By Rebecca Doulton in Madrid
Four classic, retro-styled dive watches have resurfaced this year that would make great gifts for men who love to scuba-dive or simply dream of owning a professional dive watch.
Any story on dive watches has to rewind to 1926 with the birth of the Rolex Oyster, the world's first waterproof watch. Hans Wilsdorf, the founder of Rolex, happened upon the idea of building a watertight case as he tried to pry open a reluctant oyster during a dinner party in London. The Rolex Oyster watch was put to the test on Mercedes Glietze's cross-Channel swim in 1927 and, after 15 freezing hours in the water, the London stenographer emerged with her timepiece in perfect condition.
Rolex, as they say, made a good thing better, and in 1953 launched the Submariner. A professional and commercial dive watch, it had the right looks and was resilient enough to become a vital part of the James Bond persona. Fast forward to 2012 and Rolex went as far down as the ocean permits with its experimental Deepsea Challenge model. Attached to the robotic arm of James Cameron's submarine during his expedition to the Mariana Trench in 2012, the watch conquered depths of 12km.
To commemorate Cameron's descent to the abyss, Rolex presented the rugged 44mm Deepsea Sea-Dweller this year with a titanium case and a D-Blue dial to represent the changing colours of the sea as his sub navigated towards the trench. Starting at the top with brilliant blue and darkening to a bottomless black, this scuba diving companion will see you safely to depths of up 4,000m. Equipped with an innovative Chromalight display that lights up the depths with a long-lasting blue glow, the watch also features the hallmark Rolex safety valve, acting as a miniature decompression chamber for the watch.
The Blancpain Fifty Fathoms watch has been exploring the ocean's floors since it first appeared on the market in 1953 - the same year that Rolex came out with the Submariner. Originally designed for an elite unit of French navy combat divers, the Fifty Fathoms was a robust, luminous automatic dive watch with an epoxy bezel that could be rotated in one direction only, for additional safety. When Jacques Cousteau wore a Blancpain Fifty Fathoms watch on his wrist during the documentary The Silent World, one of the first films shot underwater in colour, the watch became a hit on dry land.
As stylish on land as underwater, the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe watch was launched this year with a sophisticated flyback chronograph including a date window and sapphire crystal caseback for a view on the movement; no mean feat given these complications are incorporated into a watch that has to be water-resistant to 300m. The signature codes of the original model are all there, with a domed black dial punctuated only by lines and dots read off by rectangular hands that emulate those featured on the 1950s models. The 43mm brushed black ceramic model, which offers superior scratch-resistance, is combined with a heavy-duty nylon NATO strap to ensure that you will look just as good underwater as in the boardroom.
The 1970s are back with a vengeance and Longines has reissued a version of its vintage 43mm dive watch as part of its Heritage Collection. As a throwback to the fearless styling of the Age of Aquarius, the Longies Heritage Diver chronograph features a chunky 43mm cushion-shaped case, a multi-faceted bezel ring and a black dial enlivened with bold red details. Unlike many other dive watches, the internal bezel to set dive times of up to 300m is activated by the second crown at 10 o'clock.
The Omega Seamaster 300 Master Co-Axial watch is yet another throwback to the heyday of dive watches and could almost be confused with the original 1957 Seamaster model that marked Omega's plunge in the deep end. At 41mm, the watch comes in a variety of metals, including Omega's proprietary Senda gold, although I think the stainless steel version best catches the spirit of the original deep-sea diver. The black sandblasted dial offsets the beige vintage SuperLumiNova hour markers, which emit a blue light in the dark, while the vital minutes hand glows with a green light. Updated with Omega's Co-Axial and anti-magnetic technology, which resists magnetic fields greater than 15,000 gauss, the watch is water-resistant to 300m.
Even if he is not planning on braving the depths any time soon, these watches, which look extremely cool on land and come with a great story to tell, make great gifts for men with a sporty sense of style.