If you see a guy wearing a dive watch, chances are he’s never gone deeper than the local swimming pool. And perhaps not even on purpose. But don’t laugh because the venerable dive watch has evolved from a purpose-built instrument into the most popular sport watch style today. Its origins date back all the way back to the ’20s and ’30s by way of Rolex and Omega, but now practically every major watch brand makes at least one model. Dive watches are truly versatile and can adroitly toe the line between casual and dressy without even having to go through a strap change. From the high-end dive watch, to vintage-style dive watches, we round up the very best dive watches, regardless of your budget.
But First, What Is a Dive Watch?
So, what makes a dive watch a dive watch? Well, die-hards view it from the perspective of rigorous testing that complies with ISO 6425 International Standards. It’s a long list of criteria and tests that earn a watch the right to have “Diver’s” and the depth rating printed on the dial. While some watchmakers go above and beyond these standards, ISO 6425 is widely considered to be the benchmark. Not all watches that are called divers go through ISO 6425 compliance, but that doesn’t mean you can’t dive with them. In general, you should look for a 316L stainless steel, titanium, or bronze case, a unidirectional ratcheting bezel, sapphire or mineral glass with an anti-reflective coating, easy to read hands and markers, low-light reading capability, a depth rating of at least 200 meters, and a screw-down crown. We’ve selected a handful of standouts in the dive watch category that all fall within a reasonable price spectrum, and all of them should prove to be more than capable on your next diving adventure.
The Best Dive Watches Under $500
Phoibos Leviathan PY0 500-Meter
Phoibos has a serious cult following among microbrand dive watch aficionados largely because of the quality and tool watch toughness you get for the price. The Leviathan 500-Meter clad in a 316L Stainless Steel case is a diving beast thanks to its excellent scratch resistance, sapphire glass with three levels of AR coating, 15 layers of Super-Luminova lume, and a 500-meter depth rating. We’re blown away by the angularity of the case and lugs, as well as the ISOfrane-like rubber dive strap that has a case-matching DLC-coated buckle. Plus the striking blue dial is eye-catching to say the least. The reliable Seiko NH35 automatic movement is housed beneath the screwdown caseback, and the big 45mm case makes no apologies to tiny wrists, so take note.
Spinnaker Croft Mid-Size
Spinnaker added a downsized version of its popular Croft this year, and it’s just right for those with wrists smaller than 7 inches in diameter. The good news is that it gives up none of the boldness or dive-ready capability of its larger brother. The 40mm case is made with 316L stainless steel, and the unidirectional Pepsi-style bezel is easy to operate. The dial has big and bold markers and hands for great visibility and style, and it even adds a round cyclops date window for that Rolex-ian Submariner touch. The 200-meter depth rating, Japanese automatic movement, and sapphire crystal belie its remarkably affordable price. Everyone will ask where you got it.
Helm Vanuatu Ti
This high-quality, low-on-the-radar watch brand was born in North Carolina in 2015, and its commitment to making true dive watches is untrammeled. Not only do they use high-grade titanium in their Vanuatu Ti’s case and bracelet, but they also adhere and test to ISO 6425 standards, unheard of at this price point. Just as surprising are the rest of the details which include a ceramic bezel insert, flat sapphire glass with Inner AR coating, Super-LumiNova BGW9 on the hands and markers, drilled lugs for easy strap changes, and 300-meter water resistance. The watch has serious visual presence and remarkable wear comfort, to boot. Altogether, there isn’t a better value on this list with these kinds of specs.
Seiko Prospex Street Safari Automatic
This fully analog version of the Seiko “Safarnie” made famous by the Governator is all about military badassery. The meaty 46.7mm case provides the unidirectional yellow and black bezel with protection from dings and movement. The solar quartz movement provides months of charging and superbly accurate timekeeping, while the tremendous Seiko lume glows brighter than most of the divers listed here. It’s all topped off by a Hardles mineral crystal and a rugged army green silcone strap. You might have to do more curls to get away with this one.
The Best Dive Watches Under $1,500
French microbrand Baltic has earned quite the reputation among watch enthusiasts. Their flagship Aquascaphe dive watch is a stunning timepiece with a distinctly vintage look and feel. But the performance is clearly modern. Powered by the Japanese Miyota 9039 automatic and sporting 200m of water resistance, the Baltic Aquascaphe can handle its share of adventures. But the 39mm case size makes for a sharp watch that can be dressed up or kept casual.
Alsta Nautoscaph Superautomatic Iconic Dive Watch
This watch was made iconic thanks to its big-screen appearance in Jaws. This bulky, chunky dive watch is a head-turner. Housed within a thick case, the Seiko NH35A automatic-powered Alsta Nautoscaph is built to withstand serious conditions. This iconic dive watch is water-resistant up to 300 meters and sports an adventure-ready black rubber strap. Stylish and completely unique, the hard-to-find Alsta Nautoscaph Superautomatic makes a great addition to your watch collection.
Doxa Caribbean Sub 200
For less than a grand, this “entry-level” Doxa is the one you can put on with a suit and not look like a Jacques Cousteau wanna-be. The 42mm diameter might struggle to get under a shirt cuff, but the crisp dial, shapely stainless steel case, and the beads of rice bracelet provide a level of class most divers can’t reach. The 25-jewel Swiss automatic movement has a 38-hour power reserve. The domed AR-coated sapphire crystal adds a touch of vintage in its shape, and the Super-Luminova ensures excellent low-light visibility whether your diving to its 200-meter depth rating or just trying to see how late it was when you closed up the bar.
Zodiac Super Sea Wolf 53 Compression Automatic
Zodiac is a household name in the world of dive watches. Their original Sea Wolf which dates back to the 1950s is one of the first dive watches made for the average consumer. Recent models from Zodiac retain that old-school cool with plenty of modern upgrades. Swiss-made STP 3-13 caliber automatic movement. Bright C3 SuperLuminova luminous paint on hands and dial indices. Black, 120-click rotating bezel for accurate measurement. This automatic dive watch is a handsome and stylish timepiece that stands the test of time.
The Top High-End Dive Watch List- Under $2,500
Longines stocks some stunning vintage dive watches but their modern takes are just as impressive. 300m water resistance. AR-coated sapphire crystal. Ceramic bezel insert. Automatic movement. This modern dive watch is ready for action. The green dial is striking and will certainly make an impression while the stainless steel strap is refined and handsome.
Ollech & Wajs C 1000 S
You’d never guess this classy Swiss timepiece has the ability to dive to a full 1,000 meters, more than three times deeper than the famous Rolex Submariner. Housed within the accommodating 39mm stainless steel case is a modified Swiss ETA 2824-2 protected by a strengthened and domed sapphire crystal and a quadruple gasketed screw-down crown. The unique bezel is a marvel of sophistication with its mineral insert, and the super-comfortable beads of rice links are machined from a solid block of 316L stainless steel. Our favorite parts, other than the magnificent bezel, have to be the rectangular hands and the large triangular applied markers. It’s a watch that can easily dive the depths and then go flawlessly with a suit for dinner.
Marathon Watch GSAR Anthracite Large Diver’s Automatic
These Swiss-made timepieces have been used by Allied forces since 1941, so their mettle has been tested time and again. Our favorite is the 41mm automatic GSAR in dark Anthracite. GSAR stands for Government Search and Rescue, and the watch’s ethos is all business. The black IP case is matte finished for minimal reflection, and the tritium gas tubes are self-illuminating for excellent nighttime and low-light visibility. It’s powered by a 25-jewel automatic Swiss movement, and the depth rating is a full 1,000 meters. The knurled screw-down crown makes for easy gripping, even with gloves, and the matching rubber bracelet is built to take both saltwater and the rigors of your day.
Oris Divers Sixty-Five Automatic Dive Watch
There isn’t a better vintage-style diver released in 2021 than the Divers Sixty-Five. It’s right-sized for just about any wrist, and it has a sporty but understatedly classic look with its dark blue dial and old-school lume. The narrow bezel and the domed sapphire glass permit the Sixty-Five to be worn with a suit, as well as a wetsuit. Perhaps most surprisingly is the in-house Swiss-made caliber Oris 733 automatic movement with 38-hour power reserve that should be housed in a watch costing far more.
The Best Nato Watch Straps
Crown & Buckle Supreme Nato Straps
These days, a lot of watch brands provide extra straps, typically the popular Nato style that’s both comfortable and practical because it dries quickly after dives and dips while also providing for quick strap changes without removing the spring bars between the watch case’s lugs. Unfortunately, most of these additional straps don’t have the best quality. If you want to upgrade, we recommend the Supreme line from Crown & Buckle. Not only is the top-grade nylon completely smooth on the wrist, the impeccable 316L stainless steel hardware has beveled corners that put other brands to shame. You can even opt for black PVD finishing as well as request a single-pass style that allows the watch to sit flatter on your wrist. These are the Nato straps to gift yourself this year.