Watches for Ocean & Aviation Adventures
By Roberta Naas
SAVVY WATCH BRANDS REACH DEEPER DEPTHS: CLOCKWISE FROM LEFT: The Aquatimer Chronograph ($5,600) from IWC Schaffhausen is stainless steel and water-resistant to 120 meters. It features a mechanical chronograph movement, an external rotating bezel, and luminescent accents. IWC Boutique, 535 Madison Ave., NYC, 212-355-7271. From Luminox, the Scott Cassell Limited Edition Deep Dive Automatic 1525 ($2,000) is water-resistant to 500 meters with a Swiss automatic movement, helium release valve Luminox Light Technology, and a patent-pending Luminox Bezel Locking System. Great American Jewelry, 5163 Merrick Road, Massapequa Park, 516-279-6752. The Omega Seamaster Ploprof 1200M ($9,700) is water-resistant to 1,200 meters (4,000 feet). It houses the Omega Co-Axiel 8500 caliber and is equipped with a helium escape valve. London Jewelers, Americana Manhasset, 2060 Northern Blvd., 516-627- 7475. Rolex’s Oyster Perpetual Submariner Date ($34,000) is 18k white gold with an Oyster Glidelock bracelet. The 40mm watch is waterproof up to 300 meters (1,000 feet). London Jewelers, 2 Main St., East Hampton, 329-3939.
Travel and gear-review writer Jason Heaton never dives without the right watch. “There’s a saying in the dive world: Two is one, and one is none,” says Heaton, a PADI-certified rescue diver. “If you have two pieces of equipment, it’s like having one, and if you have one, it’s like having nothing. Anything can happen to a single instrument. You always need backup, and for me, that’s a great dive watch.”
Heaton has been through life-changing adventures with quality instruments from IWC, Rolex, Jaeger-LeCoultre, Omega, and Doxa. Since underwater navigation is tricky, using the watch to clock swimmers’ distances and durations helps with navigation and air-tank management. According to Heaton, the most important feature is a one-way ratchet bezel for tracking elapsed time. In keeping with International Organization for Standardization (ISO) dive standards, he recommends a watch that is water-resistant up to at least 100 meters and has minute and hour hands that look distinctively different from each other.
Watchmakers incorporate features that render these pieces ultrawater-resistant and diver-friendly, including double- or triple-locked winding crowns, additional gaskets, helium escape valves, silicone O-rings, extra-large crowns, graduated one-way rotating bezels that measure elapsed time underwater, illuminated hands, antiglare crystals, and double-locked bracelet clasps.
“When looking for a diver’s watch, look at the strap. It’s good to have a rubber or Velcro strap that fits over the suit or a quick-change bracelet,” says Heaton. “Divers also want a bezel that turns easily enough to set. Luminescence is important because you need ease of telling time underwater, and finally the big, clunkier watches can get hung up on gear, so a lower-profile watch is better.”
Some timepieces indicate bottom time, measure elapsed time, feature an alarm that can be sensed underwater, or offer interchangeable bracelets or extensions that enable the watch to be worn outside a wet suit. Color of luminescence also plays a key role; red and orange turn to gray at a depth of about 30 feet, yellow can be seen a little longer, and blue stays visible up to 300 feet.
Finally, to withstand extreme conditions, most dive watches are built of materials such as steel, titanium, or gold, with some brands also using high-tech composites such as engineered ceramic for cases.
Of late, free diving (diving without equipment on a single breath of air) has gained popularity. Herbert Nitsch achieved record-setting status when he dove to a depth of 700 feet off the Greek island of Spetses in 2007. Nitsch wears a Breitling during his long, singlebreath dives, and this summer he will attempt to set the Breitling Extreme 800 record—free diving to 800 feet.
In 1997, the Mata-Rangi expedition crew, en route from Chile to Polynesia, encountered a violent storm and lost radio contact. The crew members survived because they were able to broadcast a distress signal built into their Breitling Emergency watches.
The first truly water-resistant watch surfaced in 1927 when Mercedes Gleitze swam the English Channel wearing a Rolex. More than three decades later, another Rolex was strapped to the hull of the bathyscaphe Trieste submersible, which descended 35,800 feet into the deepest accessible point on earth: the Pacific Ocean’s Mariana Trench.
Over the years, top brands have created watches for elite water-bound corps. Panerai supplied the Royal Italian Navy; Tutima worked with NATO to create a special dive watch; and both Jaeger-LeCoultre and Luminox worked with the US Navy SEALs program. The latter’s SEAL watch was introduced in 1994; more recently the label released its Scott Cassell watch, named for the counterterrorism operative and undersea explorer. For its part, Jaeger-LeCoultre’s Master Compressor Geographic Navy SEAL watch went along on important underwater expeditions just last year.
Brands such as IWC, Oris, Hublot, and Alpina have supported underwater exploration and preservation. IWC—which introduced its first Aquatimer watch in 1967—is a sponsor of the Charles Darwin Foundation, while Omega joined forces with environmental activist and photographer Yann Arthus-Bertrand for the making of the documentary Planet Ocean. Says Stephen Urquhart, president of Omega, “It is essential that we, as responsible watch brands, not only equip the divers of the world with the right instruments for their exploration, but also ensure there continues to be clean oceans to dive in.”
Photography by Kenji Toma