Dive Watches | What To Look For in a Good Diving Watch
A beginners' guide to buying a good diving watch with important features fully explained
We’ve teamed up with Seiko, who make the Prospex PADI Special Edition Kinetic Dive Watch (shown being worn above) to look at the challenges faced by divers, and why accurate timekeeping is essential in the most extreme underwater environments. Here we bring you a guide to buying the best dive watch - explaining why you need one and what features you should look out for.
Diving watches are like the Range Rovers of the timekeeping world: They’re designed to feel luxurious and look great, but they also have the power to perform in extreme environments. Built to be supremely tough, they excel under the huge pressure that divers experience at depth.
"Timing is a life and death thing. If you get a bubble in your blood stream and it works its way to your head that's it. Lights out."
We’ll be using the Seiko Prospex Special Edition, which was produced in collaboration with the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI), as an example to explain the features you’ll find on the best diving watches.
Why do you need a diving watch?
Accurate timekeeping is, of course, essential to diving safely. For divers to avoid the condition known as “the bends" caused by bubbles of nitrogen in the blood stream, they need to ascend slowly after a dive, stopping at various points along the way to allow their body to expel the nitrogen and stop it building up to dangerous levels.
As Craig Mainprize, one of the most highly-qualified diving instructors in the UK, puts it: “This is a life and death thing. If you get a bubble in your blood stream and it works its way to your head that's it. Lights out."
These days people often rely on dive computers to handle the bulk of their calculations about the necessary stops to resurface and the intervals needed between dives. But most divers like to have a classic dive watch just to be sure. Mainprize explains: “A dive computer can easily go wrong. A watch is normally your backup." Not only that, a proper diving watch looks great and works well when you’re out of the water too.
What should you look for in a diving watch?
There are lots of factors to consider when choosing a good diving watch. Here are the main ones.
1) A Good Diving Watch Needs a Good Waterproof Rating
The first essential feature of a good diving watch is, of course, how waterproof it is and how well it works under high pressure. Watches that are simply rated waterproof often won’t be able to handle the extreme pressures involved in diving.
You want a watch that is rated to at least 100m WR, or ideally (like the Prospex PADI Special Edition model) 200m WR. This means it will still function as designed at 200 metres under the surface. Even if you’re never likely to go this deep as a recreational diver, you’ll want the extra depth just to ensure the watch is safe.
2) A Good Diving Watch Must Be Easy to Read
Secondly, you want a watch that is clear and easy to read. As Craig Mainprize explains: “I look for a big, clear face, something that's quite rugged and simple. Most dive watches now have about half a dozen dials on. But I want to be able to look at something at a glance and know what it is rather than get the manual out. Simplicity is better."
It’s also worth bearing in mind that it gets darker the further you dive down so look for something with luminous markings on the dial especially if, like Mainprize, you enjoy diving in the UK. Having tested the Seiko Prospex PADI Special Edition he praised it not only for its “good, big face," but also because “the blobs on the dial are incredibly luminous at depth".
3) A Good Diving Watch Must Be Accurate, with a Long Battery Life
Accuracy is obviously key to a diving watch so choose something that’s made out of solid materials. The best diving watches also have exceptionally long battery lives. In the case of the Seiko Prospex, the watch is actually powered by kinetic energy, so it winds itself automatically as you move your arm.
As diving instructor Mainprize said: “Because it's self winding there's no need to get in the back at any point. The fact it doesn't need a battery is great. It's never going to fail on you."
4) A Good Diving Watch Must Have a Bezel
A bezel, a ring marked with minutes which rotates around the watch face, is also an essential component of a good diving watch. If you rotate the bezel so the zero matches up with the minute hand as you start the dive, you can see your dive time instantly without having to calculate it.
The bezel is always on a ratchet so if you knock it you can only overestimate your dive time (which is much less dangerous than underestimating it for obvious reasons). But on the best watches like the Seiko Prospex, the bezel is actually protected so it’s near impossible to knock accidentally.
5) The Best Diving Watches Should Look Good and Feel Great to Wear
Finally, the look and feel of the watch and strap are important: These are largely personal choices. But it’s worth ensuring that the strap is long enough so that it will fit around your arm when you’re wearing your diving wetsuit (or in the case of cold water divers, your drysuit).