Luxury Beneath the Waves: 10 Diving Watches for the Intrepid Timepiece Enthusiast
[Header image features Breitling Superocean in black. Image courtesy of Breitling]
It’s a testament to the innate class of the luxury diving watch – and its limitless appeal – that this sub-genre of haute-horology has never fallen from fashion since its original heyday almost a century ago.
Forged in the spirit of intrepid exploration, finessed across decades of innovative craftsmanship, the diving watch has become a benchmark of technical mastery equalled by its elegance. The utmost balance of durability and precision, beauty and functionality, diving watches are perhaps in greater demand than ever before; reflecting a more experiential aspect to the luxury industries, and one that’s driving dynamism and investment among younger HNW individuals.
The headiest heights of diving watch design was undeniably in the midst of the 1960’s. It was an era in which deep sea exploration represented a new frontier for discovery, as well as a very particular masculine pursuit that appealed to a new generation of wealthy go-getters. However, diving watches command more admiration today than ever before, and certain examples have risen through the ranks to become nothing less than essentials in any gentleman’s collection of timepieces. Some have gained a mythic status across the years, others have taken their cue from timeless classics, breathing new life into original designs.
Featuring an array of pioneering horological complications and imbued with the spirit of adventure, diving watches are among the most fascinating and collectible timepieces on the market today. This month, we’re picking out ten unmissable examples guaranteed to not only make an impact on the wrist, but also to make for a potentially rewarding investment.
Blancpain Fifty Fathoms GMT
Often regarded as the world’s first haute-horology maison, Blancpain has pioneered innovations in the world of luxury watches since it was founded in Switzerland way back in 1735. It perhaps therefore comes as no real surprise to discover that it was the watchmakers of Blancpain who launched the very first diving watch in 1953 – the iconically-named Fifty Fathoms GMT. With this very timepiece, Blancpain spearheaded a design trend that continues to inspire seventy years later.
The Fifty Fathom GMT has undergone countless tweaks, improvements and re-releases since that first pioneering unveiling. However, there’s no shortage of joy to the fact that the key design features of every single iteration since the original have – by and large – remained thrillingly true to those of the first design. There’s an instantly-recognisable oversized and beautiful bezel, the flyback chronograph, the leak gauge picked out in red and an overall air of understated minimalism (which now, of course, looks brilliantly vintage), each of which comes together to produce a watch imbued with a real classic sense of masculinity. It’s an iconic timepiece, a nonchalant masterclass in horological perfection, and one which never fails to send considerable ripples of excitement at auction.
Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore
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Audemars Piguet Royal Oak watches are perhaps the most sought-after luxury timepieces in the ever-changing market today, prized for their nautical and effortlessly masculine design credentials alongside a commitment to precision that’s almost unmatched. The Offshore is the Royal Oak’s foray into the world of diving watches, and it’s one that quickly became a modern classic that takes the design’s maritime approach to its logical conclusion.
The oversized and impactful Royal Oak Offshore exudes a sportier design than its dressier forebears, and it has become a firm favourite with sports stars worldwide – namely cricket champion Sachin Tendulka, Michael Schumacher and Shaquille O’Neal. Straight from the imagination of maison design legend Gerald Genta, the Offshore looks fantastic and immediately conjures up images of the golden age of deep sea diving. Indeed, those distinctive oversized screws on the bezel were inspired by a vintage deep sea diver’s helmet; a theme which works perfectly with that instantly-recognisable porthole design we know and love so well.
IWC Aquatimer 2014
The very first IWC Aquatimer was released in 1967, and ever since, this luxury timepiece brand has dominated the diving watch scene. In 2014, a whole new iteration of the Aquatimer range hit a newly dynamised market, hinting at a reinvigorated playfulness within the opulent sport watch industry. It wasn’t hard to understand its appeal: beautifully coloured details, an oversized rotating bezel and plenty of luminous markings on the face immediately set the new IWC Aquatimer out as a modern icon in the diving watch world. The triple-dial complications were a real game-changer, too – and almost instantly, we had a contemporary classic on our hands, and one which proved that even a sub-genre as quintessentially as diving watches could be revamped with peerless class.
It’s impossible not to be impressed by the lume details of the 2014 release, and it’s easy to recognise how the glowing face would come in handy when submerged in some underwater cave. However, the practical is – as always – matched by the luxurious and the precise, with a sapphire crystal casing that doubles as both an opulent dust damage safeguard and a way for the watch to withstand water pressure as deep as three hundred metres. IWC kept the innovations coming with an internal bezel controlled not, as is usual, by the crown, but rather via a distinct external bezel. This innovation was truly one-of-a-kind, and adds a slick simplicity that exemplifies what the timepiece does perhaps better than any other.
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Some diving watches are all about the panache, the beauty, and the opulence that grew around the mid-20th century ‘celebrity adventurer’ scene, driven forward by James Bond movies and Jacques Cousteau’s awe-inspiring nature films. Others, however, celebrate the grit and reality behind these timepiece’s military foundations… and the Panerai Luminor beautifully straddles the two with effortless charm.
Officine Panerai was producing watches fit for diving (although not what we’d recognise today as a ‘diving watch’) for the Italian military as far back as the early 1930s. The iconic Panerai Luminor model pays tribute to those early innovations, resulting in a luxurious and highly-collectible timepiece featuring a small lever to ensure a watertight seal, incredible accuracy, and luminescent detailing on the dial to ensure full visibility in underwater conditions. Overall, it’s a sleek and stylish timepiece perfect for sportsmen seeking a watch imbued with history, and which makes no compromises whatsoever when it comes to quality.
Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Compressor
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The Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Compressor truly promises the best of both worlds. It’s a diving watch which ticks all the right boxes when it comes to luxury and opulence, passing beautifully as a high-end dress watch perfect for black tie events and showcasing your peerless sense of taste. However, it’s also fitted with a mechanism that allows it to withstand an awe-inspiring three thousand feet of water pressure, making it a diving watch fit for serious explorers on missions below the waves.
Jaeger-LeCoultre is a timepiece brand that’s renowned worldwide for an unrivalled insistence on impeccable standards, and each and every one of those standards shines brightly in the Master Compressor. Take in, if you will, the highly-polished lugs, the non-corrosive titanium detailing, and the keenly-designed caseback. Remove the casing, and you’ll discover the diving watch’s sporting credentials: there’s an instant wheel chronograph (operating perpetually without causing wear to the movement, and a patented Jaeger-LeCoultre hallmark), and a chrono key which completely compresses the chronograph to protect it from deep sea pressure.
Whether the wearers of the Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Compressor ever actually don a diving suit and head below the waves is irrelevant: this timepiece is a masterful example of craftsmanship and engineering, making it as collectible as it is beautiful.
When we think of Breitling, we immediately turn our mind to their stunning and gorgeously-crafted aviator watches. However, the Superocean proved once and for all that the luxury timepiece brand is far from a one-trick pony – this diving watch is an exemplary example of the brand’s ability to finesse sporting pieces for underwater use, while still absolutely looking the business as a dress watch for showcasing style.
The Superocean was meticulously designed for military and professional divers. Launched back in 1957, it has undergone countless new iterations – many of which promise water resistance up to 2,000 metres. Thanks to its spectacular sapphire crystal fronting, there’s plenty of opulence involved in the fundamentals of its finish. What’s more, a patented luminescent technology ensures that there’s a brilliant legibility to the central hands and hour indices even in pitch darkness.
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The combination of sporty looks and cutting-edge movement technology – paired with a distinctive matte grey bezel crafted from scratch proof ceramic and a 44mm stainless steel casing – means even the most demanding of timepieces collectors cannot help but be moved by the sheer power of the Omega Seamaster’s wrist impact.
The Seamaster may not be able to boast the same depths of water pressure resistance as many of the examples on this rundown, but that’s not to say there aren’t plenty of impressive features to be found within its boisterous and masculine casing. The Omega Seamaster features a remarkable movement: the Omega Calibre 3603, which brings a dynamic GMT complication into the heart of the famed in-house Calibre 3330 and makes it a collection piece par excellence for serious timepiece aficionados. There’s also a silicon balance spring, a co-axial escapement and impressive tech that wields resistance against magnetic interference.
As such, the Seamaster is a watch-lover’s watch with unrivalled accuracy, and one that’s as fitting for the club as it is for the deck of a superyacht, or indeed for underwater exploration.
Calibre de Cartier Diver
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When it comes to luxury timepieces, few brands hit the high notes of opulence quite like Cartier. The Calibre de Cartier Diver was a welcome addition to the Cartier line of sports-inspired watches, bringing a touch of timeless glamour to the scene alongside some seriously impressive features that made it an instant hit with collectors and adventurers alike.
As far as looks go, the Calibre de Cartier Diver isn’t a world away from the Calibre de Cartier. However, there’s an unmissable diver’s bezel that sets this watch apart from the rest of the collection, and it has been designed to boast 300 metre water resistance; perfect for light scuba trips or the chance to dive down to coral reefs in some far-flung exotic destination. One of the key points of appeal is the thickness of this watch: unlike many other diving watches, the Calibre de Cartier Diver has an impressive thickness 11mm, making it an elegant choice for those seeking a lighter, sleeker and more versatile timepiece to add to their collection.
Tudor Black Bay
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The Rolex Submariner is arguably the quintessential luxury diving watch, and a collector’s bucket list mainstay. So much so, in fact, that it isn’t included on this list as everything that could be said about the timepiece has already been stated, or is at least common knowledge to every diving watch fan worth their salt. What should be stated, however, is that the Submariner was the direct inspiration for the Tudor Black Bay, and given the rapidly-ascending collectibility of Tudor watches, this particular release is absolutely worth a mention on our rundown.
Released in 2012 by Rolex’s eminent sister brand, the Black Bay is the latest underwater launch from Tudor. It bears a distinguished crystal domed covering, stark white ‘snowflake’ hands, and the kind of sleekness and rugged masculine design idiom that hints at its Rolex DNA. As for its diving credentials, the Black Bay is water resistant to 200 metres below the waves, and comes with a truly impressive 70-hour power reserve. As such, it’s no real surprise that this sister release to the Submariner is quickly making its way onto collectors’ wishlists.
Let’s end this rundown with a bonafide legend of the diving watch world, and one which combines remarkable horological engineering with an undeniably alluring visual design: The Rolex Sea-Dweller. While still not quite as iconic as its predecessor – the aforementioned Submariner – the Sea-Dweller stepped up the Rolex diving watch line in 1967 with considerable panache and a distinctive modern swagger.
Part of its self-assuredness arose from the fact that this timepiece is one for those who take their diving seriously: it resists pressure at up to four thousand feet, and boasts a double-thickness sapphire crystal and a completely unique helium valve, meticulously engineered to eradicate issues caused by decompression within the complications.
As is the case with so many of Rolex’s heritage lines, the Sea-Dweller proved enduringly popular throughout all of its later iterations. Indeed, many would claim that more recent Sea-Dwellers have even greater appeal than the vintage model, not least because the 2017 Deep Sea release featured the Rolex Calibre 3235 sports movement, which set a whole new standard for reliability, longevity and robust precision. A sleek new ceramic bezel joined the list of contemporary additions to the Sea-Dweller design sheet, offering a flawless finish that adds to its eye-catching allure.