The 10 Best Dive Watches of 2017
Originally published by Jason Heaton on Hodinkee.
The rumors of the dive watch’s demise are greatly exaggerated. Whether or not you take a dive watch deep, there’s no denying the genre is as popular as ever. And 2017 was a particularly good year for underwater watches. Let’s take a last plunge of the year and revisit some of the best. I apologize in advance for the preponderance of aquatic puns.
Panerai 42mm Luminor Submersible 1950 3 Days Automatic Acciaio
Kicking off the year with a splash (I told you) at SIHH was Panerai, who put a new, smaller twist on its familiar Luminor Submersible diver. The 42mm Luminor Submersible 1950 3 Days Automatic Acciaio, which James Stacey recently reviewed, was finally a more wearable version of what has long been one of my favorite divers. At 47 millimeters, traditionally the Submersible line was always attractive but missed the, er, boat, for most due to its gargantuan size. The minimalist, slightly steampunk aesthetic on this one works well with the more compact proportions and fits those of us who aren’t action movie heroes.
Sinn U1 Professional
Sinn usually flies under the radar (dives under the sonar?) with its divers, but a special US-market version of its stark U1 sold out quickly, thanks to the small tweaks the German brand made at the suggestion of one of its most ardent fans, a Florida cop. The so-called U1 Professional’s differences from the standard diver are subtle but significant, like a black bezel with white markings, fully hardened steel case, and altered dial with less text. They also did away with the date function and, most noticeably, moved the crown to the left side of the case. I had a chance to dive a chilly Great Lakes shipwreck with the U1 Professional back in the spring, where it more than proved its (German submarine steel) mettle.
Bremont Type S300 And Type S301
Bremont is better known for its aviation-themed watches but at their London townhouse showcase event, they debuted new additions to their Supermarine diver lineup. The S300 and vintage-inspired S301, most significantly departs from the other Supermarines in size, shrunken to a 40-millimeter case and slimmed down, mainly due to a more modest water resistance of 300 meters (instead of the 500m or 2000m of the bigger references). While the dials of these watches have a more conservative dive watch formula, the cases retain Bremont’s distinctive Trip-Tick profile and, fitted with leather straps, I think would work as well topside as underwater.
Moving on to Baselworld, we were spoiled for dive watch choice, with many brands trotting out new aquatic hardware, from Breitling’s new Superocean Heritage II, Tudor’s Black Bay Steel, and Omega’s “Trilogy” 60th Anniversary Seamaster 300. But of course, what we all came to see was the 50th anniversary Sea-Dweller from Rolex. And in typical fashion, Rolex didn’t give us what we expected. Sure, there was the red text on the dial we all wanted, but the watch also sported an all-new 43-millimeter size and—blasphemy!—a “Cyclops” date magnifier. I’ll be the first to admit, I wasn’t a fan when I first saw the watch, but by October, when I spent a few days diving with it in Mexico, I saw the light, so to speak. 43 millimeter is a pretty great size for a dive watch, and it emphatically sets it apart from the smaller Submariner. And the Cyclops? The rationale that it’s an improvement that Rolex can now confidently add to its 1,220 meter diver is debatable, but as someone with aging eyes, I can’t say it’s unwelcome.
Rado HyperChrome Captain Cook Limited Edition
At the other end of the spectrum at Baselworld was a watch that caught me, and many others, by surprise. The Rado HyperChrome Captain Cook Limited Edition was, without question, my favorite diver of the whole show, and one of my top two or three for the year. First of all, Rado isn’t exactly a brand known for its dive watches, much less ones with pitch-perfect 1960s styling. And secondly, who knew that a 37 millimeter watch could stand toe to toe with the big boys? But the combination of restrained pure ‘60s styling without heavy-handed faux-tina, solid spec sheet (ceramic bezel and 80-hour automatic movement), and a reasonable price made the Captain Cook a darling of the show for many. And despite Rado’s, and skeptics’, insistence that a 100-meter rated watch without a screw-down crown is NOT a diver, it did just fine on my wrist over a week of Caribbean diving.
Bell & Ross BR03-92 Diver
Bell & Ross tends to reboot its dive watch every 10 years. The earliest ones, the Type Marine and the Hydromax were fairly conventional divers based on then-partner, Sinn’s, solid formula. The second iteration, the BR02, was pretty, but fairly impractical as a real world dive watch. So this year’s BR03-92 Diver was a breath of fresh air that seemed familiar at the same time. That’s because it’s based on B&R’s long-time trademark square shape, borrowed from its aviation-themed collection. And you know what? It works. A more dive-styled dial and uni-directional bezel, with requisite splashes of orange makes the BR03 Diver a handsome alternative if round watches aren’t your thing.
Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Tribute To Mil-Spec
Blancpain was there at the beginning, debuting the Fifty Fathoms back at the 1953 Basel Watch Fair, and every year they try to recapture the magic with a new spin on the classic formula. This year it was an homage to one of the more famous vintage watches from the illustrious lineage—the “Mil-Spec”. At 40 millimeters, it’s a more wearable Fifty Fathoms than they’ve had in recent years and the matte black dial with painted markers is the first Blancpain diver in a long time that comes close to recapturing the “tool watch” styling so many love about the humble ones of yore. Of course, the calling card of the Tribute to Mil-Spec is the moisture indicator disc on the dial that changes color to let you know your $14,000 watch has leaked.
Seiko Prospex Diver SLA017
Are you seeing a theme this year? A 42-millimeter Panerai, 40-millimeter Bremonts, a 37-millimeter Rado! Smaller is in (Rolex clearly didn’t get the memo), but so also is vintage. The “heritage” trend of the past few years shows no sign of letting up. Seiko got in on the game, following up on its winning SRP “Turtles” of two years ago, with an homage to its very first diver, the reference 6217 from 1965. The clumsily named SLA017 is a spitting image of its historical inspiration right down to its waffle rubber strap, but gets a significant upgrade in the movement department with the 8L35 caliber, essentially a de-tuned Grand Seiko motor. The steel case also got a hardening treatment for scratch protection and water resistance got a 50-meter upgrade from 1965, to 200 meters. Some quibbled about the $4,000 price tag, but no matter, the limited edition sold out quickly and you’ll likely never hear an owner quibble about the quality of the watch.
Doxa SUB 300 Aqua Lung Edition
While Rolex was crowing about the Sea-Dweller’s 50th anniversary, Doxa was also celebrating anniversaries—the 50th of its iconic (yes, I used that word) SUB 300 diver, and the 75th(!) of the aqualung, one of the twentieth century’s most significant inventions. The SUB 300 Aqua-Lung Edition followed up the 50th Anniversary SUB 300 that came out late in 2016, adding a black “U.S. Divers Co.” logo to the dial of the orange Professional. This seemingly minor tweak to an existing watch had Doxa fans drooling, since the configuration is one of the rarest of not only Doxas, but dive watches in general, with less than 20 rumored to have been built in 1967. Doxa made this limited series with the full support of the Aqualung dive equipment company, which Jacques-Yves Cousteau founded and is still going strong today. The watch itself is about as faithful to a 1967 original as you’re apt to find and taking one diving was no small thrill for me this past summer.
Citizen Promaster 1000M Professional
At the other end of the spectrum in almost every respect, Citizen also debuted a new diver, the 52-millimeter (21mm tall!) Eco-Drive 1000M Professional Diver. I recently took it diving for a review and came away impressed with its sheer audacity, if not for its wearability. It is nothing short of a preposterous engineering exercise (the “deepest solar-powered watch!”) for an era when so few divers actually wear diving watches. Yet it stands in such stark contrast to the retro-styled, conservative, sometimes downright dainty, dive watches of the 2017, that I have to include it in my list since it goes to show that brands continue to push the boundaries of depth, design and capabilities, even 64 years after the Basel show when Blancpain, Rolex and Zodiac first showed the world a “diving watch”.
A Few Honorable Mentions
Of course, promising new dive watches weren’t just the province of the big luxury brands. There were original, high quality divers released this year by little guys like Vancouver-based Halios, with the successful Seaforth, which sold out within hours (minutes?) of its going on sale. Enigmatic Italian brand, Unimatic, showed a followup to its popular Modello Uno diver, with a few new configurations, and British design darlings, Farer, introduced the twin-crown Aqua Compressor, a watch that shows that highly original design in an old style of watch can still be done.
By any measure, 2017 was a good year for dive watch lovers. This was by no means a complete list either, but merely one man’s favorites from an embarrassment of riches. What were your favorites? Let us know in the comments below. Meanwhile, can 2018 come close to topping this year for a great crop of divers? Only time will tell, but as the first rule of safe diving tells you, “don’t hold your breath.”
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