It’s often said that we know more about outer space than we do the bottom of our own oceans, and whether or not that is really true, it’s no secret that getting to the bottom of the sea is a complicated endeavour. Pressure in the ocean increases by roughly one atmosphere for every ten metres of depth, and natural light never penetrates the deepest sea—making it a cold, dark and extreme environment to survive.
In the middle of the 20th century, as mankind turned its eyes skyward in a quest to conquer the stars, so too did it turn its gaze toward the water that covers 71 per cent of the earth’s surface. As diving became more widespread, both commercially and as a leisure activity, watchmakers had to meet the demand for watches that could remain water resistant to ever increasing depths. We take a look at four of the deepest diving wristwatches ever to plunge to the murky blue.
Rolex Deepsea 116660 D-Blue
Rolex possesses a unique history when it comes to exploring the world below the waves. On 23 January 1960, the Bathyscape Trieste reached the deepest part of the world’s oceans—the Challenger Deep, located in the mysterious Mariana Trench. Along for the trip, on the outside of the submersible, was a Rolex watch: the Deep Sea Special. The Rolex dove to a depth of about 10,900 metres, and became the deepest diving watch in history.
So when acclaimed director and deep-sea explorer James Cameron did the same journey 52 years later, it was no surprise that the watch that accompanied him was also a Rolex Deep Sea, 51.4mm wide and capable of diving to 12,000m. In tribute to the historic dive, the brand released a modified version of the watch to the public with a water resistance rating of 3,900m. This impressive depth is achievable thanks to features like Rolex’s purpose built Ringlock system, which allows the case to withstand immense pressure, and a helium escape valve that ensures the gas can escape from the watch during decompression.
Girard Perregaux Sea Hawk II
The Sea Hawk line of watches was originally Girard-Perregaux’s answer to the sudden demand for waterproof watches in the mid-twentieth century. As tastes changed, so did the design inspiration behind the watch, until it was given a bold and sporty revamp with the Sea Hawk II. This watch stood out with its distinctive case, featuring a crown safely nestled between 3 and 6 o’clock.
Like most watches with such a high water resistance, this Sea Hawk II 3000m was built to be a professional diving instrument. As with most dive watches, the bezel is rotatable so that the wearer can accurately time how long they have been submerged, and the highly durable 44mm titanium case encloses the exceptional in-house calibre GP033R0. On the case’s back is an intricate engraving of a fish-like creature, winding itself around an anchor—a symbol associated with a patent that the brand filed 1898 at the German Patent Office.
Panerai Luminor Submersible PAM00364
Panerai’s claim to underwater timekeeping dates back to the Italian Nazy’s Second World War frogmen. The brand was commissioned to make reliable and highly legible wristwatches for this elite unit of commandos, who inflicted undeniable damage on the Allied Forces during the conflict. Panerai is understandably proud of its naval history, and this Luminor Submersible ‘Titanio’ takes it that extra step-further in underwater accomplishment.
Inspired by a model created in 1956 for the Egyptian Navy, the Titanio looks every bit like a watch that can withstand water pressure down to 2,500m. As you might expect from Panerai, the case is a substantial 47mm in diameter—but being made of titanium makes it more lightweight than you might expect from first appearances. The watch is complete with a helium valve and a unidirectional rotating bezel, and the sapphire crystal 5.9mm thick, making a watch ready and raring for the demands of deep sea diving. The dial is characteristically uncluttered, and the hour markers and hands are coated with a highly luminous substance, to make it extra legible under water.
Omega Seamster PloProf
The first Omega Seamaster was launched in 1948, originally based on the waterproof wristwatches used by the British military at the end of the Second World War. It was a reliable diver, but the creators of the moonwatch were never going to stop there. Divers were going deeper and deeper into the blue, and Omega, determined to keep pace, released the Ploprof.
Short for ‘Plongeur Professional’ (professional diver in French), this watch was the result of four years of intense research and development, and was resistant to an impressive 600m. Not only did it stand out for its underwater prowess, but the watch had a distinctive design that made it instantly recognisable. With a large, utilitarian looking case, the watch featured a crown at 9 o’clock under a protective buffer—allowing for freer movement of the wrist for divers while submerged and avoiding any inadvertent knocks by the wearer.
In 2009, the brand pushed the watch’s limits further still, releasing the PloProf 1200m. It kept the no-nonsense design of the original, but updated it with state-of-the-art technology and increased its water resistance to a mighty 1200m. With a screw-in crown, automatic helium escape valve and bezel security pusher, the watch was created as a tool for diving—and at 55mm by 48mm, it makes no bones about exactly that’s what it’s for.