The First Dive Watch

Alan Wood, 18th November 2022

There’s certainly some conjecture over which was the first dive watch. This largely depends of course on how you define a dive watch as these have significantly improved over time. Today 300 metres or 1000 ft is nothing for a £250 Seiko Deep Blue, but in the early half of the last century, this would have been thought impossible for a production wristwatch.

The Omega Marine of 1932 was successfully tested to a depth of 73 metres in Lake Geneva not far from Omega’s headquarters and so this is a very good contender. Although the Panerai Radiomir of 1938 with its pocket watch movement encased by Rolex for the Italian Navy was the first purpose built dive watch. This was successfully tested to 300 ft. Panerai, however, did not make its dive watches available to the general public until later in 1953.

So the popular vote goes to the Blancpain 50 Fathoms of 1953 which became a legend and the gold standard for the design of dive the watch. With a black dial and rotating bezel and depth rating of around 300 ft. However the Zodiac Seawolf released at almost the same time had over double the depth rating at 660ft and so this watch deserves much more credit than it receives.

However it’s the Rolex Submariner with its patent screw down crown which came to dominate the world of dive watches. Released in 1954 after extensive testing during 1953 by the Institute of Submarine Research in Cannes. Tested in over 130 dives at up to 200 ft and over a range of temperatures, this was a far more robust and accomplished piece of tool-watch engineering. Rolex had the advantages of course of holding the patent for its screw down crown and having over 30 years experience of the serial production of waterproof watches at this point.

But the history of the dive watch perhaps begins in 1926 when Rolex released its first Oyster…

Rolex’ patent screw down crown and highly accomplished case with a sub-chassis with screw front and back, each with rubber seals made this the first commercially successful waterproof watch.

Although not a dive watch per se, one could safely dive into a pool and swim wearing the Rolex Oyster. The Oyster was revolutionary as the first commercially available waterproof wristwatch. Rolex provided its dealers with fish bowls and fish in which to submerge a running Oyster watch on permanent display in the retailer’s shop window. This watch was also famously worn on the wrist of the first lady to swim the English Channel and it was still running perfectly after the 10 hour swim.

However as early 1923 Rolex released its Submarine Hermetic…

To Close

We’d love to hear from you as to which of these watches you consider the most important

Alan Wood
Alan Wood, founder of Vintage Gold Watches, is a trusted vintage watch dealer with 35+ years of experience. His passion and expertise have earned him a respected reputation in the industry. Vintage Gold Watches, established in 2011, is known for Alan's knowledge and skilled restoration team. With a love for vintage watches since his youth, Alan is thrilled to share the finest timepieces from the 1950s, 60s, and 70s with others, fueling his obsession.

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