In this short series we’re examining the main categories of wristwatch that you will come across on your daily horological journeys and this time it’s the ‘Dive Watch’ – Part Two
By 1954, all of the excitement surrounding Dive watches had led Rolex to produce a commercially available dive watch that would eventually take over the world, becoming perhaps the most famous and widely desired sports watch ever.
The first Rolex Submariner, References 6204, 6205 and 6200 all had a clear dial, big bold hands, a rotating bezel (rotating in both directions at that time) and a screw down crown – it also looked the business, so surely they had this market sector in the bag?
Hold on there though folks because there was more than one horse in this particular race – welcome Blancpain to the scene.
In 1952, Ex British Special Agent Commander Robert Maloubier of the French Special Forces Combat Swimmers unit was given the challenge of sourcing a watch for his unit that was safe to Fifty Fathoms (91.44 metres) – this was currently considered to be the maximum safe depth for a human to dive to. He approached Rolex but while they had some fairly advanced prototypes on the bench, they had nothing available for commercial sale and so Commander Maloubier approached Blancpain who had been making watches in Switzerland since 1735.
Blancpain were given the brief to create a watch from scratch that had clear indicators and a rotating bezel so that submerged time could be read against it easily. Commander Maloubier was later quoted as saying : “We wanted in effect that each of the markers be as clear as a guiding star for a shepherd” The Fifty Fathoms was launched in 1953 and was a huge success with military dive units all over the world and was worn by Jacques Cousteau during the filming of ‘The Silent World’ in 1956. It could have been a world beater if only Rolex hadn’t launched the Submariner within six months..
While the Blancpain still looked a little industrial and like a military tool, in the 6204, 6205 and 6200 Submariners Rolex had managed to combine the functionality of a serious dive watch with a styling and grace that fitted the boardroom equally well. Unsurprisingly, the Submariner took off like a rocket, leaving the Fifty Fathoms looking to see which way it went and within ten years it had graced James Bond’s wrist in the first three movies – who could compete with that?
The 1960’s saw the dive watch begin to become truly popular with multiple brands such as Eterna, Tudor, Favre-Leuba (look them up) producing some superb watches and breaking technological barriers all of their own.
This was also the period when Seiko helped Japan to join the dive watch industry with the famous 62MAS which was issued to the Japanese Antarctic Research Expedition between 1966 and 1969 – and they’ve never left! Constantly creating top quality dive watches at competitive prices – their 6159-7010 ‘Tuna’of 1975 has been called “The greatest dive watch of all time” – Seiko are a serious contender, not to be underestimated and their watches are worn by millions of amateur and professional divers the world over.
Where some manufacturers have stuck to a single product line for their divers or perhaps only made relatively minor advances, Rolex have continually made big leaps with theirs. Their second great collaboration was with ground breaking French saturation diving company COMEX and led to the development of the Rolex Sea Dweller – the first watch specifically designed for saturation divers
Developed in 1967, the Sea Dweller initially featured the now famous ‘Single Red’ dial – also used on the all new 1680 Submariner Date launched two years later – and the 50th Anniversary reissue of 2017 featured the same styling. By the time the watch reached the general public however, an extra line of red writing was added and the Double Red Sea Dweller (DRSD) was born.
While perhaps best known for its famous dial, the Sea Dweller’s huge technological leap was a helium release valve designed to allow the escape of helium molecules that can build up inside the watch when decompressing after a saturation dive. It was a genuine milestone that inspired Omega (remember them from earlier?) to create the other instantly recognisable saturation diver’s watch – but that’s for the next installment.
I hope you’ve found the second part of this Dive watch Blog interesting – the final part starts in 1972 when Omega start making waves….