A COMPRESSED HISTORY OF THE DIVE WATCH
The story of the dive watch began in 1883 in the Swiss town of Saint-Imier, just north of Bern. After months of research, the higher-ups at a small watchmaking company, Alcide Droz & Sons, had the bright idea of fitting a gasket into the crown of one of their pocket watches. This small tweak made a big difference: they had created the world’s first waterproof watch, dubbed the Impermeable. More importantly, they had laid the foundation for diving with a timepiece.
Following the Impermeable’s success, and with the growing popularity of wristwatches, manufacturers started mass-producing waterproof timepieces. In 1927, Rolex released the Oyster, its first sports watch, which Mercedes Gleitze wore during her swim across the English Channel that same year to demonstrate its waterproof credentials. The Oyster was followed by the Marine from Omega, which could withstand water pressure of up to 13.5 atm (198.4 pounds per square inch), and then the Multifort by Mido with the Aquadura sealing system, the world’s first waterproof, shock-resistant and automatic watch.
After the war, diving was revolutionized by the invention of the pressure regulator and improvements to compressed air tanks, allowing divers to stay under for much longer periods. The watchmakers adapted and innovated, turning their waterproof models into technical diving watches. In 1952, Frenchman Robert Maloubier was appointed by the Ministry of Defense to set up an elite unit of combat swimmers, and the company Blancpain stepped up to design the watch the frogmen would wear. The Swiss manufacturer developed its Fifty Fathom model, named for the fathoms of depth it could withstand – equivalent to 91.45 meters (300 feet). Hot on its heels, Rolex launched its first Submariner, waterproof to a depth of 100 meters, also sold under its sister brand Tudor.
Zodiac responded with its Seawolf model. In 1957, Omega released the inaugural Seamaster, which could withstand pressure up to a depth of 300 meters. This became the watch of choice for famous explorers, including Jacques-Yves Cousteau, who kitted out the team on his Precontinent II underwater habitat with it.
Soon, as non-divers began to covet these technical watches, attracted by their look and history, the growing market led to further innovations. In 1958, watchmaker JeanRichard filed a patent for an internal rotating bezel before rebranding the company Aquastar. The Benthos 500, with its O-rings, was able to resist pressure down to 500 meters. Next came two Aquastar chronographs, the Airstar and the Deepstar – one of Commander Cousteau’s favorites. Around the same time, Nivada launched its Depthomatic, the first watch fitted with a depth gauge, followed by the Depthmaster, which offered a depth rating of 1,000 meters, and then its Aviator Sea Diver multifunction chronographs. In 1967, the DOXA SUB, with its unmistakable orange dial, became the first 100-percent professional-grade diving watch that the man in the street could afford.
Toward the end of the 1960s, Comex, a Marseille-based company specializing in manned interventions and robotics in underwater environments, set up testing centers for evermore resistant watches. Years of research and a collaboration with Comex eventually bore fruit for Omega, with the launch of its iconic Ploprof in 1970. This singular watch featured a monobloc case housing a system of super-compressed gaskets that guaranteed exceptional performance. Next came the Seamaster 1000, which remained Omega’s most water-resistant watch until 2009. Countless other models would follow. It would seem that there is no end to how deeply watchmakers will dive into the making of waterproof timepieces.