Ever since Sean Connery strapped on a Rolex Submariner in the first Bond film in 1962, the dive watch has been an iconic style statement. In their new, beautifully photographed book, Sea Time: Watches Inspired by Sailing, Yachting and Diving (Rizzoli, $85), authors Aaron Sigmond and Mark Bernardo trace the development of this high-performing class of timepieces that includes beloved examples such as the OMEGA Seamaster and the DOXA SUB 300. CSQ spoke with Sigmond, whose previous Rizzoli book, Drive Time: Watches Inspired by Automobiles, Motorcycles and Racing, is the ultimate reference guide to driving watches, and Bernardo, senior editor of WatchTime magazine, about how these timepieces originated as utilitarian tools and went on to become masculine accessories suitable for CEOs.
How did dive watches become fashion statements?
Sigmond: Basically, it was three particular watches. Because of James Bond, we found it readily acceptable that you can dress up a Rolex Submariner. Panerai went from a top-secret naval project that no one would even admit existed—from 1938 to 1970 their production was miniscule, 1,600 watches or so—to the 1990s when Sylvester Stallone wore it on his wrist in Daylight. It became the hottest thing. Every guy on Wall Street began wearing it. And the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore grew and evolved from AP’s Royal Oak, which was one of the first hybrids of a sports watch and a dress watch.
Are dive watches actually used to dive these days?
Sigmond: The bottom line is nobody needs a dive watch to dive anymore. If you want to be the most accurate about your oxygen supply and your time and your depth, you have a dive computer.
Bernardo: We use the term, and I hope people don’t consider it pejorative, “desk diver.” These are modern dive watches that are made with the ability to go in the water, but essentially, they are designed to look good with a business suit.
You dive into the history of how these watches were developed. What did you find most compelling about that subject?
Sigmond: For me, it’s the dogged determination of Hans Wilsdorf, the founder of Rolex, to make the world’s first waterproof watch in 1926. It really is one of those great stories of technological advancement. Before Wilsdorf, your Elgin or Hamilton watch could be ruined just from splashing in the bathroom. And in the span of some 30 years, you went from something that couldn’t be wet, could barely tolerate a heavy rain, to being able to go to the absolute lowest depths of the Pacific Ocean, when Rolex took a watch to the Mariana Trench, and it didn’t spring a leak or crack a crystal.
Bernardo: We trace this whole race among watchmakers to set depth records. It’s a game of one-upmanship, how low can you go essentially.
What dive watches would you recommend for someone to wear to the office?
Bernardo: Obviously iconic “sport luxury” pieces with a nautical pedigree like the Patek Philippe Nautilus, Audemars Piguet Royal Oak, and Vacheron Constantin Overseas are ideal choices, though none of these were actually built as tool watches for diving or sailing. Among those that were, I’d name the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms, especially the vintage-look Bathyscaphe models, the Breitling Superocean Heritage, IWC Aquatimer, and many of the TUDOR Black Bay models as diving and sailing watches that successfully transition from beach to boardroom.
Five Dive Watches for Summer, courtesy of Bernardo and Sigmond:
Bell & Ross BR 03-92 Diver Bronze
“Bronze, with its historical link to maritime equipment, is becoming a go-to material for diving watches, and it’s rarely used better than it is here,” says Bernardo. In a limited edition of 999. Water resistant to 300 meters. $3,990, bellross.com.
Breitling Superocean Heritage II Chronograph 44 Outerknown
“It’s not just a handsome blue-on-blue divers’ chrono, but an eco-friendly one as well, with a strap made from a special fabric derived from recycled ocean waste,” says Bernardo. Breitling partnered on this 44 mm piece with Outerknown, a sustainable clothing maker co-founded by surfer Kelly Slater. Water resistant to 200 meters. $7,100, breitling.com.
Bulova Archive Series Limited Edition Oceanographer
“When it came out in the 1970s, this watch earned its nickname, the Devil Diver, because of its depth certification, 666 feet. It’s now out in a reissue of 666 pieces, of which, as a fan, I happen to own number 66,” says Sigmond of this 40.5 mm stainless-steel timepiece. Water resistant to 200 meters (or 666 feet). $1,495, bulova.com.
Panerai Submersible Chrono Guillaume Néry Special Edition
“In a move long overdue, Panerai spun off the Submersible as its own collection this year. The clear hero of the collection is this special edition, with black DLC case, gradient blue-to-black dial with applied luminous dots and indexes, and a black titanium caseback engraved with the signature of the free-diving champion who lent the watch his name along with an image of Mo’orea Island,” says Bernardo of this 47 mm automatic of which only 15 will be made. Water resistant to 300 meters. $40,000, panerai.com.
Ulysse Nardin Diver Chronometer
“I consider this sleek model, which premiered in 2018, a connoisseur diver. Ulysse Nardin has been making marine chronometers since the second half of the 19th century and has supplied them to the admiralties of Russia, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the U.S. Navy,” says Sigmond of this 44 mm timepiece in titanium. Water resistant to 300 meters. $7,900, ulysse-nardin.com.