Feature: 3 Affordable Dive Watches
They’re everybody’s favourite watches at everybody’s favourite prices: that’s right—it’s time for some bargain divers. Make room in your bedside cabinet, because you’ll be wanting at least one of these to take pride of place there.
Rado Hyperchrome Captain Cook R32500305
There’s never much really said about Rado watches. It’s one of those brands you’ve heard of enough to know it’s established, but somehow never interacted with. It sits in the periphery, existing but never acknowledged, and you can’t help but wonder—who’s buying them?
Well, someone is, because the brand sells around half a million watches every year and counting. Perhaps it’s the name, Rado? I’m not sure it brings to mind the essence of mechanical mastery. It sounds a bit more like a stain remover. Still, it’s a better name than the one it was christened with at its 1917 inauguration: Schlup & Co. Now that’s a name you’d want to marry out of.
There are a few notables worth mentioning from Rado’s past, like the popularisation of hardened metals and sapphire crystals in the 1960s, and ceramics in 1990s, but nothing to make you stop and take note. The brand wasn’t the first Olympic timekeeper, didn’t send a watch to the bottom of the ocean, hasn’t forged an everlasting relationship with an iconic celebrity. The truth of it is that Rado is just a watch brand.
As uninspiring as that may seem, Rado still has a trump card that many other watchmakers today will never have: history. Rado just makes watches, but then again it has been doing so for over a century. Schlup & Co. isn’t really a name you’d want on your wrist now, but enough people wore it back then for the brand to survive through to today.
Rewind to the 1960s, and any watch brand that wanted to continue trading needed a diver. Some were earlier to the party than others—Rado was not one of them. Almost a decade after the Submariner was announced, Rado’s Captain Cook—another less than ideal name—ambled in, a day late and a dollar short. Rado didn’t sell very many of them, nor did the watch hang around for very long.
But what it did do was exist, and that gives the Rado of today an opportunity: the new Hyperchrome Captain Cook. It remains true to size at 37mm, faithful to the original’s proportions and styling, even down to the red date text. The sunburst dial, too, is original, as are the hands and markers and the domed crystal that covers them. Even the fonts are lifted straight from the 1962 watch. It seems crazy to say, but this might be the first vintage reissue where the brand has quite simply reissued an original design.
A ceramic bezel replaces the aluminium one, tying the heritage watch to the brand’s main USP today, but that really is the only difference you’re likely to spot between the two. There’s no screw-down crown and no luminous bezel pip—there never was—but I’m not sure that matters. Somehow, from the periphery, through the noise, Rado has heard what the people wanted and delivered—all for £1,520. Thank goodness Schlup & Co. managed to sell as many watches as they did.
Bell & Ross BR V2-92 Heritage BRV292-HER-ST/SRB
From a watch brand with actual heritage—regardless of how anaemic—to one with none at all, it seems that the chances of a Bell & Ross heritage-inspired diver being worth a look are less than none. Coming from a company that found its way aping aircraft instruments, scale and all, for it to dig deep into a non-existent history and develop a watch that bears no resemblance to its core offerings and hoping for success seems as likely as actual work being done at the construction site blocking the end of my road.
And Bell & Ross—who’s asking for £2,200 for this BR V2-92 Heritage, by the way—has really gone to town and ticked all the cliché heritage boxes with this one. There are faux-aged luminous markers, a skinny, aluminium bezel, a simple, brushed case, a domed sapphire crystal and even a drop of red lettering. The only real link it has back to its own brand is the instrument-style 3-6-9-12 around the dial.
To jump off on a tangent for a moment, have you seen the movie John Wick? Considering myself somewhat of an armchair intellectual, of course, the thought of brainless shooting for an hour and forty-one minutes seemed to me like a hackneyed, lazy, gratuitous attempt too far to gets bums on cinema seats. The synopsis brings nothing new to the table, presents nothing interesting to think about, offers no moral or message to take from the experience. Thing is, it’s brilliant. It’s cliché after cliché, but each one is executed in a way that just works, whether you want it to or not. You can see where this analogy is going.
The faux lume, the red print, the domed crystal—it’s all cliché, it’s all hollow, but it works. You look at the Bell & Ross BR V2-92 Heritage and begrudgingly think, “I like this. I don’t want to, but I do.” Even though the bezel goes both ways, there’s a round cut-out for the date and the case feels a smidge too big at 41mm, the overall look feels so comprehensively right that it’s easy to forgive. It’s like Bell & Ross has hacked the human brain to discover the essence of what makes a dive watch attractive, put the results on a rubber strap and sent it to market.
This isn’t the only watch Bell & Ross has achieved this phenomenon with—which further confirms my suspicions on the brand’s ability to scrape people’s minds of deepest truths—and many a die-hard watch enthusiast has been seduced by its beguiling designs. It’s like enjoying a Pot Noodle or a pair of tracksuit bottoms—it seems so wrong, but somehow it’s just so right.
Oris Divers Sixty-Five 733 7707 40 65
It would be an outright atrocity to have a list of watches like this and not include the recent favourite, the Oris Divers Sixty-Five. This, like the Rado, has struck a chord so pure and harmonic that it has resonated amongst watch enthusiasts the world over, affluent or otherwise. You know a watch is good when it costs just £1,270 yet sits alongside Rolexes and Patek Philippes in people’s collections.
When Oris announced the Divers Sixty-Five back in 2015, the Holstein-based watchmaker would have had no idea just how much love this watch was going to get. The brand was most likely going by the numbers, doing what every other watchmaker was doing and raiding the archives for a bit of inspiration. For all intents and purposes, the Sixty-Five should have been just another drop in the ocean, especially considering that giants like Omega were filling the same market with watches of far greater calibre.
But this is the mistake that many of the bigger watchmakers made: the fascination with vintage isn’t to do with in-house movements, ultra-high–end finishing and big, ornate cases—it’s the story, the connection to the past, to a time when these incredible machines were made to withstand the bottom of the ocean, the surface of the moon—not just an office in Slough.
And that story comes simply adorned, free of extravagant decoration and elaborate detailing. When choosing a watch to do a job, the expectation was that the expense was channelled into achieving that job, not looking fancy whilst doing it. A diver doesn’t need bevelled edges, an astronaut can do without a sapphire case back. And so, in making a budget, homage dive watch—inspired by one of its divers from, unsurprisingly, 1965—Oris stumbled into making what people really, actually wanted.
It’s funny, when you think about it—for many watchmakers, in trying so hard to represent themselves in the best light and demonstrate their abilities in line with what they perceived to be a modern audience’s expectations, they left the goal wide open for little old Oris to almost by accident scoop up the winnings. The simple case, guard-less crown, blocky, sixties font and slender aluminium bezel may all sound like the mark of cost-cutting, but it turns out that it’s really a recipe for perfection.
Whether you’re just starting out or you’ve been in the game a while, whether you’ve got cash to splash or your means are more limited, these three budget dive watches are welcome in any collection. It’s a win-win, an affordable platform that punches way above its weight, offering that indescribable level of want you’d normally expect to pay far more for. It really is a good time to be into watches!
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