about product design, it’s all about the design combined with functionality,” says Mark Robinson, MD at Citizen UK. “Today, colour is very important both in terms of accents and bold elements. This is true for both gents’ and ladies’ dive watches.”
Citizen’s dive offer is evolving and this autumn the brand will launch the Promaster Depth Meter Chronograph, powered by Citizen’s Eco-Dive technology whereby the watch is fuelled by light. A solar cell beneath the dial converts the light into energy to power the watch. Regular exposure to light means the watch will continually recharge itself. The lithium-ion rechargeable cell stores enough energy to power the watch up to seven years – depending on the mode – even in the dark.
At Deep Blue Watches, Betesh says that for them an exciting development has been the use of the gaseous self-contained tritium tubes that are said to glow for 25 years without an outside power source. He explains that in the UK approval has now been granted to use higher capacity tritium on the dial. Ball watches also uses tritium gas in glass microtubes for its divers’ watches.
While looks can be important to help the watch achieve commercial success and appeal to non-divers, most brands insist that functionality comes first. “In our opinion [priorities including] ease of reading the dial in different conditions and reliability should always be borne in mind,” says Andrea Maggi brand manager at Squale.
“These features should never be neglected in the design of a diving watch, which must remain functional for diving when
attempting to capture a broader range of clientele.
“Sometimes we are amazed by certain watches, which are supposed to be for diving and yet they have dials or functions that have nothing to do with the sector.”
To ensure the watches remain suitable for use in a professional diving environment, brands maintain ongoing communications with divers. For instance, Squale is in contact with professional scuba divers such as coral fishermen and underwater station workers, while also working with Michele Fucarino, a record holder for free diving distance.
At Oris too, knowledge sharing with professionals is a must. Hilbich says: “We have several diving ambassadors who provide us with a wealth of knowledge and experience from their daily lives. This gives us a wealth of information that we need to ensure we give them what they really need. The last thing we want to do is make a great looking diver’s watch that doesn’t do the job.”
For retailers, these brand associations with experts can help with sales. “The history of the brand and the ambassadors give the buyer confidence when spending what can be many thousands of pounds,” says Peter Jackson, managing director of Peter Jackson the Jeweller.
However, for Tom Milner, co-owner of retailer Tustains, diving watches do not have such a natural affiliation with ambassadors as other sports watches. “Interestingly, water sports don’t generally provide the resource of household names which golf or Formula One might, so despite being a key sales area, divers’ watches don’t have a natural affinity with ambassadorships,” he says. “Specification and technical aspects tend to do the talking and ordinarily the diver’s watch customer arrives well informed and the point of sale is about price.”
Of course, not everyone who buys a diver’s watch dives. Consumers’ choice of watch makes a subtle statement and it’s no difference when it comes to divers’ watches. The watch’s looks and functionality tend to imply a spirit of adventure.
“We only stock one brand of wristwatch who produce a specialised diving watch, which is Rolex with the Submariner, Submariner Date and Deep Sea,” says Karl Massey, managing director of Prestons of Bolton. “All are extremely desirable and our problem tends to be having the available stock to meet the demand from customers.
“I would suggest that divers’ watches are popular due to their styling rather than simply their functionality and with the Rolex Submariner being the first true specialist diving watch it has the pedigree and credibility consumers look for.”
Although some customers will buy for style over function, divers’ watches will always have a role to play in a professional activity and trade. Watches that associate themselves with a sport that requires specialist training, dedication, skill and an element of risk taking must have a functionality and level of precision that makes them worthy of the genre, however, that’s not to say they can’t look good doing it.
This article originally appeared in the July 2013 issue of WatchPro.
To read a digital version of the magazine in full online, click here.