Nov 172011
 

History

Early dive watches were often developed in response to military and professional needs. Omega SA is credited as the creator of the world’s first diving watch, the Omega „Marine“, introduced in 1932.

As supplier to the Royal Italian Navy, Panerai offered underwater timepieces in the 1930s, which were not only waterproof at 650 feet (200 m), but luminescent as well.

In addition, a large number of „canteen“ style dive watches by Hamilton, Elgin or Waltham were made to military specification during and after World War II. However, these watches were made in small numbers, and were not intended for large-scale commercial distribution. Today, interest in these watches is limited to collectors.

In 1953 Lip-Blancpain’s Fifty Fathoms waterproof watch came on the market in France.

Various models were issued by Blancpain in small quantities to the military in several countries, including US and French Navy combat diver teams. The fifty fathoms was worn by Jacques Cousteau and his divers during the underwater film „Le monde du silence“, which won the Palme d’or at the Cannes film festival in 1956, and in the US when TV star Lloyd Bridges wore a Blancpain Fifty Fathoms dive watch in a photo that appeared on the cover of the February 1962 edition of Skin Diver Magazine.

The Rolex Submariner was introduced at the Basel Watch Fair in 1954 which coincided with the development of self-contained underwater breathing apparatus, known as scuba. In 1961 Rolex began to include a skindiver handbook with the Submariner, then available in two models, one water resistant to 200 meters/660 feet, the other, less expensive version, to 100 meters/330 feet.

It was the choice of watch for the character of 007 in the first ten James Bond films, causing the „Sub“ to achieve an iconic status.

In 1959, the United States Navy Experimental Diving Unit evaluated five diving watches that included the Bulova US Navy Submersible Wrist Watch, Enicar Sherpa Diver 600, Enicar Seapearl 600, Blancpain Fifty Fathoms,and the Rolex Oyster Perpetual.

During the 1960s commercial work in the oceans and seas created professional diving organisations that needed more robust watches designed for diving operations at greater depths. This led to the development of the first ‚ultra water resistant‘ watches like the Rolex Sea-Dweller 2000 (2000 ft = 610 m) that became available in 1967 and was produced in several variations and the Omega Seamaster Professional 600m/2000ft also known as the „Omega PloProf“ (Plongeur Professionel) that came available in 1970 and was produced in several variations.

The vast majority of divers now use electronic, wrist-worn dive computers. Diving watches are however still commonly used by divers as a back-up instrument for overcoming dive computer malfunctions.

In 1983, the US Navy Experimental Diving Unit evaluated several digital watches for use by US Navy divers.

Many contemporary sports watches owe their design to diving watches.

Characteristics

Seiko 7002-7020 Diver’s 200 m on a 4-ring NATO style strap made of ballistic nylon.

Citizen Hyper Aqualand ProMaster MA9004-21E digital Diver’s 200 m (metric MS Windows version) on a rubber strap.

Many companies offer highly functional diving watches. Whilst diving watches are primarily tool watches, some companies offer models that can in addition to this be regarded by some as jewellery or fine mechanical devices. Diving watches can be analog or digital.

ISO 6425 standard for diving watches

The standards and features for diver’s watches are regulated by the International Organization for Standardization in the ISO 6425 standard. Besides water resistance standards to a minimum of 100 meter depth rating ISO 6425 also provides minimum requirements for mechanical diver’s watches (quartz and digital watches have slightly differing readability requirements) such as:

The presence of a unidirectional bezel with at least at every 5 minutes elapsed minute markings and a pre-select marker to mark a specific minute marking.

The presence of clearly distinguishable minute markings on the watch face.

Adequate readability/visibility at 25 cm (9.84 in) in total darkness.

The presence of an indication that the watch is running in total darkness. This is usually indicated by a running second hand with a luminous tip or tail.

Magnetic resistance. This is tested by 3 expositions to a direct current magnetic field of 4,800 A/m. The watch must keep its accuracy to +/- 30 seconds/day as measured before the test despite the magnetic field.

Shock resistance. This is tested by two shocks (one on the 9 o’clock side, and one to the crystal and perpendicular to the face). The shock is usually delivered by a hard plastic hammer mounted as a pendulum, so as to deliver a measured amount of energy, specifically, a 3 kg hammer with an impact velocity of 4.43 m/s. The change in rate allowed is +/- 60 seconds/day.

Chemical resistance. This is tested by immersion in a 30 g/l NaCl solution for 24 hours to test its rust resistance. This test water solution has a salinity comparable to normal seawater.

Strap/band solidity. This is tested by applying a force of 200 N (45 lbf) to each springbar (or attaching point) in opposite directions with no damage to the watch of attachment point.

The presence of an End Of Life (EOL) indicator on battery powered watches.

Watch case

The watch cases of diving watches must be adequately water(pressure) resistant and be able to endure the galvanic corrosiveness of seawater, so the cases are generally made out of materials like stainless steel, titanium, ceramics and synthetic resins or plastics. The case must also provide an adequate degree of protection against external magnetic influences and shocks, though diver’s watches do not have to be able to endure strong magnetic fields and shocks. To make mechanical watch movements themselves shock resistant various shock protection systems can be used.

Elapsed time controller

Omega Seamaster 300 M Diver Chronometer. The second „crown“ (at 10 o’clock) is a helium release valve.

Analog diving watches will often feature a rotating bezel, that allows for an easier reading of elapsed time from a specific point. This is used to compute the length of a dive. (See Tachymeter.) The bezel can be turned so the wearer can align the zero on the bezel with the watch’s seconds or minute hand. After a period of time passes, the elapsed time can be read off the bezel. This saves the wearer having to perform the subtraction that would be necessary if the watch’s regular dial was used. It is also much easier to read this larger dial while underwater. On diving watches the bezel is „unidirectional“, i.e. it contains a ratchet so it can only be turned anti-clockwise to increase the apparent elapsed time. If the bezel could be turned the other way this could suggest to a diver that the elapsed time was shorter than the truth, which could be highly dangerous. Some diving watch models feature a lockable bezel to minimize the chance of unintentional bezel operation under water. Digital dive watches usually perform this function by use of a standard stop watch function. Digital dive watches may also feature a depth gauge and logging features.

Bezel markings

Most contemporary dive watches with conspicuous 15 or 20 minute markings on their bezels, are the result of copying a Rolex bezel design of the 1950s. Back then divers typically planned a dive to a certain maximum depth based on now obsolete US Navy dive tables, and dove according to the planned dive profile. If the dive profile allowed a bottom time of 35 minutes the diver, upon entering the water, would set the marker on the bezel, 35 minutes ahead of the minute hand. The diver calculated this with the 60 – bottom time formulae (60 – 35 = 25, for 35 minutes bottom time the diver would align the 25 minute bezel-mark with the minute hand). Once the minute hand reached the main-marker on the bezel the diver would begin his ascent to the surface. The 15 or 20 minute scale helped with timing the ascent and whatever safety stop the diver deemed necessary. For contemporary diving methods the 15 or 20 minute „count-down“ bezel is quite antiquated.

Crystal

Diving watches have relatively thick watch crystals. Sometimes domed crystals are used to enhance the pressure resistance of the watch. The typical materials used for crystals are acrylic glass, hardened glass and (synthetic) sapphire which all have their pros and cons. Acrylic glass is very break resistant but can easily be scratched. It has however the advantage small scratches can be buffed out with polishing compounds. Hardened glass is more scratch resistant than acrylic glass and less brittle than sapphire. Sapphire is very scratch resistant but less shatter proof than the other crystal options. Anti-reflective coatings are generally applied on sapphire crystals to enhance the legibility of the watch. Some manufacturers use sapphire/hardened glass laminate crystals, where the scratch resistance sapphire is combined with the better shatter resistance of hardened glass. Watch crystals can also be applied as display backs to view the watch movement. Display backs are however a rare feature on diving watches.

Crown

Citizen Promaster Eco-Drive AP0440-14F Diver’s 200 m.

Analog diving watches must have a water resistant crown. Often the crown has to be unscrewed to set or adjust the time and date and afterwards retightened to restore the water resistance of the watch and minimize the chance of unintentional operation under water. There are also watch models where a locking handle, separate knob or an extra crown cover has to be manipulated before the crown can be operated. There are however models that have crowns that are operated like the crowns of non diver’s analog watches. Screw down or otherwise locking crowns and traditionally operated water resistant crowns can not be operated under water.

Pushers

Digital and some analog chronograph diving watches – such as the Breitling Avenger Seawolf Chronograph or Sinn U1000 – have specially-designed push pieces that can be operated at depth without allowing water to enter the case.

Helium release valve

Some diving watches intended for saturation diving at great depths are fitted with a helium or mixed breathing gas release or escape valve to prevent the crystal from being blown off by a pressure build up caused by helium that has seeped into the watch in helium enriched environments as the watch and diver adjust to normal atmospheric conditions. Other helium safe/for mixed-gas rated diving watches can withstand the helium used in certain diving situations by using gaskets that simply do not allow helium gas to enter the watch case in a harmful way in the first place.

Strap/bracelet

Stainless steel bracelet extension deployment clasp.

Most diving watches feature a rubber, silicone rubber or polyurethane watchstrap or a metal bracelet of adequate length to facilitate wearing the watch over a diving suit sleeve. For this bracelets often have a (concealed) Divers extension deployment clasp by which the bracelet can be appropriately extended. One piece (NATO style) nylon fabric straps that slide under the watch case through both springbars are used to minimize the chance of losing the watch due to a springbar failure.

Legibility

Lume applied on a diver watch to make it readable in low light conditions.

The dials and markers on the watch face and bezel have to be legible under water and in low light conditions. An indication that the watch is running in total darkness also has to be present. For easy legibility most diving watches have high contrasting, non-cluttered dials and markers with a large, easily identifiable minute hand. The markers for 3, 6, 9 and (especially) 12 o’clock on the watch face and the zero marker on the bezel of analogue diver’s watches are usually conspicuously styled to prevent disorientation induced read out errors. For low light conditions luminous phosphorescent non-toxic strontium aluminate based lume pigments marketed under brand names like Super-LumiNova or NoctiLumina and tritium based self-powered lighting devices called „gaseous tritium light source“ (GTLS) is applied on the dials and markers. On digital diving watches lightened displays are used for low light conditions legibility.

Power reserve indicator

A diving watch with an electric battery powered movement must have an End Of Life (EOL) indicator, usually in the form of a two or four second jump of the second hand or a warning message on a digital display to safeguard against insufficient power reserve during underwater activities. Some electric and mechanical powered movement models have power reserve indicators that show the current power status of the watch. Mechanical movements should be wound or in case of automatic movements given enough motion before a dive.

Water resistance

Omega Seamaster 300 M Chrono Diver Chronometer

The International Organization for Standardization issued a standard for water resistant watches which also prohibits the term waterproof to be used with watches, which many countries have adopted.

Water resistance is achieved by the gaskets which forms a watertight seal, used in conjunction with a sealant applied on the case to help keep water out. The material of the case must also be tested in order to pass as water resistant.

None of the tests defined by ISO 2281 for the Water Resistant mark are suitable to qualify a watch for scuba diving. Such watches are designed for everyday life and must be water resistant during exercises such as swimming. They can be worn in different temperature and pressure conditions but are under no circumstances designed for scuba diving.

The standards for diving watches are regulated by the ISO 6425 international standard. The watches are tested in static or still water under 125% of the rated (water)pressure, thus a watch with a 200 meter rating will be water resistant if it is stationary and under 250 meters of static water. The testing of the water resistance is fundamentally different from non-dive watches, because every watch has to be fully tested.

ISO 6425 water resistance testing of a diver’s watch consists of:

Immersion of the watch in 30 cm of water for 50 hours.

Immersion of the watch in water under 125% of the rated pressure with a force of 5 N perpendicular to the crown and pusher buttons (if any) for 10 minutes.

Immersion of the watch in 30 cm of water at the following temperatures for 5 minutes each, 40C, 5C and 40C again, with the transition between temperatures not to exceed 1 minute. No evidence of water intrusion or condensation is allowed.

Immersion of the watch in a suitable pressure vessel and subjecting it to 125% of the rated pressure for 2 hours. The pressure must be applied within 1 minute. Subsequently the overpressure shall be reduced to 0.3 bar within 1 minute and maintained at this pressure for 1 hour. No evidence of water intrusion or condensation is allowed.

Seiko SBBN007 Professional Diver’s 300 m for mixed-gas diving.

For mixed-gas diving the watch has to be immersed in a suitable pressure vessel and subjecting it to 125% of the rated pressure for 15 days in a (helium enriched) breathing gas mix. Subsequently the overpressure shall be reduced to normal pressure within 3 minutes. No evidence of water intrusion, condensation or problems caused by internal overpressure are allowed.

An optional test originating from the ISO 2281 tests (but not required for obtaining ISO 6425 approval) is exposing the watch to an overpressure of 2 bar, no more than 50 g/min of air is allowed to get inside the case.

Except the thermal shock resistance test all further ISO 6425 testing should be conducted at 18 to 25C temperature. The required 125% test pressure provides a safety margin against dynamic pressure increase events, water density variations (seawater is 2 to 5% denser than freshwater) and degradation of the seals.

Movement induced dynamic pressure increase is sometimes the subject of urban myths and marketing arguments for diver’s watches with high water resistance ratings. When a diver makes a fast swimming movement of 10 m/s (32.8 ft/s) (the best competitive swimmers and finswimmers can not nearly swim that fast) physics dictates that the diver generates a dynamic pressure of 0.5 bar or the equivalent of 5 meters of additional water depth.

Water resistance classification

Watches are classified by their degree of water resistance, which roughly translates to the following (1 meter = 3.2808398950131 feet):

Water resistance rating

Suitability

Remarks

Water Resistant or 50 m

Suitable for swimming, no snorkeling water related work, and fishing.

NOT suitable for diving.

Water Resistant 100 m

Suitable for recreational surfing, swimming, snorkeling, sailing and water sports.

NOT suitable for diving.

Water Resistant 200 m

Suitable for professional marine activity and serious surface water sports.

NOT suitable for diving.

Diver’s 100 m

Minimum ISO standard (ISO 6425) for scuba diving at depths NOT suitable for saturation diving.

Diver’s 100 m and 150 m watches are generally old(er) watches.

Diver’s 200 m or 300 m

Suitable for scuba diving at depths NOT suitable for saturation diving.

Typical ratings for contemporary diver’s watches.

Diver’s 300+ m for mixed-gas diving

Suitable for saturation diving (helium enriched environment).

Watches designed for mixed-gas diving will have the DIVER WATCH L M FOR MIXED-GAS DIVING additional marking to point this out.

Note: The depth specified on the watch dial or case represents the results of tests done in the lab, not in the ocean.

Some watches are rated in bars instead of meters. Since 1 bar is the approximately the pressure exerted by 10 m of water, a rating in bars may be multiplied by 10 to be approximately equal to that based on meters. Therefore, a 20 bar watch is equivalent to a 200 meter watch. Some watches are rated in atmospheres (atm), which are about 1% greater than bars. In the United Kingdom, scuba divers and others often use the word atmosphere interchangeably with bar (1 atm = 1.01325 bar, or 101,325 Pa).

Watches designed for extreme water resistance

Rolex Sea-Dweller DEEPSEA model 116660, with a water resistance of 3,900 m (12,800 ft).

The design and actual availability of divers‘ watches certified for more than 1,000 metres (3,300 ft) is not explicable solely by practical diving needs. The diving depth record for off-shore (saturation) diving was achieved in 1988 by a team of professional divers of the Comex S.A. industrial deep-sea diving company performing pipe line connection exercises at a depth of 534 meters of seawater (msw) (1752 ft) in the Mediterranean Sea. In 1992 a Comex diver achieved a record of 701 msw (2300 ft) in an on-shore hyperbaric chamber. A hydrogen-helium-oxygen gas mixture was used as breathing gas. The watches used during this scientific record dives were Rolex Sea-Dwellers with a 1,220 m (4,000 ft) depth rating and these feats were used in advertising. The complexity, medical problems and accompanying high costs of professional saturation diving to extreme depths and the development of deep water atmospheric diving suits and remotely operated underwater vehicles in offshore oilfield drilling and production effectively nixed the need for ever deeper non-atmospheric manned intervention in the ocean.

Air filled watches

In 1960 a Rolex Deep Sea Special prototype diving watch attached to the hull of the bathyscaphe Trieste reached a record depth of 10,916 msw (35,813 ft) during a descend to the bottom of the Challenger Deep, the deepest surveyed point in the oceans. The watch survived and tested as having functioned normally during its descent and ascent. The Deep Sea Special was a technology demonstration and marketing project, and the watch never went into production.

At the BaselWorld watch and jewellery show 2009, the CX Swiss Military Watch 20’000 FEET diving watch with an official depth rating of 6,000 m (20,000 ft) was introduced. This watch represented in its launch year, 2009, the most water resistant (mechanical) watch in production. For obtaining this official depth rating the water resistance is tested to a depth of 7,500 m (25,000 ft) to offer the 25% safety reserve required by the ISO 6425 divers‘ watches standard.

Normal surface air filled watch cases and crystals designed for extreme depths must be dimensionally large to cope with the encountered water pressure. To obtain its water resistance the CX Swiss Military Watch 20’000 FEET solid titanium watch case has a diameter of 46.0 mm, thickness of 28.5 mm (domed crystal thickness 10 mm) and the case and bracelet weigh 265 g.

Liquid filled watches

The cases of some diving watches designed for extreme depths are filled with silicone oil or fluorinated oil exploiting the relative incompressibility of liquids. An example of these watches is the Sinn UX (EZM 2B), whose case is certified by Germanischer Lloyd for 12,000 m (39,000 ft), which is deeper than the Challenger Deep. However, the quartz controlled movement is only certified for 5,000 m (16,000 ft). At extreme liquid pressures, the metal tube or the glass vial that shields the movement’s quartz crystal oscillator in a quartz movement will eventually implode and the movement will stop functioning. The watch battery is another critical part that might fail under extreme liquid pressure. This technology only works with quartz movements as a mechanical movement does not work properly in the oil filled case. The liquid filling improves the watch face legibility under water, due to reduced refractive index differences between the watch crystal and its adjacent media. To obtain its water resistance the Sinn UX (EZM 2B) stainless steel watch case has a diameter of 44.0 mm, thickness of 13.3 mm and the case and bracelet weigh 105 g. This is dimensionally modest compared to air filled diving watches designed for extreme depths.

Maintenance

Most manufacturers recommend divers to have their diving watch pressure tested by an authorized service and repair facility annually or every two to three years and have the seals replaced. Besides that, simple maintenance by the owner is also important. Most manufacturers recommend rinsing the watch in fresh water after use in seawater, but leaving a diver’s watch in fresh water overnight is a good method to protect the watch from corrosion and to keep the crown, buttons and pressure sensors on digital ones working. Divers also have to inspect their watch and wrist band for defects before every dive and especially in case it came into contact with gasoline or strong chemicals, powerful magnetic fields or was banged against something hard during use.

See also

Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Diving watch

Underwater diving

Watch

References

^ De Burton, Simon; Negretti, Giampiero. Panerai: History. Flammarion-Pere Castor. http://www.amazon.com/Panerai-History-Simon-Burton/dp/2080305417. Retrieved 2009-02-22. 

^ „Submariner historical benchmarks“. Rolex. http://www.rolex.com/en/. Retrieved 2009-02-22. 

^ DrStrong. „The Blancpain Fifty Fathoms“. FiftyFathoms.net. http://www.fiftyfathoms.net/FiftyFathoms/FiftyFathoms.html. Retrieved 2009-02-22. 

^ a b Balfour, Michael (2005-06-09). „The diving watch: Licensed to thrill – down to 2,500 meters“. Financial Times. http://search.ft.com/nonFtArticle?id=050609010555. Retrieved 2009-02-22. 

^ Prickett, CM; Searle, Willard F, Jr (1959). „Miscellaneous Comments on Several Submersible Wrist Watches“. Navy Experimental Diving Unit Technical Report NEDU-Evaluation-24-59. http://archive.rubicon-foundation.org/3833. Retrieved 2009-02-22. 

^ „Rolex „Double Red“ Sea-Dweller Submariner 2000″. London Watch Company. http://www.londonwatchcompany.com/watches/Rolex-sea-dweller2.htm. Retrieved 2009-02-22. 

^ „Omega Seamaster 600 PloProf“. DeskDivers. http://www.deskdivers.com/Site/PloProf.html. Retrieved 2009-02-22. 

^ Ruegger, Roger (2003-12-01). „Under Pressure Eine Zeitreise: Die Highlights auf dem Weg nach unten (German)“. Dive (into) Watches. http://www.rruegger.ch/dive_watch_history.htm. 

^ Ploprof 600m and 1200m anyone ? part 1

^ Part II: Omega Ploprof 600 M and 1200 M comparison

^ Morrison, ES (1983). „Evaluation of Digital Diving Watches.“. Navy Experimental Diving Unit Technical Report NEDU-Evaluation-2-83. http://archive.rubicon-foundation.org/4848. Retrieved 2009-02-22. 

^ Manual of a 300 m mixed gas diver’s watch dealing with many diving watch characteristics.

^ Bezel markings explanation at Watchuseek Dive Watches Forum

^ The New Breitling Avenger Seawolf Chronograph

^ The Sinn U1000

^ Manual of a 1,000 m mixed gas diver’s watch dealing with a Helium Escape Valve and other diving watch characteristics.

^ NATO wrist watch strap requirements by the UK MOD

^ Europa Star Online article „Watch Industry Questions and Answers: Water-Resistance“. Europa Star. VNU eMedia Inc. http://www.europastar.com/europastar/watch_tech/waterresistance.jsp Europa Star Online article. Retrieved 2007-01-17. 

^ „Frequently Asked Questions – About Seiko & Seiko Timepieces“. Seiko Corporation. http://www.seikousa.com. Retrieved 2007-01-17. 

^ Europa Star Online article „Watch Industry Questions and Answers: Water-Resistance“. Europa Star. VNU eMedia Inc. http://www.europastar.com/europastar/watch_tech/waterresistance.jsp Europa Star Online article. Retrieved 2007-01-17. 

^ Comex S.A. HYDRA 8 and HYDRA 10 test projects

^ DEEP-DIVING-EXPERIMENTS

^ COMEX Watches by Guill@ume and Delgado

^ Rolex Deep Sea Special Prototype

^ The Deep Sea Special and the Display Models

^ 20000 FEET by CX Swiss Military Watch: The ultimate diving watch

^ CX Swiss Military Watch 20’000 FEET

^ Bell & Ross Hydromax 11000 m technical specifications

^ Extreme Dive Watches from TechnoMarine, Bell & Ross, MTM, and Sinn

^ The Sinn Einsatzzeitmesser 2 (EZM2)

^ Case and movement certification for the Sinn UX (EZM 2B) liquid filled watch (German)

^ Case and movement certification for Liquid filled Sinn watches (German)

^ Operating, maintenance and precautions instructions for a diver’s watch.

External links

Dive watch reviews and images by www.watchreport.com

Licensed to Dive (nine divers watches comparative test) by Martina Richter – WatchTime October 2007

DeskDivers – In Depth Dive Watch reviews fully illustrated

A Journey in Time. The remarkable story of Seiko p. 85 – p. 88

Image collection of diving watches sorted by brand (Watchuseek Dive Watches Forum Images sub forum)

Categories: Diving equipment | Watches | Horology

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