Once upon a time, safe scuba diving required divers to wear purpose-built watches in order to explore the sea safely. Nowadays most divers sport dive computers on their wrists, and only a few old-school diehards still rely on brain power and dive watches to calculate no-decompression limits, but the diving watch has far from disappeared. It may be a bit of a novelty when it comes to actual diving, but elsewhere the dive watch’s popularity has exploded as a symbol of style.
The earliest incarnations of the diving watch came on the scene in the 19th century, when one-off pieces called “Explorer’s Watches” were custom-made for specific customers. By the early 20th century, similar watches were industrially produced for military and commercial distribution to explorers, navies, and professional divers.
Omega SA is credited as the creator of the world’s first diving watch intended for the masses in 1932: the Omega “Marine.” Panerai was next to take up the trend, offering “Radiomir” underwater timepieces in 1936 following a request for a luminous underwater watch made by the Royal Italian Navy. 1953 saw the release of Lip-Blancpain’s Fifty Fathoms waterproof watch, which was issued in small quantities to the military in several countries and went on to become a star of the silver screen.
Then the world changed for good in 1954, when the development of a self-contained underwater breathing apparatus, known as scuba, coincided with the introduction of the Rolex Submariner at that year’s Basel Watch Fair. Professional diving organizations began to spring up throughout the 60s, creating a need for more robust timepieces that could handle diving operations at greater depths. Innovation hasn’t stopped since, and today some dive watches have ratings as deep as 12,000 metres.
In Popular Culture
The world had the opportunity to fall in love with the diving watch when Lip-Blancpain’s Fifty Fathoms was worn by Jacques Cousteau and his divers in the underwater film Le mode du silence, which won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes film festival in 1956. TV star Lloyd Bridges also sported one of the Blancpain watches on the cover of the February 1962 edition of Skin Diver Magazine. But what really sealed the fate of the dive watch was 007 – Bond sported the Rolex Submariner in the first 10 films, launching it forever into icon status.
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