Whether you’re just diving into a huge workload at your desk, or actually spending some time deep underwater, one thing is clear — a dive watch would be great to have on your wrist. You don’t need to be a diver to appreciate these high-performing, beautifully designed, and undoubtedly utilitarian timepieces for everyday use. In this Carry Smarter guide, you’ll get familiar with the basics of dive watches, what features to look for when buying a diver, and our picks for the best and most affordable options for 2017 to help you take the plunge into the world of dive watches.
A Crash Course on Dive Watches
The purpose of a dive watch is to monitor how long you’ve been underwater, and more importantly - how much air you have left in your tank. They’ve been around since the turn of the 20th century and continue to be both fashionable and useful to this day.
The quintessential dive watch has an immediately recognizable look. They're larger (around 42mm), feature a rotating bezel, and rest on a metal bracelet or rubber strap.
Dive watches are ideal for EDC because they’re built like tanks, they’re easy to read, and they look just plain cool.
4 Hallmarks of Dive Watches
Water Resistance: If you’re buying a dive watch, it should have proper water resistance. While most watches claim 50m of water resistance, that really means that it will survive hand washes and maybe a shower. When looking at dive watches, 200m (660 feet!) of water resistance is common ground. If you plan on having a watch that will stand up to swimming, showering—and of course—diving, be sure to choose something with a high level of water resistance.
Build Quality: Divers entrust their watches with their lives to be able to know precisely how much time they have underwater. For dive watches, reliable durability and construction are critical. Look for a dive watch with a well-built case, a strong crystal (mineral and sapphire are best), and a good strap or bracelet. A solid dive watch will last for decades if maintained, and you can easily buy an heirloom piece in the $200 range.
Movement: The slight bump in price from our Military Watch Guide opens up more options for the type of movement that powers the watch. Automatic movements are popular in the diver market as they don’t require a battery. Automatic watches “wind” from the motion of your arm, so they’ll keep ticking as long as you keep them on your wrist. Also seen in this class of watches are day/date features, adding to the utility of the timepiece.
Legibility: When underwater, it’s crucial to know exactly how long you’ve been diving. The bezel, a key component of the dive watch, tells you exactly that. The bezel’s “12 o’clock” dot can be rotated to match up with the minute hand to keep track of time. As the minute hand moves, you can see how many minutes have elapsed by reading the bezel number as opposed to the watch face. Higher-end watches feature unidirectional bezels that only rotate counterclockwise to avoid accidentally overestimating how much time is left. Dive watches usually have large, illuminated indices (the hour and minute markings on the face) that are easy to read. This illumination (or “lume” in the watch world) not only looks awesome, but it helps you quickly tell time when the lights are out.
With the features to look for in a dive watch in mind, here are some of our favorite examples for this year—all coming in at around $250.
The 10 Best Affordable Dive Watches for EDC
The Casio MDV106-1A is the most inexpensive watch on this list at well under $200, but Casio didn't get to where they are today producing cheap, low-quality watches. This watch is a great entry point into the dive watch look without having to commit to the full mechanical experience (and price). Its 45mm case diameter is as big as they come, and its 200m water resistance, screw-down crown, and screw-lock back preserve its Japanese quartz movement from the water. Excellent features for a dive watch at a very affordable price point.
Orient FAA02002D9 "Mako II"
Orient's Submariner homage gets everything right. It pays its respects to the quintessential dive watch design, but makes some very attractive tweaks to make it their own. The Arabic numerals, date window, sword hands, and striking red accent on the second hand are all welcome aesthetic choices, enhancing its look without overdoing it. The rest of the watch is solid: stainless steel bracelet, in-house automatic movement, 200m water resistance and mineral crystal window all give great value to the watch as well as the wearer, given how inexpensive it is. The Orient Mako II is a great starting point to jump into the deep end of dive watches. The Mako II features an improved movement with a hacking seconds hand, the ability to hand wind, and an improved bezel that now has 120 clicks (vs. 60).
It's hard to talk about dive watches without mentioning one from Seiko's popular SKX series. These tried-and-true ISO certified dive watches are some of the best out there, especially given the price. As an alternative to the common SKX007, we like the SKX173. In place of the circular indices on the 007, the 173 has squares. It gives the watch a unique look, further separating it from the pack of submariner homages. You still get the reliable Seiko movement, 200m of water resistance, and strong mineral crystal.
Citizen Eco-Drive BN0151-09L Promaster Diver Watch
Citizen's Eco Drive Promaster is their take on the dive watch. On the outside, you'll find a unidirectional bezel, chunky tool-like case, and classic dive watch styling. Inside, there's Citizen's Eco Drive technology. It keeps the watch ticking via solar power, so you never have to worry about replacing a battery. At just under $175, the Promaster is a great value too.
Timex Expedition T49799
The Timex Expedition series of watches go the extra mile in providing quality timepieces packed with features but not weighed down by price. The T49799 takes the brand under the waves, giving you everything you need for your next dive. The watch itself is beefy, with 44 millimeters of shock-resistant stainless steel sealed, chunky rivets and a mineral crystal window rated for 200m. The signature Timex Indiglo provides ample illumination for dark and murky environments, and its chronograph dials handle all your timing needs. An outer bezel Tachymeter and date window round out the watch's data features.
2017 is seeing the revival of a ton of vintage watches, especially from Seiko. They've updated their classic “turtle” diver with modern materials and construction. The SRP779's case is gently curved so it's very comfortable on the wrist. You'll also get 200m of water resistance, a unidirectional bezel, Hardlex mineral crystal and a day-date display. If you're looking for a diver with some vintage flair, check out the SRP series.
Orient Ray Raven II
The Orient Ray Raven II has a blacked-out PVD coating that adds extra durability and a stealthy appearance that'll look great on your wrist no matter the occasion. The watch has 200M of water resistance, which is more than enough for swimming and diving. The solid metal caseback and screw down crown add an extra barrier against water and dust. The Ray Raven’s large hands and indices are treated with Super Luminova paint. It casts a bright green glow when charged by the sun or your EDC flashlight and lasts for hours. Like most dive watches, the Raven Ray II features a unidirectional bezel for tracking elapsed time.
This diver is from Seiko’s popular “5 Series” of watches. Each watch in the 5 Series features automatic winding, a day/date display, water resistance, a recessed crown, and a durable case and bracelet. This particular watch features a more vintage look thanks to the wide bezel and round indices on the face. The black face nicely accents the stainless steel and the transparent casebook allows you to see the mechanical movement in motion. The SNZF17 also comes on a stainless steel bracelet, which adds to the value of this affordable diver.
Deep Blue Nato Diver 300
At first glance, Deep Blue's Nato Diver 300 may not stand out all that much. It's when you get into the spec sheet that you realize what a great value this tool diver really is. For just under 300 bucks, you get a sapphire crystal with AR coating, a helium release valve, and a premium finished 316L steel case. A Seiko movement keeps the watch running, with a built in day-date display. The Nato Diver also boasts 300m of water resistance and a comfy rubber strap.
Seiko SRP315J1 "Orange Monster"
You can't have a list about dive watches (regardless of the price) and not mention the Seiko Monster. This timepiece sets the bar for the value you get from an automatic watch, regardless of price or brand. From its mammoth 45mm case design to its reliable 4r36 movement to the most aggressive lume applied on a production watch, the list of its features just goes on and on. This new SRP315J1 takes all the respectable features of its predecessor and improves on all its former weaknesses. Its second hand can now be stopped (hacked) during adjustment, its crown is easier to grip, it has a more thematic and less complicated face, and they've somehow made its lume even brighter. Make no mistake, its nickname is "Monster" for a reason.
Now that you know a thing or two about dive watches, how they could fit into your EDC, and examples of budget-friendly options, you’re ready to get your feet wet with a diver of your own. What dive watch is next on your list? What watches did we miss? We want to hear what’s on your wrist (or wishlist for now!) — leave us a comment below.
This post was updated on March 8th, 2017 with more recent product recommendations.