Back in the days when Nick Nolte and Robert Shaw were ogling Jacqueline Bisset in a skimpy wet T-shirt on the set of The Deep, an excellent dive watch was an essential — for actual, self-preservation-related reasons.
Because before there were dive computers, a timepiece that could go deep was a vital reference instrument that helped seagoers avoid getting bent (i.e., develop decompression sickness).
But a dive watch is also about, you know, looks. (See: Bond, James.) Watches are the quintessential piece of man jewelry, and a dive watch is like a tag that says "I swim with sharks and in the bowels of shipwrecks."
So the best examples of a dive watch should be as handsome as they are functional.
All of the watches listed below have one-way rotating bezels (to set and calculate elapsed dive time) and some form of luminescence. The latter is helpful to see the watch display in murky water, dark places or night dives. As for depth ratings, since even the most hardcore technical diver rarely ventures below 350 feet, even a 100 meter (330 feet) rating is sufficient for all but the most arduous plummets. Still, higher ratings indicate a watch that can handle more pressure, which in turn is a good indicator of general toughness.
For actual diving: Citizen Eco-Drive Professional Diver's Watch
The stern font style and big numbers on the bezel of this 48mm stainless steel watch give it an all-business appearance. And it does mean business: The Eco-Drive is depth rated to 1,000 feet, and with thanks to those big luminous watch hands and bezel design, it’s easy to read in dark conditions. The kicker is that where most analog dive watches are self-winding, this Japanese design is solar powered. If you get it out on the morning of your dive trip, it will probably charge up enough for the day just from you sitting on the boat. ($221)
For surviving the digital world: G-Shock GFW-1000-1
Some guys insist on having a digital watch, and this is the dive watch for them. With its blocky, shock-resistant housing, it’s a timepiece that can take serious punishment. The G-Shock is solar powered too, and as a digital job it has loads of functions not found on an analog model, such as alarms, tide graphs and dive/surface interval timers. Instead of luminous watch hands, it has backlighting. ($512)
For emergencies: Marathon TSAR Quartz Medium
Although its appearance sits somewhere between upscale watch and the tooled machine look of many dive watches, the Marathon TSAR is made to military specifications for search-and-rescue use. The hands are lit by tiny tubes of tritium gas, which are good for a quarter century. The housing is deceptively tough, being resistant to 1,000 feet with a 3mm scratch-resistant sapphire crystal face. ($870)
For making a splash: Orient M-Force Bravo
The M-Force Bravo combines stylish use of color and a big 45mm housing to create an outsized presence on your wrist. It’s ISO-compliant in shock resistance and anti-magnetism, as well as being certified down to 660 feet. It has a Japanese design using in-house movement. ($609)
For the non-dive watch guy: Seiko Men's Prospex
With its modest presentation and stainless steel watchband, the Seiko Prospex is the dive watch that doesn’t actually look like a dive watch at first glance. The only real giveaway is the bezel (and perhaps the glow in the dark hands if you turn out the lights). As such, it meets all the basic requirements for a dive watch (waterproof to 660 feet), but in a discrete package. ($452)