Splish, Splash

Dis­cover what your watch’s wa­ter­proof rat­ing re­ally means and the me­chan­i­cal won­ders be­hind it

DA MAN - Caliber - - CONTENTS - Op­po­site page The Longines Leg­end Diver Watch

The vo­cab­u­lary of watches can some­times sound quite con­fus­ing. But while few peo­ple ac­tu­ally know what a “col­umn wheel” is or what “equa­tion of time” means, those terms ac­tu­ally have ex­act def­i­ni­tions. But, the seem­ingly sim­ple “wa­ter­proof”— and its close cousin “wa­ter-re­sis­tant”—has caused quite a lot of con­fu­sion.

If it says “30M” on the dial of the watch, then you can take the watch div­ing as long as you don’t go deeper than 30 me­ters, right? No? Then how about just swim­ming in the pool? Also no? What does “30M” mean, then? Well, read on...

Depth Rat­ings

Be­fore we go into the nitty gritty de­tails about how wa­ter­proof­ing—or wa­ter re­sis­tance—works in watches, per­haps we can start with a brief look into what the typ­i­cal depth rat­ings ac­tu­ally mean.

No rat­ing

If a watch doesn’t say “wa­ter re­sis­tant” or has a depth rat­ing, then it should never come into con­tact with wa­ter. End of story.

30M/3 at­mos­phere/3 bar

A watch with “30 me­ters” in­scribed on its dial can sur­vive be­ing splashed when you, say, wash your hands.

50M/5 at­mos­phere/5 bar

This is the kind of watch that you can wear in the swim­ming pool. Still, it’s best taken off be­fore you dive into the wa­ter. And don’t even think about do­ing any ac­tual div­ing while wear­ing it.

100M/10 at­mos­phere/10 bar

Fi­nally, some­thing that you can take while snor­kel­ing or swim­ming for ex­tended pe­ri­ods. Still, this is not a diver’s watch.

200M/20 at­mos­phere/20 bar

Now we’re start­ing to brush the sur­face of diver’s watch ter­ri­tory. Might sur­vive a shal­low dive us­ing scuba gear, but bet­ter not risk it.

300M/30 at­mos­phere/30 bar

While not tech­ni­cally a diver’s watch, these usu­ally have an es­cape valve that makes it safe for ac­tual div­ing.

Diver’s Watch/ISO 6425

If you find the in­scrip­tion “Diver’s Watch” or “ISO 6425” on a watch, then it’s cer­ti­fied for deep div­ing. If there’s no spec­i­fied depth be­hind it, this usu­ally means that the watch can han­dle depths of up to 100 me­ters. An ac­tual diver’s watch will usu­ally fea­ture in­creased tol­er­ance against salt wa­ter, mag­netic fields and shock as well.

Now that we’ve got the rat­ings cleared up, let’s con­tinue to the “how” and “why” parts.

in the­oRy...

A lot of peo­ple, when re­al­iz­ing that a watch that says “Wa­ter Re­sis­tant 30 me­ters” can’t even sur­vive a plunge of three me­ters might feel that the la­bel­ing is mis­lead­ing. And, for sure, it can be quite con­fus­ing. That be­ing said, you have to know that there are ac­tual stan­dards govern­ing these rat­ings.

First and fore­most is the use of the term “wa­ter-re­sis­tant” as op­posed to “wa­ter­proof.” Log­i­cally speak­ing, the rea­son­ing be­hind this is that no watch can truly be claimed to be to­tally im­per­vi­ous to the ef­fects of wa­ter. That is, of course, only con­cep­tu­ally pos­si­ble. Se­cond, there is a le­gal prece­dence to this as well, namely a ban on the term “wa­ter­proof ” by the U.S. Fed­eral Trade Com­mis­sion or FTC dat­ing back from the ’60s. The FTC pointed out that “the word ‘proof ’ con­notes a mea­sure of ab­so­lute pro­tec­tion that un­for­tu­nately does not ex­ist with re­spect to

“an ac­tual DiveR’s watch will usu­ally fea­tuRe in­cReaseD tol­eR­ance against salt wa­teR, mag­netic fielDs anD shock as well”

watches, es­pe­cially over pro­longed pe­ri­ods of time.” It should per­haps come as no sur­prise that this reg­u­la­tion came about af­ter sev­eral law­suits against watch­mak­ers.

To­day, watch­mak­ers fol­low a set of stan­dards. There’s ISO 22810:2010 for watches that are merely wa­ter re­sis­tant and the afore­men­tioned ISO 6425:1996 for diver’s watches.

As for what ac­tu­ally keeps wa­ter out of a watch, sev­eral fac­tors come into play. First up is con­struc­tion of the case and, par­tic­u­larly, how the case­back is at­tached. The least wa­ter-re­sis­tant are snap-on case­back. In this setup, the slight­est nick on the case body or the small­est de­for­mity on the gas­kets can al­low wa­ter to rush into the watch. And it’s not a mat­ter of if it hap­pens but when. Watches with snap-on case­backs are rated—at most—for 30 me­ters. (Once again, please re­fer to the list in the pre­vi­ous pages to see what “wa­ter re­sis­tant 30 me­ters” ac­tu­ally means.)

Case­backs that are fas­tened with screws are much bet­ter, but they are still vul­ner­a­ble as soon as there’s a prob­lem with the gas­kets. Max­i­mum wa­ter re­sis­tance for this type of con­struc­tion would be 100 me­ters. Fi­nally, we have screw-in case­backs which are treaded and screwed onto the case. This is the type that you’ll usu­ally find on ac­tual diver’s watches for pro­fes­sion­als.

Then there are the afore­men­tioned gas­kets. Some­times dubbed O rings, these are em­ployed as wa­ter­tight seals at the joints where the crys­tal, case­back, crown and push­ers (if any) meet the case. Com­monly used ma­te­ri­als in­clude rub­ber, ny­lon, sil­i­con and Te­flon. As with any kind of seal in a me­chan­i­cal con­trap­tion, gas­kets will wear away and break down with time.

“when it comes to wa­teR Re­sis­tance, useR Be­hav­ioR anD main­te­nance aRe just as im­poR­tant as BuilD qual­ity’”

The Achilles heel of any wa­ter-re­sis­tant watch, how­ever, is the crown. Or, to be ex­act, the hole on the case for the stem of the crown. The gasket on this part is con­stantly com­pressed, stretched and chaffed ev­ery time the crown is pushed, wound or turned. A screw-down crown, how­ever, is threaded and de­signed to screw shut to the thread­ing of the hole—or tech­ni­cally tube—on the case. Ob­vi­ously, this is an es­sen­tial fea­ture on any watch that will keep you com­pany as you swim or dive.

And now we come to the crux of the mat­ter. A watch’s wa­ter re­sis­tance ca­pa­bil­i­ties are tested in op­ti­mum con­di­tions: Fresh gas­kets, static (i.e., still or calm) wa­ter, sta­ble tem­per­a­ture, etc. They are also tested right af­ter assem­bly. By the time they leave the fac­tory and ar­rive in stores, months—or even years—could have passed. When we reach this point, it’s no longer a mat­ter of ISO stan­dards but of the in­di­vid­ual qual­ity stan­dards of each brand.

Be kinD...

When we’re talk­ing about mech­a­nisms like tour­bil­lons, chrono­graphs or cal­en­dars, there is usu­ally lit­tle need to talk about how we— the wearer—treat the watch. When it comes to the wa­ter re­sis­tance qual­i­ties of watches, how­ever, user be­hav­ior and main­te­nance are just as im­por­tant as the build qual­ity of the time­piece. So, for this edi­tion of our Mech­a­nisms col­umn, we’re com­pelled to com­pile a list of ba­sic tips re­gard­ing the wear­ing of watches near or in wa­ter.

Err on the dry side

Some watches are ac­tu­ally tested for be­yond their rat­ing. Still, you should al­ways heed the safe oper­at­ing pa­ram­e­ters of your watch and fol­low it re­li­giously. Of course, it’s al­ways best if your watch sim­ply stays out­side the bath­room, be­side the pool or on the boat when you go div­ing.

Main­te­nance is key

If you have a watch that is sup­posed to work un­der wa­ter and you in­tend to use it that way, have it tested on a reg­u­lar ba­sis. Also, make sure that you have the watch main­tained by some­body re­li­able—prefer­ably at the brand’s of­fi­cial ser­vice cen­ter as it is all too easy for an am­a­teur watch­maker to, say, punc­ture a gasket with the very tweez­ers used to re­place said gasket.

Be wary of the tem­per­a­ture...

Sud­den changes in tem­per­a­ture can ad­versely af­fect the in­tegrity of your watch’s gas­kets. That be­ing said, rub­ber gas­kets can eas­ily with­stand wa­ter at tem­per­a­tures of 100°C and sil­i­con is even more re­silient. So, wear­ing your watch (rated 30 me­ters or more) in a hot shower is ac­tu­ally okay. On that note, the chem­i­cals found in soap and other groom­ing prod­ucts can the­o­ret­i­cally harm rub­ber gas­kets as well, but the quan­ti­ties re­quired for this to hap­pen is much, much higher than what is used on a daily ba­sis.

Push it down...

Be­fore you dive into a pool or into the sea, make sure that the crown is pushed in and—if you have a watch with a screw-down crown—se­curely tight­ened. And then, do not op­er­ate the crown or any push­ers while un­der wa­ter.

Above all else, re­mem­ber that a good watch is an in­vest­ment. Pick the right one, take good care of it, and it can ac­com­pany you no mat­ter how far—or how deep—you go. Terms and con­di­tions ap­ply.

ocean ex­plorer Fa­bien Cousteau wear­ing a Seiko Prospex diver’s watch Op­po­site page the omega sea­mas­ter 300m

The Ulysse nardin Diver Chronome­ter monaco Lim­ited edi­tion worn by un­der­wa­ter pho­tog­ra­pher Fred BuyleOp­po­site page Close up of the crown of a Harry Win­ston ocean Dual-Time ret­ro­grade

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