Feature: 3 Divers At 3 Price Points
The humble dive watch is perhaps the most popular category of watch available today, tracing its origins back to the wondrous and dangerous adventures of Jacques Cousteau and others like him. Equipped to explore the last unknown frontier on Earth, it’s no wonder that the dive watch is as inspirational and appealing as it is. That, and you can wear it in the swimming pool. The question is, if you can’t quite stretch to the quintessential dive watch, Rolex’s Submariner, which dive watch should you get?
TAG Heuer Aquaracer WAY2012.BA0927
If there’s one thing TAG Heuer isn’t known for, it’s dive watches. Racing watches, chronographs, style icons, yes—but the dive watch doesn’t seem to register much in TAG Heuer’s history. Except that, it does.
Not long after the successful release of the calibre 11 automatic chronograph movement, things turned quickly south for then Heuer, and indeed the rest of the industry too. There was a new player in town, Japan, producing increasingly affordable quartz watches that turned the entire Swiss industry obsolete in just a handful of years.
By 1979, it was clear that Heuer needed to diversify, and it was to the popular—but not yet iconic—Rolex Submariner to which the brand turned its attention. An idea was born: take the specification and aesthetic of the Submariner, throw in a few tweaks, make it a fifth of the price and put it on sale. And that’s what Heuer did, and it really did work.
Its affordability made it a break-out success, much to then-CEO Jack Heuer’s surprise. The range expanded, offering different sizes, shapes and colours, and has done ever since. The name may have changed to Aquaracer in 2004, but the ethos remains the same: produce a high-quality Swiss dive watch that undercuts the Rolex Submariner by a significant margin.
So the Calibre 5 movement may not be TAG Heuer’s own, but it’s solid, reliable and affordable to service, points which probably weigh more on the mind of someone purchasing this £1,850 entry-level premium dive watch. The specification overall is very good: 300m of water resistance, anti-reflective sapphire, screw-down crown and diving extension. The only things left wanting is a flip lock on the clasp for extra security.
If you’re looking for that more reasonable way of getting yourself a luxury dive watch, the Aquaracer is a hard proposition to ignore—and whether you knew it or not, has been for the last 40 years.
Breitling SuperOcean Heritage A17321
If you thought TAG Heuer’s dive watch history was surprising, Breitling’s will be even more so. 1957 was a particularly good year for watchmaking, what with Omega releasing the Railmaster, Seamaster 300 and Speedmaster, but it wasn’t the only watch manufacturer to develop something for the deep that particular year.
Just as TAG Heuer was known mostly for its racing chronographs, Breitling was equally famous for its aviator wrist computers, but the boom in the diving industry meant that it was virtually a given that every mid-tier watch company needed to make a dive watch whether it wanted to or not.
Given how much persuading it took for the AOPA, the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, to get Willy Breitling to convert his engineer’s calculator watch, the Chronomat, into a pilot’s watch, the Navitimer, I can’t imagine the decision to build a dive watch was an easy one—it was, however, a very sensible one.
The 1957 SuperOcean did two things for Breitling: firstly, at the time, it’s superior 200m water resistance made it a commercial success for the brand; but more importantly, it paved the way for Breitling watches to be not just for aviators, but for adventurers of all kinds.
Fifty years after the inaugural release of the SuperOcean, Breitling re-released the design as the SuperOcean Heritage, a watch that takes inspiration from that 1957 original while leaving behind some of the more eccentric design twists. The big arrow hour hand, plus the signature ‘B’ logo, are original, as is the surprisingly sparse bezel.
For £3,000, an early SuperOcean Heritage with the calibre B17—essentially an ETA 2824—can be yours; pay around £500 more and the updated SuperOcean Heritage II with the B20 movement shared with Tudor will be within reach.
Omega Planet Ocean 126.96.36.199.01.001
Understanding how the Omega Planet Ocean came to be is a little tricky. On the face of it, it should seem straightforward, but the reality is more akin to one of those long, rambling stories your aunty used to bore you with that seemingly went on forever with no hope of relief.
The Planet Ocean’s story doesn’t even start at the start; the best place to begin is some nine years into the tale, with the surprise release of the Seamaster 300. It was one of three sports watches designed to bite back at Rolex’s 1953 Submariner—but it wasn’t the first Seamaster.
If the original 1948 Seamaster didn’t have that hallowed name on the dial, it would be nigh-on impossible to categorise it in the same league as the Seamaster 300. The 1948 Seamaster was designed to keep out moisture and dust, something novel and new for a wristwatch at the time—but it would only be another five years before the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms and the more freely available Submariner would make it seem rather pedestrian.
So, the Seamaster 300 was a complete reinvention of the model, reborn as a top-tier dive watch with all the bells and whistles. But the old Seamaster wasn’t to be wasted—it was still a popular watch, and so it was shuffled to one side as the De Ville collection.
Then, in 1993, the Seamaster was completely reinvented as the shape we all know from Brosnan’s Bond, but not wanting to wipe the Seamaster 300’s visage from the catalogue completely, Omega launched the Aqua Terra ten years later as a nod to the brand’s first proper dive watch.
But as nice as the Aqua Terra is, it couldn’t stand as the only memory of the Seamaster 300, and so after a further two years, the Planet Ocean was unveiled. Now, for around £4,500, it offers a slew of high-tech, top spec features for a nice saving over Rolex’s Submariner, such as a Liquidmetal-filled ceramic bezel, 600m of water resistance and an in-house, anti-magnetic, co-axial calibre 8900 to boot. It’s taken a while to get here, but it’s more than worth it.
So just because a Submariner is unobtainable doesn’t mean that the world of premium divers need be out of reach. These three are just a taste of what’s available, either to sit pride of place on your wrist—or at least to tide you over until you can get that Submariner after all.
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