The thrills and spills of sporting life might seem a world away from the quiet labours and precious manufactures of the Jura Valley, where many fine watch brands base their HQs, but the seemingly sedate and steady world of watches has always catered to the more dynamic of physical pursuits. Consider, for example, TAG Heuer’s historic relationship with Steve McQueen and Le Mans, or Breitling’s longstanding association with aviation, from the Royal Air Force to the Red Bull Air Race. So too exists a curious synergy between the world of boating, deep sea diving and horology. It might not necessarily follow that when you’re racing round the track at 150mph or diving off a reef to 100 feet below sea level you’ll be checking your wrist watch for split-second accuracy, but so the history of fine, wearable timepieces and extreme water sports has evolved – very much hand in hand.
One of the first, great leaps into the deep blue for a prestige horological house was made when Rolex launched its now-iconic Oyster Perpetual watch in 1926. While valiant efforts had been made in the 1800s to create water-resistant pocket watches for naval officers (rarely, still, will a bonafide luxury house call a diving watch ‘water repellent’), Rolex’s innovation came with a sealed case that resolutely and famously defied substantial damage from water. Record-breaking swimmer Mercedes Gleitze made the model notorious when she wore it to swim the English Channel – as the first woman to do so – in 1927. Despite the freezing cold conditions endured over 10 hours, the watch remained in perfect working order, and thus made headlines all around the world.
The Italian Navy were among the many to be impressed, commissioning Panerai to create the world’s first underwater luminous watch (the Radiomir is an enduring feature of the Panerai family to this day). Omega too ushered forth its Marine Chronometer in the 1930s, the first quartz watch of its kind devoted to seagoing pursuits. Its natural offspring, the Seamaster Aqua Terra is, arguably, one of the best known in the house’s repertoire, having adorned the wrist of James Bond in the midst of many memorably wild and watery, silver-screen capers.
This century, and particularly in the last decade, the clamour of fantastical complications and innovations in technology has driven diving watches to become ever more advanced. Take for instance the Rolex Deepsea, which can resist the pressure of 3.900 metres below sea level, or the re-edition of Blancpain’s 1950s Bathyscaphe Chronograph – a true model for the 21st century with a patented LiquidMetal-filled ceramic bezel to accentuate its scratch-resistance.
But beyond what’s very new and/or very innovative, only a few essential rules should govern your choice of nautical watch: a depth rate that tallies to the demands of your individual aquatic adventures, whether they be quasi-pro diving or a splash in the jet ski once the yacht docks; a solid, substantial crystal casing that will withstand pressure on the watch face: an exceptional degree of precision (once submerged, those minutes and seconds being razor-sharp accurate can be a matter of life or death); and finally, a high degree of clarity and visibility of the elements on the face. There’s undoubtedly a place for appreciating artistic fonts and intricate surface decoration on a wristwatch, but immersion at 30 feet below the surface of the ocean certainly isn’t it.
With that in mind, we have charted the genuinely, authentically notable recent horological releases for you to explore new depths with this year… so, please, dive on in.
Cartier Calibre De Cartier Diver
Not traditionally known as a purveyor of more ‘sporty’ watches, Cartier’s recent dabbling has proved it has a masterful eye for diving-ready detail. This model’s thin case of just 11mm for a lightweight feel, patented Super-LumiNova indicators, rubber strap for water resistance and a certain lithe flexibility are all helpful when stretching over scuba gear.
Ressence Type 5
The pioneering technology behind this visually arresting timepiece means there’s no need to do more than glance sideways at the dial face to get all the information you need. Its spherical shape and oil-coated elements cancel out reflection, making it readable from a variety of angles. It’s also rendered in super lightweight titanium, for maximum swimming agility.
Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore Diver
The seafaring offshoot of the house’s best-selling and most iconic watch, the Diver debuted at this year’s Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie with both faces and straps in wildly striking colour-ways; vivid coral; acid green and inky navy with contrasting yellow on the dial.
Rolex Oyster Perpetual Sea-Dweller 4000
The pioneering brand goes one leap (or scuba dive) further than the Deepsea with the Sea-Dweller, unveiled at Basel last year. This model employs a special, corrosion-resistant stainless steel in the case, normally used for the aerospace and chemical industries. The watch also boasts a luminescent capsule on the face and a knurled bezel to allow for a good grip underwater.