A nod to the heroism of the Royal Italian Navy, the grit of the long-distance channel swimmer, and even Jacques Cousteau’s spirit of exploration, dive watches manage to be inherently inspiring.
In their first iterations in the 1920s, dive watches marked an important milestone. Advancements in water resistance helped popularize the use of the wristwatch (vs. the more typical pocket watch) by making them much more durable and practical for everyday wear. In the 1950s, when scuba diving was gaining popularity as a recreational sport, the dive watch became a truly necessary tool for keeping track of time while descending deep underwater, particularly when worn in tandem with a depth gauge. And as advancements in diving equipment and technology allowed for deeper dives, the watch industry kept pace with greater and greater ingenuity.
Today, for a watch to be officially certified as a "dive watch," it must meet strict guidelines from the International Organization for Standardization. A few of these essential elements: water resistance to a minimum of 100 meters, particular levels of visibility and legibility in total darkness, magnetic, shock, and chemical resistance, and a glowing second hand that indicates that the watch is working, even in complete darkness. And while most of the watches here were designed specifically to pass these tests, they're also incredibly good-looking—so it's entirely reasonable to fall in love with these watches purely for their dry-land aesthetics.
This year, many brands are looking to the past to interpret important heritage models, and a few took the concept of modern dive watch to new places entirely. Read on for the top 14 dive watches of 2017, but be warned: Picking just one favorite will be tough.
Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore Diver
A diving helmet serves as inspiration for the octagon shape of the iconic Royal Oak, new for 2017 in five eye-catching colors—white, navy, acid yellow, lime green, and orange. This 42mm self-winding version is water-resistant to 300 meters and features an internal rotating bezel with the dive time measurement, date window, and time.
Breitling Superocean Heritage II 46
On its 60th birthday, the Superocean has been redesigned with a shock- and scratch-resistant ceramic bezel, giving the watch a shiny and clean new look. The self-winding chronometer, which is water-resistant up to 200 meters and uses the original Superocean logo, is co-designed with fellow watch brand Tudor; it's available in black, blue, and bronze with leather, croc, rubber, and steel mesh bracelet options.
Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Tribute to MIL-SPEC
First introduced in 1953, the Fifty Fathoms from Blancpain has some serious name recognition in the world of dive watches. The latest iteration (a 500-piece limited edition) replicates the design of the original 1950s MIL-SPEC 1 right down to the distinctive bright orange water tightness indicator on the dial, but also includes some key modern updates to its automatic movements.
Omega Seamaster Planet Ocean “Big Blue”
With a sturdy case made entirely from a single block of blue ceramic, the Big Blue is a combination dive watch with a
$11,700, omegawatches.com (available December 2017).
Bell & Ross BR O3-92 Diver
Bell & Ross adapts a classic watch—featuring the recognizable square shape of its iconic pilot watch—into a new
$3,700, bellross.com (available June 2017).
Tudor Heritage Black Bay Steel
Tudor’s beloved Black Bay is fresh this year with an engraved steel rotating bezel. It's waterproof to 200 meters, and the self-winding mechanical movement has a 70-hour power reserve and (for the very first time) features a date window.
$3,800 on bracelet ($3,475 on leather strap), tudorwatch.com.
MB&F Horological Machine No.7 “Aquapod”
MB&F is an incredibly independent watch brand known for creating unique “horological machines." Its latest, limited-edition automatic piece was inspired by jellyfish—and while it's not specifically a dive watch, it does share some similar traits, like the uni-directional bezel that circles separately around the dial, its 60-second flying tourbillon (which helps it escape the effects of gravity) at the top, a power reserve of 72 hours, and the fact that it certainly can get wet: The watch is water-resistant to 50 meters.
RADO HyperChrome Captain Cook
From a brand best known for its use of high-tech ceramic comes the reinvention of a piece from its 1962 HyperChrome collection. The new iteration is slightly larger than the original and features a blue ceramic bezel, a woven textile strap, and water resistance up to 200 meters.
$2,400, rado.com (available September 2017).
Rolex Oyster Perpetual Sea-Dweller
The steel Rolex Sea-Dweller, a legendary and historically significant dive watch, celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. With an updated and slightly larger profile clocking in at 43mm, the self-winding mechanical watch can hit depths of 1,220 meters (4,000 feet) and features a patented helium escape valve that made the watch famous amongst professional scuba divers. The red Sea-Dweller name on the dial is an important and notable detail that should please collectors.
$11,350, rolex.com (available Spring 2017).
Panerai Luminor Submersible BMG-Tech 3 Days Automatic
Created from an innovative metallic glass composite called BMG-Tech that's durable, fade- and scratch-resistant, and lightweight, the latest Panerai Luminor is everything a dive watch aspires to be. It features a "time of immersion" function that's super legible thanks to the Super-LumiNova against the blue dial, and the underwater "instrument" is water-resistant to 300 meters.
DOXA Sub300 Professional
This limited edition 50th anniversary model (only 300 of each dial color will be produced) pays homage to the brand's heritage, one made famous by Jacques Cousteau and still worn by his descendants. The 42.5mm watch is a faithful replica: It's water-resistant to 300 meters and features an automatic movement and a beads-of-rice-style stainless steel bracelet with integrated wetsuit extension.
$2,490, doxawatches.com (available November 2017).
Ulysse Nardin Diver Le Locle
A new release based on a style that debuted in 1964, this 42mm self-winding
Zodiac Super Sea Wolf 53 Compression
With a significant history dating back to the early 1950s, the Super Sea Wolf is faithful to the design and features of its predecessor. The 40mm automatic watch is water-resistant to 200 meters and comes paired with a blue military-style textile strap.
Seiko First Diver Recreation Limited Edition SLA017
Seiko’s very first dive watch, introduced in 1965, is back in a limited, 2,000-piece edition this year. Aside from its enhanced functionality, the watch is practically identical to its ancestors in every way: Water-resistant to 200 meters, the dial sports three-dimensional features and a straightforward, elegant interface.
$3,400, seikousa.com (available November 2017).
*This story originally appeared on Townandcountrymag.com.
* Minor edits have been made by the