Dive Watches: Our Guide Will Help You Make a Smart Choice

solar powered dive watch with chronograph and rubber strapMuch like the aviator watch, dive watches are designed with specific uses in mind. If you spend a lot of time in, on, or around the water, then you’re going to want one of these.

If you’re an avid diver I don’t need to tell you there are plenty of things you need to keep in mind. Your depth, your dive time, and how much air you have left in your tank are three of the most crucial elements to any successful day underwater.

I’ve reviewed and compiled a list of the best watches on the market to help you decide which one is right for you. Today’s watches have a lot of advanced features and they’ve definitely come along way over the past 20 years. The following table lists my recommendations along with some basic stats. Be sure to click on the links to read my full reviews.

Comparison Guide

Included in the below table are the follow 7 attributes:

  • Picture
  • Watch
  • Material
  • Band
  • Face
  • Water Resistance Rating
  • Overall Rating out of 5
ImageWatchMaterialBandFaceWater ResistantOverall Rating Out of 5
water resistant timepiece to over 300 metersCitizen Men's BJ8050-08E Eco-DriveStainless SteelRubberMineral Glass300m4.6
Invicta Men's 4695 dive watchInvicta 4695Ion Plated Stainless SteelIon Plated Stainless SteelSapphire500m4.3
solar powered dive watch with chronograph and rubber strapSeiko Men's SSC021Stainless SteelRubberHardlex200m4.5
image of the Swiss made 500m dive watch with mechanical powerVictorinox Dive MasterStainless SteelRubberSapphire500m5
analog diver watch with illuminated handsSeiko SKX173Stainless SteelPolyurethaneHardlex200m4.1
all black luminox dive watchLuminox 3001 Navy SealPolyurethanePolyurethaneMineral Glass200m3.6
white face dive watch with sub dialsCasio Men's AMW330-7AVStainless SteelResinMineral Glass100m4.4
image of the momentum Mark II 500m dive watchMomentum Mark IIStainless SteelRubberSapphire500m4.5
image of the wrist armor Marine analog diverWrist Armor Marine WA114Stainless SteelSiliconCrystal200m4.9
white face dive watch with sub dialsCasio Men's AMW320R-1EVStainless SteelResinMineral Glass100m3.9
front view of the Invivta 6981 diver with analog face and sub dialsInvicta Men’s 6981Stainless SteelPolyurethaneMineral Glass100m4.5
Bulova 96B156 perfectionist diver with analog face and stainless steel caseBulova 96B156 PerfectionistStainless SteelStainless SteelMineral Glass300m4.7
Citizen BJ2117-01E front view with chonometerCitizen Men’s BJ2117-01ETwo-Tone Stainless SteelRubberMineral Glass200m4.3

Why You Need a Dive Computer and Watch

Most guys bring along a dive computer to keep track of these very important scuba diver with analog all black dive watchpieces of data, but a watch is not only an excellent way to tell time, but it’s also a handy dandy back-up right there on your wrist, in case your primary system fails.

Whether you have the computer with you or not, a dive watch can (and should) track your dive time almost exclusively anyway. It’s extremely critical that you’re aware of how long you’ve been underwater, and at what depth, so you know if you need to slow down your ascent for enough time to decompress before you reach the surface.

All good divers know, the more time you spend taking in compressed air, the more nitrogen gets into your blood stream and if you don’t decompress before you get back to the top, you risk getting the bends, which is extremely painful and can be deadly.

For short, shallow dives, your body is able to release all the excess nitrogen without any problems. For longer, deeper dives, you need to take periodic breaks on your way back up to allow your body time to remove the excess nitrogen and prevent the bends.

This is why a good, reliable watch is one of your most valuable pieces of equipment when you’re diving.

 

What’s So Special About Dive Watches?

Since these watches are designed for underwater use, there are seven things you need to take note of when you’re doing your homework:

  • Water Resistance/Dive Depth
  • Case Material
  • Face
  • Band
  • Analog or Digital
  • Lighting
  • Misc Features

Manufacturers put great time and consideration into crafting each of their time pieces with these factors in mind and the more precise each one is, the better your watch will be. That doesn’t mean you need to spend a fortune on it either. Let’s take a look at the basics and how they figure into the quality of your wristwatch.

Water Resistance and Dive Rating

water resistant timepiece to over 300 metersWater resistance is one of those terms that’s confusing to a lot of people, and for good reason. A watch that’s rated as being water resistant to 50 meters is really only suitable for use in a swimming pool even though most pools are no more than 3 meters deep.

That’s because there is a difference between water resistance and a watch’s ability to handle water pressure.

When a watch is rated for water resistance it goes through a battery of tests, it gets submerged in water at specific depths for a duration of time, the effects of the water temperature on the watch are tested, the moving parts are used while it’s fully immersed.

All of these contribute to the eventual water resistance rating it’s given as the watch is inspected for any seepage and/or damage that was sustained as a result of the tests. Sounds pretty simple.

Depth Rating Differs from Water Resistance

But then you also have a depth rating. This is based solely on how much water pressure the watch can withstand. I don’t know about you, but when I go underwater, I don’t merely stay in one place. The depth rating also takes into account all the movement the watch will endure when you’re moving through the water, like when you’re swimming or when you jump off a diving board.

watch with large face and rubber wrist bandThere’s a natural increase in pressure against the watch and a depth rating takes all of this into consideration. So if you were to dive into a pool the water pressure against the watch might be comparable to submerging it in 30 meters of still water. If you’re swimming at a depth of 10 meters your movements might be enough to produce 75 meters of water pressure.

So it’s real important to know the difference between a water resistance rating and a dive depth rating. Watches suitable for scuba diving or other deep diving should have a dive rating and not a water resistance rating.

The testing for dive depth is more advanced and includes additional requirements like more extreme temperature testing, whether or not the face is visible in pitch black conditions, magnetic resistance, shock resistance, etc.

I put together the following table to help you determine the rating that’s best for you.

Rating Best Suited For
30m Everyday use. This watch cannot be submerged and is not suitable for swimming or diving.
30-100m Shallow water activities like swimming, surfing, or rafting. Do not submerge a watch rated at less than 100m for prolonged periods.
100-200m Recreational water sports like snorkeling and skin diving.
200-300m Amateur scuba diving
300m+ Saturation or mixed gas diving

And note that the term is “water resistant” and not “water proof“. No watch is rated as being fully waterproof and all are susceptible to small leaks when submerged for longer or deeper than their rating recommends.

Other Features to Know About

As important as water resistance and depth rating are there are a number of other important features you need to be aware of before choosing a watch. Keep reading to help narrow down your search.

Choose the Right Watch Case

diver watch with analog and digital faceThe first thing you want to make damn sure of, is that your watch won’t corrode or rust from being underwater all the time. So you’ll find a variety of materials used in the cases, but stainless steel or a similar alloy are the most common choices of manufacturers, since they resist corrosion and wont be affected by the damaging properties of salt water.

These metals are also built to withstand the pressure of being submerged, so you may notice they’re thicker and heavier than other watch cases you may be used to wearing.

Recently, some companies have started making cases using ceramic and plastic. These materials are light and resilient but the jury is still out when it comes to long-term durability

An Easy to Read Face is a Must

You have three options when it comes to choosing a face material. Here they are from least expensive to most expensive:

  • Acrylic Glass acts more like a plastic than a glass. It scratches easily but is extremely durable. It’s more likely to bend than shatter making it a good budget option for a dive watch. Also, if any scratches make it hard to read they can be buffed out our the face can be replaced fairly inexpensively.
  • Hardened Glass is the most common face material. It’s more expensive that acrylic but much cheaper than synthetic sapphire. It’s scratch resistant and has enough give making it difficult to shatter, especially underwater. It’s a good choice for intermediate level scuba divers.
  • Synthetic Sapphire is the most scratch resistant watch face material available. It is extremely hard but it’s inability to flex can cause it to shatter more easily than glass.  If you’re a serious deep sea diver then sapphire is your only option.

solar powered dive watch with chronograph and rubber strapFinding the Right Band

If it ain’t comfortable, it ain’t worth wearing, and since this thing is going to be strapped to your wrist for any length of time, you want to make sure it’s going to feel fine.

Pinching and pulling your skin are two things you do not need from your watch band. Here are the different band types and materials you should consider:

  • Rubber/Silicone/Plastic: Simple and reliable. They’re also the cheapest. They’re waterproof, flexible, easy to clean, and easy to replace. I’ve been using rubber straps for years and have absolutely to complaints.
  • Canvass: Stronger than rubber and easy to adjust, canvass is also a decent option. The only real problem is that they take forever to dry which can irritate your wrist if you continue wearing it long after you’re out of the water.
  • Stainless Steel: No band material is stronger making this perfect choice for anyone interested in serious, deep diving. Adjusting the length is more difficult than with a rubber or canvass band (you’ll need to remove or add links, which is something only a jeweler or watch repair technician can do in some cases) but once you get it the way you like it you’ll never need to touch it again.
  • Leather: Absolutely not. In no way should you ever buy a leather band for an underwater watch. Once or twice in the water and, almost immediately, it will become discolored and smell bad. Like unsanitary locker room bad. Stick to the other options above.

Analog or Digital – Which is the Best Option?

all black luminox dive watchThis one is really about personal preference these days. It used to be that all the serious, high-quality submersible watches were exclusively analog. Divers were worried about trusting their safety to an electronic device that looked more fragile than an analogue watch.

That mindset has really changed over the past decade with the introduction of a number of quality and well crafted digital time pieces, as they can do all of the things a dive computer can do, and in some cases, record a whole load of extra stats from your trip as well.

The old-school guys tracked dive length with the bezel of their analog watch. Just line up the bezel arrow and the minute hand to keep track of your time underwater and that was that. But times have changed, technology has changed and digital watches are just as reliable and easy to use as the old standby of analog.

Lighting

As a condition of being classified as a dive watch the face needs to be illuminated and visible at all times. The diver needs to know that it’s still working.

For analog watches this is usually accomplished by illuminating the 3, 6, 9, and 12 along with the minute and second hands and the zero marker on the bezel. For digital watches the face will be constantly illuminated while you’re submerged.

Cleaning and Maintenance

Good maintenance of your watch is like caring for any delicate piece of equipment. If you take care of it, it will take care of you. So after each salt water dive, be sure to clean off that salt with a freshwater bath, in order to prevent corrosion or rusting.

You’ll also want to have the seals tested an replaced every two years by a certified dive watch repair specialist.

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