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 (especially now that summer’s in full swing). 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 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 today. The quintessential dive watch has an immediately recognizable look. They're larger in size (around 42mm), feature a rotating bezel, and rest on a metal bracelet or rubber strap. Dive watches are ideal for EDC use 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 — all coming in at under $200:
The 7 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.
The SKX007 is an excellent example of a classic dive watch. This model from Seiko has been around in one form or another for decades. Featuring a mechanical movement and tank-like construction, this capable diver will serve you well for years to come. The large, circular indices are easy to read and the bezel clicks securely in place. The day/date wheel, sweeping seconds hand, and bright lume add up to a stylish watch ideal for everyday wear.
Orient CEM65001B "Black Mako"
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 Black Mako is a great starting point to jump into the deep end of dive watches.
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.
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 thin indices on the face. The dark blue face nicely accents the stainless steel and the transparent casebook allows you to see the mechanical movement in motion. The SNZH53 also comes on a stainless steel bracelet, which adds to the value of this affordable diver.
Understated excellence is the name of the game for Parnis pieces, and the GMT-Master is winning at it. Only simple and effective components grace the watch, from its scratch-resistant sapphire window to its automatic, hacking movement. Its design pays tribute to the classic dive design, and its stainless steel construction capped with a ceramic bezel ensures that design is preserved against wear and tear. If you want the dive watch quality but prefer not to make waves with aesthetics, this Parnis could be for you.
Seiko SRP307 "Black 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 second-generation SRP307 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. (Editor’s Note: At the time of writing, the Monster was $200 on the nose. Its price has since fluctuated higher, but it’s still a worthwhile mention for this list.)
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 sub-$200 watches did we miss? We want to hear what’s on your wrist (or wishlist for now!) — leave us a comment below.
Words by Ed Jelley, Mikey Bautista, and Bernard Capulong. Photos by Ed Jelley.
This post was updated on Friday, July 10th to remove a product from our list of recommendations at the request of the manufacturer.