Samui Wining & Dining
Not Just A Pretty Face

A diving watch can be a sought-after item, and not just because of its water resistance.

62A wristwatch may well be an essential portable timekeeping solution for everyday life, but it can also represent much more than just that basic function. In fact, you could argue that the multi-functional mobile phone, which now seems to be in the possession of everyone on the planet, has eliminated the need for such a singularly specific item.

But a watch is even more of a fashion accessory than the latest mobile phone; for a start, it’s something which is generally on show all the time, whereas with a mobile phone people will only see it when it’s in use.

And, of all the watches which carry prestige and respect from fashion victims around the world, it’s the diver’s watch which is the most sought-after.

Firstly, true diving watches have a very practical and important purpose. To be effective they have to be strong, accurate, reliable and, of course, waterproof. But, in addition to this, diving watches tend to have an elegance and fashionable quality, and are desired by those who never intend to go any deeper than the Jacuzzi or swimming pool.

There are certain characteristics that define a diving watch. It’s obviously designed for underwater diving and features, as a minimum, a water resistance greater than 10 ATM, which is the equivalent of 100 metres. A typical diver’s watch will usually have a water resistance of a depth around 200-300 metres. And modern technological advancements allow the creation of watches that can now go much deeper.

Some watches are rated in bars instead of metres. One bar is approximately the pressure exerted by 10m of water, so a rating in bars may be multiplied by 10 to be approximately equal to that based on metres. Therefore, a 20-bar watch is equivalent to a 200m watch. Some watches are rated in atmospheres (ATM), which are about 1% greater than bars, so virtually the same calculation applies.

To be a true diver’s watch, it should be made in accordance with the ‘International Organization for Standardization (ISO) 6425’, which defines test standards and features for watches suitable for diving with underwater breathing apparatus in depths of 100m or more. Watches conforming to this magic number are marked with the word DIVER’S to distinguish them from look-alike watches which are not suitable for actual scuba diving.

And a diver’s watch is not just a pretty face. The ISO 6425 rating not only tests for water resistance depth, but also demands other characteristics, such as a unidirectional bezel at every five minutes (at least) elapsed minute markings (based on the Rolex design of the 1950s); clearly distinguishable minute markings on the watch face; adequate readability at 25cm in total darkness; an indication that the watch is running in total darkness (usually a running second-hand with a luminous tip); magnetic resistance; shock resistance; chemical resistance; strap/band solidity; and the presence of an End Of Life (EOL) indicator on battery-powered watches.

The world’s first diving watch, the Omega ‘Marine’, was introduced in 1932 and most early examples were developed for military and professional needs, not for commercial distribution.

Also in the 1930s, Panerai supplied the Italian Navy with watches which were both water resistant to 200m and luminescent. Hamilton, Elgin and Waltham also made military versions during and after World War II.

In 1953, Lip-Blancpain’s ‘Fifty Fathoms’ waterproof watch was released in France and issued to the military in several countries, including the US Navy combat diver teams. This was also the watch worn by Jacques Cousteau in the underwater film ‘Le Monde du Silence’, which won the ‘Palme d’Or’ at the Cannes Film Festival in 1956.

The following year, at the ‘Basel Watch Fair’, watch-maker Rolex launched the iconic ‘Submariner’ which coincided with the development of ‘Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus’ (SCUBA). In 1961, Rolex included a skin-diver handbook with the watch, which was then available in two models: one water-resistant to 200 metres, and the other, less expensive version, to 100 metres.

This was the ultimate diver’s watch and was worn by none other than 007 himself in the first ten ‘James Bond’ movies.

Commercial deep-sea industries in the 1960s saw the need for more robust watches and this led to the introduction of the first ultra water-resistant watches, such as the Rolex ‘Sea-Dweller 2000’ and the Omega Seamaster Professional’, both capable of operating at depths of more than 600m (2,000ft). Some watches, such as the Breitling ‘Avenger Seawolf Chronograph’ even have specially-designed push pieces that can be operated at depth without allowing water to enter the case.

Today, most divers use electronic, wrist-worn dive computers; however, dive watches are still commonly used as a back-up for overcoming possible computer malfunctions. But the design style has gone on to become probably the most recognisable and copied style of watch ever produced. In fact, most modern sports watches are based on the diver’s watch format.

Diving watches have 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 can have a concealed extension deployment clasp, by which the bracelet can be appropriately extended.

And there are now extreme watches available which are either air-filled, such as the Rolex ‘Sea-Dweller DEEPSEA model 116660’, with a water resistance of 3,900m (12,800ft), and the ‘CX Swiss Military Watch 20’000 FEET’ diving watch with an official depth rating of 6,000m (20,000ft) which, in 2009, represented the most water-resistant (mechanical) watch in production. Other extreme divers’ watches are liquid-filled, such as the Sinn ‘UX (EZM 2B)’, whose case is certified for 12,000m (39,000ft).

If you’re a diver, then most manufacturers recommend that the watch is pressure tested by an authorized facility annually, or at least every two to three years, and have the seals replaced at the same time. It’s also recommend that the watch is rinsed in fresh water after use in seawater, and 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 watches working.

Diving watches are now offered by all serious watchmakers and, in addition to their functionality, many are regarded as fine mechanical watch specimens and must-have fashion items. So you’re just as likely to see an exceptional diver’s watch on a movie or sports star as you are on a professional diver. And on Samui you could see one on both.

 


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