A Bigger Splash: The Best Dive Watches Of 2020
In horology, it was a very good year for all things aquatic.
Dive watches are wonderful. They are made for professional underwater adventurers but appeal to landlubbers as well. Some collectors are only interested in dive watches, and some enthusiasts need to have at least one example in their watch wardrobe. The category contains highly specific haute horology pieces as well as practical and accessible tool watches.
And if you’ll allow us to get shallow about these watches of the deep, they also look cool. It’s easy to justify the investment in a good dive watch because it works with almost any look – from corporate chic to just kicking it in a Zoom party room. And at a time when haute couture and street style are both pushing sweats as acceptable work attire, there is no timepiece more versatile than a dive watch.
Demand for divers has never been higher, and in 2020 watchmakers have obliged fans with a supply of hard-working and good-looking timepieces across all price points. Here are five of our favorites.
Seiko Prospex SPB151 and SPB153 aka, the “Captain Willard.”
Dive watch enthusiasts love vintage. But when it comes to actual underwater efficacy, the gaskets and precision of a 60-year-old timepiece may not hold up in a pinch. That’s why collectors were thrilled when Seiko introduced two retro-styled editions to the entry-level Prospex Collection — the SPB151 and SPB153 — modeled after the watch Martin Sheen’s character, Captain Willard, wore in the 1979 movie Apocalypse Now.
Based on the original Seiko Turtle, this watch has crossover appeal to many audiences, including movie fans, the dive watch community, and military watch collectors. Available in black and olive drab, Captain Willard is an update of the original with a 24 jewel, self-winding caliber 6R35 caliber houses in a 42.7mm stainless steel case, with a mechanism that beats at 21,600 vph and a 70-hour power reserve.
Both the black and olive drab versions feature such practical applications as applied indices and LumiBrite coating on the hands, markers, and bezel for maximum legibility. They are also rated with a water resistance of up to 200m. And they are very accessible, costing $1,100 for the SPB153 and $1,300 for the SPB151.
For more information, visit Seiko’s website.
Oris Aquis Date Calibre 400
Not just one of our top ten divers but also one of our favorite launches of 2020: the Oris Aquis Date Calibre 400 featuring the new Calibre 400 movement. The result is an attractive timepiece with optimal efficacy.
For professionals, a dive watch must be easy to read, accurate, and reliable. Failure in any of these areas is a matter of life and death. The new in-house Calibre 400 addresses the issues of durability and reliability with two mainspring barrels. These barrels provide a five-day power reserve, a high-efficiency escapement design, a lubrication-free silicon lever, and escape wheel, and an anti-magnetic design able to withstand 2,250 gauss. For collectors, there’s also the extra assurance of a 10-year warranty (and service interval).
This stainless steel timepiece measures 43.5mm wide, 13mm thick, and 49mm lug-to-lug, which means it’s big enough to be read 300 meters underwater but small enough to be worn comfortably on land. The time-only plus date display is easy to read, and the gradient bright to grey dial is visually pleasing.
Most impressive is the value proposition of this watch. The Oris Aquis Date Caliber 400 is priced at $3,300 on a rubber strap and $3,500 on a steel bracelet. Considering that this is an in-house movement, this is a very reasonable investment for an everyday, anywhere watch.
Tudor’s Black Bay Fifty-Eight Navy Blue
The Tudor Black Bay Fifty-Eight Navy Blue may have had the most buzz of any dive watch in 2020, then it won the Challenge Prize at the GPHG this year.
It’s easy to understand its popularity. When the Black Bay Heritage launched in 2018, its retro appearance drove its popularity. Given that the resale market of vintage pieces has skyrocketed over the last few years, it may be easier to get your hands on the Black Bay 58.
The BB58, as enthusiasts call it, debuted in 1958. The new, blue versions reference the highly collectible Tudor dive watches used by the French navy in the 1970s. This update has water resistance to 200m and a high-quality crown and bezel for added protection underwater.
This COSC-certified timepiece is powered by the Tudor manufacture, automatic MT5402 movement, which beats at 4 Hz with a 70-hour power reserve. Currently, this movement is used only in the Fifty-Eight line, and it only exists in a no-date format. It is presented on a stainless steel bracelet with a blue “soft touch” strap and a blue dial and bezel on a blue fabric strap, so you can choose whichever option is most comfortable on your wrist.
Priced at $3,375 for either the fabric or "soft touch" synthetic strap or $3,700 for the steel bracelet, the Black Bay Fifty-Eight is great for those who want the romance of the past and the sensible technology of the present.
For more information, visit Tudor’s website.
The Omega Seamaster Diver 300M 007 Edition
And now for something completely different.
The Omega Seamaster Diver 300M 007 Edition was launched late last year to coincide with the premiere of Daniel Craig’s final cinematic outing as super-spy James Bond in No Time To Die. But given the film’s extremely delayed release date and the past 12 months in general, we are counting it as a 2020 release.
This timepiece was designed in collaboration with Craig. As such, it references the actor’s character’s backstory with military-style engravings and a vintage-looking “tropical” brown aluminum dial and bezel. Plus, it is slightly slimmer than standard 300m models.
It also differs radically from the other dive watches on this list because it is made from lightweight Grade 2 Titanium, and it comes on a unique titanium mesh bracelet. There is also a version of the watch sold on a NATO strap.
Even if it doesn’t look like the other dive watch on the list, it still offers the dependable timekeeping of Omega’s Co-Axial Master Chronometer 8806 movement. And the 8806 movement has achieved the highest industry standards for precision, chronometric performance, and magnetic resistance.
Omega Seamaster Diver 300M Co-Axial Master Chronometer 007 Edition is priced at $8,100 on a NATO strap and $9,200 on the titanium bracelet.
For more information, visit Omega’s website.
Jaeger-LeCoultre Polaris Mariner Memovox and Date
Launched in October, the Jaeger-LeCoultre Polaris Mariner Memovox and Polaris Mariner Date draw on the brand’s dive watch heritage and technical savoir-faire. As professional dive watches, they are fully ISO 6425-compliant. As a luxury timepiece, they represent the height of contemporary sport chic.
The 42mm cases feature the distinctive design codes of the Jaeger-LeCoultre Polaris collection: sleek lines, glass-box crystals, and mix of brushed and polished finishes. And both high-performance diving watches have water-resistant stainless steel cases rated to 300 meters (30 bar). Furthermore, the crown used to set the notched inner-bezel is screwed-down, thus preventing any unintentional movement. Plus, the addition of an orange security band warns divers when it is not fully screwed down.
The Polaris Mariner Memovox also offers audible delight with its chiming “school bell” alarm. The addition of a sapphire case-back allows the wearer to watch the striking mechanism in action. One can also admire the Côtes de Genève decoration and fine finishing on the movement plates.
The JLC Polaris Mariner Date is priced at $11,000, and the Polaris Mariner Memovox retails for $17,600.
For more information, visit Jaeger-LeCoultre’s website.
(Photography by Liam O'Donnell)