The terms “water resistant” and “waterproof” get thrown around a lot in the watch world. But what do they actually mean and is there a difference?
Let’s start with a little mythbusting.
Let’s start by just removing “waterproof” from our vocabulary. It’s misleading at best and downright dangerous at worst. Waterproof implies that water cannot enter the watch. This is false. All watches will inevitably give in under enough pressure and let water in.
It doesn’t matter if it’s a Rolex Submariner or another well engineered timepiece made specifically for diving, all watches have their limitations as we can’t avoid the general laws of physics.
There is no meaning behind the usage of “waterproof”. If you see a watch manufacturer still using this term, it’s time to become suspicious of their marketing material and potentially question the quality of the watch itself. Don’t be fooled by marketing gimmicks.
Most watch manufacturers selling into English speaking countries switched from using waterproof to water resistant many years ago (around 1970). This was partly due to the misleading nature of the term “waterproof”. Consumer protection legislation in these countries would probably have an issue with the term waterproof too – as it could easily be argued a watch marketed as “water proof” would not be fit for purpose if any water did get inside.
Most watch manufacturers have now abandoned waterproof for the more accurate term “water resistant”. This term actually has meaning, as watches claiming to be water resistant to a certain depth need to comply with specific testing of international standards. There are two different standards commonly used by watch manufacturers;
ISO 2281 (now superseded by ISO 22810) is the standard manufacturers need to comply with if they want to legally claim their watch is water resistant. The compliance process is thorough, including tests for the following:
Dive watches are regulated by a more comprehensive standard, the ISO 6425. This standard applies to watches rated at 100m or more water resistance. A big difference in the testing procedure is that each watch certified to ISO 6425 must be tested, not just randomised testing like the ISO 2281. This introduces a significant cost burden to the manufacturers which is ultimately passed onto the consumer. This has resulted in not all manufacturers opting to certify diving watches to ISO 6425.
Tests for ISO 6425 divers’ watch are significantly more thorough than the general 2281. These tests include:
In addition to the above, there are more requirements for mechanical watches covering bezel operation and visibility, readability at 25m, luminosity in total darkness, magnetic resistance, shock resistance, salt water resistance and strap durability. Mixed-gas diving watches also have special provisions.
It’s important to recognise the limitations of these lab tests on real-world diving conditions. Tests done under controlled lab environments face very different challenges when released into the wild world of diving where the watch will be truly tested.
Think you can go diving with your 50m water resistance watch? Think again. You’ll destroy your watch. The following table shows what each water resistance rating really means:
Water resistance can be a tricky subject, so we’ve pulled together the following FAQs.
You may have noticed that we didn’t recommend showering as an activity for any watch, regardless of its resistance rating. This is because we don’t recommend showering with any watch as it will shorten its lifespan. Water, soap, shampoo and steam are natural enemies of internal watch components.
Rubber seals and gaskets provide the main barrier for water entering a watch. These do get dry over time and can stop providing an effective seal. We generally recommend having your seals checked and lubricated once every year for peace of mind.
Generally, no. Each button requires another seal, introducing another point of failure where water can enter. Using these buttons underwater will significantly increase the chance of failure. This is especially true of chronograph watches as they have more buttons/points of weakness.
Not necessarily. Condensation generally forms when moving from a cold temperature to a warmer temperature. Water creeps in via air particles when it’s cold, and then liquify when it warms up. If it’s just a few little drops, it may very well go away on its own in few days, but it’s still worth getting your seals checked.
Absolutely. The older the watch, the greater the chance a seal is weak. Please don’t go diving with a vintage watch you haven’t had checked in a few years. This is likely to end in tears.
These are direct measures of pressure used by the watch industry. Bar and atmosphere (atm) are interchangeable.
Nope. Don’t do this. Leather will stretch and warp when subjected to water, soap and other liquids. If you do get some water on it wipe it off – and don’t stress too much. Just don’t go swimming or showering with it.
Have any other water related watch questions? Please let us know in the comments below and we’ll answer them.
Brooklyn Nine-Nine is a popular US sitcom that spices up the regular “cop-show” format with easy watching humor led by Andy Sandberg’s character Jake Peralta. Jake’s good, but often naive intentions land him and his precinct in difficult, and humorous, situations. The show has received praise (and awards) for the way they blend current social issues into the story line, such as the Captain Holt’s sexuality.
Terry Crews plays Terry Jeffords, a Detective Sergeant with a hard-ass appearance, but has recently become well acquainted with his softer side after being taken off field duty following the birth of his twin daughters. Terry has an annoying habit of referring to himself in the third person, but this gentle giant makes up for it with his leadership and support of his team through thick and thin.Terry wears a Luminox Navy Seal Colormark throughout the series. Given his bulky, muscular stature, and need to be ready for whatever life as a cop throws at him, the Luminox Navy Seal is a solid choice. With Swiss quartz movement, this watch features a black dial, black unidirectional bezel with white contrasting bezel markers, white hour markers and date displayed at 3 o’clock. The 200m water resistance is rather expected given the “Navy Seal” model, and whilst I can’t recall an episode where Terry needs to hunt any criminals underwater, he can if duty calls!
I need to eat 10,000 calories a day to maintain muscle mass!
Terry Jeffords, Brooklyn Nine-Nine
Check out some of Terry’s finer moments in the mashup below:
Scuba diving is testament to mankind’s ingenuity in overcoming natural barriers, and dive watches are one of the best examples this. Combining precise engineering and looks into an accessory for an activity that humans shouldn’t really be doing is why dive watches have a soft spot in our hearts here at WKOW.
So, if you’re thinking about purchasing a dive watch for that 2019 holiday, or potentially saving for that special splurge or even ‘holy grail’ timepiece, this guide will definitely point you in the right direction without getting your feet wet.
The main functions of a high-quality dive watch is to allow scuba divers to keep a record on the dive time, under pressure by using a rotating (or analog) bezel that allows the wearer to pre-select a period of time up to 60 minutes. This allows the wearer to understand their dive time, and then calculate maximum dive time before hazardous gases build up in their blood system. Diving is by its a nature a risky sport, so the last thing you want to be worrying about is whether your dive watch is going to give way mid-dive, leaving you more vulnerable than is necessary. This is where technical specifications and user reviews come into play.
The robustness will be tested underwater. Yes, you’ve got additional pressure from water above, but watches also get banged around a lot whilst diving. This can be from rocks, coral, your own tank/gear and even fine sea particles such as sand and seaweed can play havoc to the durability of a dive watch.
This one is pretty obvious, but it’s also important to be realistic with exactly how much water resistance you really need. ie If you’ll mostly be using it snorkelling, buying a 500m water resistant watch is most likely overkill.
We all love a sexy design, but don’t just base important gear decision on looks. Instead, make sure it has the features you’re going to use the most. This doesn’t mean you need to go for the highest-price model simply because it has the most features. If you aren’t going to use the feature, you’re basically adding extra expense for no benefit.
I’m a certified diver and personally prefer a simple design when I’m diving because I don’t want to be wasting my dive time playing around with features, dials and buttons. This is time I can spend hanging out with my dorsal appendaged friends. That said, we’ve included a range of watches for different budgets, styles, preferences and dive levels (ie newly certified has different requirements than a pro diver) in the round up of our 7 favorite dive watches below:
Seiko Prospex Padi Solar
Omega Seamaster Planet Ocean
These Padi licensed Seiko models are water resistant up to 200 meters (656 ft), made of stainless steel and the overall look is quite appealing with a smaller form factor than some of the more bulkier dive watches on the market.
The crystal is made out of a Seiko proprietary hardened mineral crystal called “Hardlex”. This material is more impact resistant, but slightly less scratch resistant than sapphire crystal. The Lumibrite on hands and indexes allows for easy dial reading for at least 4 hours once fully charged by a light source.
The word Prospex implies professional specifications and these watches don’t disappoint the budget conscious diver that also needs precise engineering. With a lower price point, you’d be forgiven for splurging a little more on that new Go Pro you’ve been eyeing…
This is the best dive watch in our list for the budget conscious or recently certified divers that don’t want to fork out loads on their first dive watch.
Where this model really departs from its predecessors is the technology and associated attention to detail. They’ve removed the satin aluminium inserts from the unidirectional rotating bezel and replaced with scratch resistant ceramic inserts. And, perhaps the biggest improvement to design is the use of liquid metal, rather than traditional casting and subsequent machining. This produces a very precise, strong and corrosion resistant timepiece.
This level of engineering finds its way throughout the entire watch, including the movement system. Powered by the Omega 8500 caliber Co-Axial based automatic movement which has been widely regarded as a robust and precise movement system. This is a true competitor and alternative to the Rolex Submariner.
One of the main drawbacks of the new Planet Ocean’s technology is that they are a few millimeters thicker. This has left some enthusiasts shaking their head as one of the Seamaster’s long running standout traits has been its slim, elegant design. This Omega has been known to actually feel thicker than it is.
The bold design with broad arrow hands and gloss dials, works effortlessly with the well proportioned, precise engineering contained within this iconic and practical Omega that James Bond still wears to this day. This is definitely one to consider if you have the budget and want a stylish, practical and superbly engineered dive watch.
Swiss made with automatic hand movement, this Tudor has been gaining in popularity with divers since the Pelagos’ rebirth in 2012. Because it is made of titanium, it is lighter than its stainless steel counterparts, which is a great feature if you plan on this watch being your everyday “desk diver” too. The titanium case and bracelet have a brushed finished, which makes it stand out from a traditionally high-polished finish of a stainless steel and tends to hide scratches very well.
Not sure what titanium in watches is all about? Read our article on Stainless Steel vs Titanium as a primer.
In 2015, Tudor introduced its own revamped movement system, the MT56 12 with a 70 hour power reserve. The saphire crystal is completely flat, eliminating any distortion that a raised crystal provides, which is a handy underwater feature. The build quality can be felt and heard in the click of the bezel as you move it.
The Tudor Pelagos is much more than a “cheaper” version of its big brother, Rolex. The titanium build provides a sophisticated , lightweight alternative to a Submariner or Planet Ocean and is very worthy of at least adding to your diver shortlist. At least try and check out the brilliant deep blue version as we’ve found it to be very striking, whilst remaining elegant for those dinner occasions.
There are two main versions of the Submariner; with and without a date plus magnifier. The non-date version costs about $1,000 less and is arguably the more popular of the two. It was also the original as the date version only came in later.
Featuring a 40mm wide case crafted from a single block of a corrosive-resistant 904L steel, and a turning bezel made from Cerachom (a type of ceramic) which makes it extremely resistant to scratching, fading and corrosion. The movement is controlled by the in-house Rolex Calibre 3130. An important visual and functional feature is the winding crown, which closes much like a submarine latch.
This video shows the beauty of the Submariner close up in all its beauty:
The Submariner isn’t just renowned by divers (incl Navy Seals), or for precise engineering. It redefined what it meant to own a prestige timepiece. You certainly do pay a premium for the Rolex brand, but in return, you know you’re getting an incredibly engineered watch that will last for many years and is universally loved and admired. Indeed, a significant factor for many in purchasing this watch is for the status, announcing to the world that you’ve made it. Don’t let this fool you though, the Submariner is a serious dive watch and definitely worth considering.
The 41 mm case features alternating polished and brushed stainless steel, bringing a casual elegance to this watch. The biggest change in recent years has been the addition of the ceramic bezel. Similar to Rolex’s Submariner and Omega’s Planet Ocean, the ceramic rotating bezel allows this TAG to take an absolute beating without scratching, fading or corroding. This is a massive feature for a dive watch given that it’s very common to bang your hands on all sorts of rocks, corals, sand and other general underwater hazards whilst diving.
But, the Aquaracer is considerably more affordable than a Submariner or Planet Ocean, making it a great entry-level dive watch for collectors and wearers.
The Aquaracer uses a rubber strap and comes in both chronograph (three-counter calibre 16) and automatic (Calibre 5) models. The chronograph models are generally around $1,000 more than the automatic models. Both models are quality, durable diving watches.
Check out this detailed review on the Aquaracer below -- FWIW, I don’t think this diver deserves any hate!
What I like a lot about the Aquaracer is that it doesn’t try and be a Submariner clone. It is bold and unique in its own right. Go elsewhere for a Submariner clone. Choose a Tag Heuer Aquaracer if you want an extremely durable Swiss-engineered dive watch that has many of the features that rival its more expensive counterparts.
The 49mm case is the largest in our roundup of favorite watches for 2019, so it’s mainly worn by men and you’d definitely want to put it on your wrist before buying. Other notable features are the ceramic unidirectional bezel which is great for resisting scratches and bumps, anti-reflective sapphire window and a date window at 6 O’clock. Aesthetically, the subtle waves behind the dial give it a smooth look against black face and the luminous indicators work well at night.
This watch definitely makes a statement, and whilst it may not have the same branding appeal as a Rolex or Omega, it is definitely a great piece of diving gear if you prefer slightly larger timepieces that won’t weigh you down. We’ve seen some good deals on these men’s models too, so don’t be afraid to shop around.
The simple, practical design with a stainless steel case and silicone strap performs very well under low light conditions, with bold, luminous hands, hour markers and graduations on the unidirectional stainless steel bezel. Bezel rotation is met with solid, deep clicks -- something that is often missing in less expensive dive watches. The date function features a magnified display for easy reading.
This should be on your radar if you want a practical dive watch rated to 500m, but aren’t prepared to fork out thousands more for brand or prestige appeal. It is a very good piece for the price and worthy of consideration.
What’s your favorite dive watch to consider for 2019? Feel like we’ve left out some worthy tool watches? Let us know in the comments below. Happy diving!