Divers’ watches were developed in the crucible of urgent need and extreme environments, as Deep Time at SalonQP illustrates.
by James Gurney
Divers’ watches are the epitome of simple, robust and reliable timepieces – the needs they fulfil are basic and absolute, while failure is both obvious and serious in its consequences. Meeting those needs was a key factor in the development of wristwatches in the mid-20th Century and on. That’s the logic behind a mini-exhibition at SalonQP, that’s also an opportunity to show a selection of the best this genre offers.
These watches have existed in one form or another ever since the 19th Century appearance of surface supplied diving helmets, while the basics of water-resistance were established with the Rolex Oyster, but their history really starts with a need. The formation of marine commando units tasked with working over distance at or below the sea surface (if not at any great depth) created the need for watches that would be instantly legible and could be relied on through the length of a mission, in any environment, however extreme. The vintage Panerai on show includes an early Radiomir and Luminor models alongside contemporary pieces
Diving boomed in the post-war years with advent of demand valve SCUBA (self-contained underwater breathing apparatus) creating a new set of challenges for the industry, which, led by Blancpain and Rolex, reacted with the introduction of technologies and designs that are still the reference point 60 and more years later. That few watches survive from the very earliest years of the Fifty Fathoms and the first generation Submariner is a testament to the demands made on these watches (and accounts for the intensity of collector interest).
Over subsequent decades the technology has evolved as has the design and if the watch is now mostly a back-up for wristworn dive computers, the standards still need to be met. In the meantime divers’ watches have gained a life of their own as all-purpose sport watches that are as likely to be found in the office as under the sea, though many of the brands involved now make a real commitment to keeping those seas pristine.