We hate to break it to you, but the short answer to this question in the 2020s is: They don’t. Meaning, they really don’t wear mechanical watches. In fact, if you’ve done enough SCUBA diving, you probably agree that most divers these days will look at you like you’re crazy for wearing a watch underwater, and will ask you if it’s waterproof.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that absolutely nobody wears a watch underwater. We watch people do, of course. (We generally do this while claiming that it’s a backup to our dive computers, which, while true, is also a way to look less crazy when speaking to “non-watch people.”) For the first 50 or so years of recreational diving — until the dive computer took hold — a wristwatch was absolutely essential kit, as its bezel could be used to time bottom time or decompression stops. Screw up your decompression stops, and you can seriously injure yourself.
So which watches do people who actually wear watches underwater wear? Here are a few of the more frequently seen sub-aquatic timekeepers…
Rolex Submariner 'Spider Dial'
Duh. The OG dive watch is still seen where it belongs — underwater — on the wrists of both “watch people” and those who dive and simply appreciate its history, robustness, and character. While it may worry one less to dive with a more modern variant, vintage and pre-owned models can certainly be taken beneath the waves; simply have them pressure-tested to make sure the gaskets are up to snuff first. The best bracelet options for diving are either an Oyster with a diver’s extension of some sort, or a two-piece rubber strap. A NATO strap will come loose on your wrist while underwater, and could possibly slip right off.
Basically Any Seiko Diver
Seiko divers are the perfect SCUBA companions — they’re plentiful, inexpensive, robust, and fun. Classics such as the now-discontinued SKX007 will do the job, as will higher-end Prospex models and even Grand Seiko beauties. There are truly so darn many Seiko divers out there that it would be difficult to recommend one overall, but seeing as PADI itself has a partnership with the brand, it couldn’t hurt to look at one of those models such as the SRPE99. (When in doubt any Seiko “Turtle” will do!)
Omega Seamaster Planet Ocean 600M Co-Axial - In The Shop
The Seamaster is sort of like the Submariner: It’s been around forever, it’s been used by military divers, it’s robust and attractive, etc, etc. While you see these less often in the wild than you do Subs — or even Seikos — they’re still used by divers both recreational and professional. The Seamaster Planet Ocean is a less expensive choice sometimes favored by saturation divers over the pricier Rolex Sea-Dweller, though one must remember to manually open the helium escape valve when decompressing! For mere mortal divers, most Seamasters will do just fine. (Again, don’t wear one on a NATO while diving.)
G-Shock 6900 Series
G-Shock GW6900-1 ( image - Casio )
The G-Shock is the de facto military watch, and has been for many years. Thus, it should come as no surprise that naval commandos the world over rely on them on operations — including underwater operations. If you look at the wrists of Navy SEALs, Shayetet 13 operators, etc, many of them are wearing run-of-the-mill G-Shocks 6900-series or similar watches. These timepieces, with their 200m of water resistance, myriad timers and alarms, and matte black color, are the perfect military diver’s watch. Given their availability and affordability, they’re also perfect for civilian SCUBA diving, and they already ship on a perfect rubber dive strap.
DOXA SUB 300T
DOXA SUB 300T - IN THE SHOP
Upon its launch in 1969, the SUB 300T was quite a chunky dive watch, measuring 42.5mm, and moderately thick. The model famously features a dual-scale, rotating dive bezel calibrated in feet, making it optimal for use in the U.S. market and in conjunction with U.S. Navy dive tables. None other than Jacques Cousteau had a hand in the development of this venerable diver, and many years later, DOXA was adopted by Clive Cussler for use by his protagonist Dirk Pitt. An integral accessory to the SUB 300T is the beads-of-rice bracelet with expanding clasp, which makes for a more comfortable wearing experience in combination with the chunky cushion case. Available in several dial colors, it’s since become an icon of the dive watch world, and is still sported by many dedicated SCUBA divers.
If you were spending time in dive shops in the 1960s and 1970s, chances are you encountered the Jenny brand and its famous “Caribbean” line of dive watches, which were sold alongside other essential equipment such as fins, snorkels, wetsuits, and more. The first watch company to devleop a diver rated to 1,000 meters, Jenny launched the MONOBLOC Triple-Safe divers in the 1960s. This unique design, which featured the “Carribean” name, was used on technical divers from brands like Jacques Monnat, Dugena, Haste, Jacquet Droz, Fortis, Aquadive and Philip Watch, among others. Though these deep-diving timepieces are mostly appreciated by veteran salty sea dogs and enthusiasts today, a reinvigorated Aquadive company — which was relaunched in 2011 — means more divers are coming to appreciate them.