There are a lot of different categories of watches out there, from dress watches to travel watches, heck there are even golf watches, but few categories have as much mass appeal as the divers watch. Originally created to help, you guessed it, divers, the humble divers watch has become almost the default choice for many people looking for a stylish and versatile timepiece. But with the category being so popular and crowded, how is one to decide which dive watch is right for them? In this guide, we’ll break down what exactly a dive watch is, what makes them so great, and take a look at some of the best dive watches on the market. Once you’re done here, you should have all the tools you need to pick the perfect dive watch for you.
What makes a watch a dive watch
First, let’s clarify what exactly a dive watch is. Unlike other watch categories, which can be ambiguous—just look how broad the dress or travel watch categories are—in order for a watch to be called a dive watch, it has to meet certain criteria. These very specific requirements are handed down by the International Organization For Standardization. The requirements for the ISO certification are explicitly spelled out under the ISO 6425 standard. These requirements include things like the watch meeting a minimum water resistance of 100m, having a dive time indicator like a timing bezel, high legibility and good lime for viewing even in total darkness, and shock and magnetic resistance. These requirements, among others, are why so many divers have a similar aesthetic and similar traits. A timing bezel, large indices full of lume, and a screw-down crown are all functionally critical to a dive watch’s purpose, and since all dive watches have to be able to pass the same tests, they all end up having a similar look.
Coincidentally these traits also happen to make for some damn handsome watches and because of that the dive watch has evolved over the years from a niche tool to one of the most popular categories of watches. While some still remain tools for divers, many are luxury items worn by those looking for a good-looking, versatile, and durable timepiece. However, I’ll reiterate no matter how luxurious or fancy, if the watch is called a dive watch, that means it meets all the ISO 6425 standards and is ready for action.
The best dive watches of 2021
Now the good stuff, below I’ve ranked a list of what I think are the best dive watches available in 2021. Now, because of the evolution and variance in the category, there could be multiple ways to rank this list. For our purposes here, I focused on a couple of key pieces. First and foremost design, does the watch look good? While functionality is important, all of these watches are up to the task of diving, so their looks are a big part of what sets them apart. Next, I took into account the history of the watch and its impact on the dive watch category and finally, the future; how important do I think this watch is going to be in 10,20 years.
The Rolex Sea-Dweller is Rolex’s most capable dive watch. It has the handsome good looks of the Submariner but with added functionality that makes it a truly professional tool. This reference 1665 “Double Red” Sea-Dweller is the inaugural model for the line, and it’s easily one of the most collectible and important dive watches ever made. It was designed in collaboration with experienced saturation divers and was built to stay at extreme depths for extended periods of time. Traits like the helium escape valve, red text on the dial, and the lack of a cyclops over the date have come to define this model and gone on to be emulated by other modern dive watches as a tribute to this tool watch legend. This is a watch that often gets overshadowed by the legendary Submariner due perhaps to its slightly beefier size or maybe just the fact that it came out later. However, considering this list is ranking dive watches and not just watches, I can’t in good conscience rank the Submariner—which is objectively not as capable—above it. This is, in my opinion, the best Dive watch you can buy in 2021.
A very close second, the Submariner is the most famous dive watch ever made and possibly the most iconic wristwatch of all time. Originally introduced in 1953, it was one of the first commercially available dive watches. It is the standard by which the entire category is judged. I’d venture to guess the large majority of dive watch reviews have some mention of how the watch stacks up against the Submariner. Its design is nearly perfect, and because of that, the Submariner has transcended its tool watch status and become the go-to watch for adventurers, celebrities, and pretty much everyone else. It has been an icon for decades, and yet this latest reference could be the best iteration ever. It combines all the advantages of a modern Rolex with its exceptional bracelet, durable and efficient movement, and gorgeous unscratchable ceramic bezel, with more elegant and refined case lines as compared to its supercase predecessor. I selected the green bezel variant because it differentiates the watch a bit. Sure the black dial is a classic, but it’s also seen everywhere; the green dial signals that you’re in the know. If you find yourself totally incapable of picking a dive watch from this list and feel as though a final decision is impossible, just get this one.
The Tudor Pelagos is the youngest watch model on this list. While the other watches have a lineage that goes back decades, the Pelagos is only nine years old. Sure it has taken some design cues from Tudor’s archives, but the Pelagos is its own watch. In addition to being the youngest, it’s also arguably the purest tool watch on this list. The Pelagos isn’t trying to be a go-anywhere do-anything luxury sports watch like the Submariner. Instead, it takes the cues from the Sea-Dweller and is engineered strictly for professional diving. However, unlike the collectible Sea-Dweller linked above, this is a modern watch you can feel comfortable beating up. This particular example is the Pelagos LHD which is notable for having its crown on the left side of the case, making it more suitable for left-handed divers. It has a 42mm all brushed titanium case and bracelet with a helium escape valve and a self-adjusting clasp that can expand and compress with your wetsuit as you dive. It also has a subtle nod to the red text of the Sea-Dweller with Pelagos written in red on the dial. If you’re one of the few among us who will actually dive with their dive watch, this is the one for you.
This is the Omega Seamaster 300 blue dial in titanium. Some of the watches on this list look very similar to their vintage counterparts, but this watch is almost an exact copy of the original Seamaster 300 that was introduced in 1957. Based on the first diver in the Seamaster family, this titanium 300 offers faithful vintage aesthetics with advanced modern materials and a cutting-edge movement. Inside the Seamaster is the in-house co-axial caliber 8400, which has an impressive 60-hour power reserve and notably is resistant to magnetic fields up to 15,000 gauss. This handsome and versatile timepiece goes just as good with a wet suit as it does an Armani suit, and it shows why the dive watch has become so popular over the years. If you love the vintage design but aren’t looking for the responsibility of caring for a vintage piece, this watch should fit the bill.
While not nearly as famous as the Submariner, the Blancpain Fifty-Fathoms has an equally important role in the history of the dive watch. Introduced in 1953, it pioneered key design traits we now take for granted, like the unidirectional bezel and large lumed hands and markers. This 45mm Fifty-Fathoms is the modern version of that groundbreaking dive watch. Along with its distinct design, this watch has many features that set it apart from the other dive watches listed here. Its lumed sapphire bezel, 120-hour power reserve, and large case size all offer real-world diving functionality advantages that show the Fifty-Fathoms is still a force to be reckoned with in the dive watch space. This is the dive watch for someone who’s looking for something a bit different. This watch is every bit as important and well made as the other watches on this list, but not nearly popular. If you like going against the grain, this is your dive watch.
Easily the most affordable watch on this list, the Tudor Black 58 offers modern durability and accuracy with vintage styling inspired by Tudors legendary military-worn blue snowflake Tudor Submariner. Measuring 39mm in diameter and just 11.9mm thick, the Black Bay 58 is wearable by a wide range of wrist sizes and has an extremely versatile design that allows it to complement everything from business casual outfits to swimsuits effortlessly. It also has an in-house COSC certified movement with an impressive 70-hour power reserve, oh and its less than $4,000. This is the best watch on the list for a new watch or diving enthusiast.
Some will scoff at my placing the legendary Tudor Submariner below the Black Bay 58, but I give the Black Bay an edge due to the added effort that goes into caring for a vintage watch. I also think the Black Bay 58 will go on to be a watch that defines this era of watchmaking. That said, the Tudor Snowflake is still one of the all-time great dive watches, mostly due to its battle-tested tenure as the go-to watch for the Marine Nationale. If it’s good enough for French Navy divers, it’s good enough for you. This model also stands out because this is when the Tudor Submariner really separated itself from the Rolex Submariner and created its own identity. The blue bezel and dial, square indices, and trademark snowflake hands allow the Tudor to step out of Rolex’s shadow and make this watch highly desirable in its own right. This is a deep-cut dive watch fit for a true watch nerd.
We’ve discussed the Modern Fifty-Fathoms, but you can’t have a list of the best dive watches without a vintage Fifty-Fathoms. It’s an “OG,” as they say. The Blancpain Fifty-Fathoms Aqua Lung “No Radiations” is one of the most famous and desirable vintage diving references. Introduced in the 1960’s the standout feature of this watch is the intentionally unignorable “No Radiations” symbol above six o’clock. This was added to the watch to convey that unlike earlier era Fifty-Fathoms dive watches which used Radium lume and thus contained controversial levels of radiation, this watch used the much safer Tritium. This watch also has the added cachet of being a co-branded Aqualung Fifty-Fathoms, Aqualung off-course being a famous diving brand owned by none other than Jacques Cousteau. With a stamp of approval like that, you can rest assured this is a legitimate diver watch. However, it is one of the older watches on this list and will require some educated stewardship, especially if one wants to take it to the depths with them.
The Omega Seamaster Diver 300m is one of the best modern dive watches available, but this isn’t just any Seamaster Diver 300m. This is the latest 007 special edition. This watch differs from the standard production model in a few key ways, its made of titanium, making it light on the wrist, it doesn’t have a date window, so its dial is clean and symmetrical, and maybe most importantly, it was designed in collaboration with and worn by Daniel Craig in his swan song James Bond appearance in No Time to Die. It has a ruggedly handsome appearance much like Craig and doesn’t have the overly obvious branding that turns some off of the other Bond watches. Add to the equation premium touches like a ceramic bezel and dial as well as an in-house METAS certified movement, and you’ve got a dive watch that on paper can hold its own with any other watch out there.
Jaeger LeCoultre—AKA “the watchmaker’s, watchmaker”—is primarily known for more formal timepieces. But that doesn’t mean that’s all they know how to do. This Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Compressor Diving Pro Geographic Navy SEAL Q1852670 —despite being made primarily of rose gold—is a highly capable tool watch that celebrates the brand’s collaboration with the iconic US special forces group, the NAVY SEALs. Released in 2009, this is not a subtle, “slips easily under the cuff” kind of watch. The case is 18k rose gold measuring 46mm in diameter and a whopping 20mm thick, but that size is there for a reason. On this watch, everything besides the case material has a functional purpose. With 1000 feet of water resistance, a mechanical depth gauge, and dual time zone functionality, the Diving Pro Geographic has everything one needs to partake in aquatic missions around the world. It’s one of just 300 examples and might be the most overtly luxurious and capable watch on this list all at the same time. This is a downright cocky dive watch as anything built for the NAVY SEALs should be.
Technically, this is a repeat appearance for the Submariner on this list, but this Project X Heritage HS01 is so different from a standard Submariner that I think it can take up its own spot. This is the Project X Heritage Submariner HS01. Released in 2013. It’s the first watch from Project X to go into their Heritage collection. The HS01 starts its life as a standard 114060 ceramic no date Submariner. After some significant modifications that include removing the crown guards, beveling the lugs, and a healthy dose of controversial “fauxtina” you get a modern watch with a distinctly vintage look, like the Black Bay 58 but with Rolex brand recognition and build quality. Specifically, the design takes a lot of inspiration from the reference 6538 produced from 1956 to 1959. What you end up with is a watch that’s water-resistant to 300 meters/1000 feet, built from 904L stainless steel, and powered by the modern workhorse caliber 3130 but stylistically has design queues from the ’50s. The biggest knock on this watch and the reason it’s so far down the list is because it’s a limited edition of just 60 watches making it exceptionally hard to find and expensive when you do.