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Feature: 3 Alternative Divers

The words ‘dive watch’ and ‘Rolex Submariner’ practically mean the same thing these days. It’s the default choice, and for good reason, a major player in the establishment of the category and just a really great watch to boot. Successive facelifts and improvements have rightly kept it at the top of the food chain for decades. But just because it’s a good choice, doesn’t mean it’s the only choice; here are three more dive watches you should check out before you buy a Submariner.

Bremont Supermarine S500/BL

It’s a romantic story, the Bremont one, the tale of two brothers flying a restored 1930s biplane across France, when engine trouble forced them to land in a farmer’s field—a farmer by the name of Antoine Bremont who spent his spare time restoring old clocks. The brothers English, for that is their name, promised the farmer’s warm welcome would never be forgotten, and that the adventure would live on through a mechanical endeavour of the brothers’ own: Bremont watches.

It sounds like the opening scenes of a sweeping epic directed by Anthony Minghella, and it’s all very nice—but a charming story doth not maketh the watch. The English brothers could have beached their submarine off the coast of Guatemala for all the relevance it has in the quality of the final product.

So, what of it? The Supermarine—as in the British Supermarine S.6B racing seaplane—has gone out of its way to tick a lot of boxes to elevate itself above its competitors, and being such a young brand, it has to. It starts with the 500m water resistant case, fashioned in steel and surface treated with carbon steel electron-beam hardening to a hardness of 2,000 Vickers—enough to match the hardness of the sapphire used in the crystal.

And speaking of sapphire, the crystal gets a dual-sided treatment of anti-reflective coating that’s treated to match the hardness of the crystal itself, resisting the abrasion that can leave traditional coatings looking scratched and unsightly. And it’s not just the dial that benefits; the bezel does too, the glowing numbers below protected by a glossy ring of clear corundum.

Is there a chink in the otherwise hardened armour? Well, the movement isn’t Bremont’s own, but it is chronometer certified, is shrouded by an anti-magnetic soft iron Faraday cage and nestles in the same rubberised movement mount that was developed at the Martin-Baker ejection seat laboratory for the MBII, so it should be reliable at the very least. You’ve also got to be a big fan of fonts, because there are quite a lot of them.

IWC Aquatimer Expedition Jacques-Yves Cousteau IW329005

There’s a lot of talk about IWC being ‘the engineer’s watchmaker’, a brand that applies cool, robust logic to the problem of building watches—but what does this really mean? It started with founder Florentine Ariosto Jones, an American engineer who took principles he’d learned in industry and applied them to the construction of watches. This meant shared architecture, modular assembly lines—things that generally streamlined the way watches were being made in Switzerland in the 1800s.

How does that translate to the watches, or more specifically, this Aquatimer IW329005? Visually, there’s no compromise in the functionality of this 42mm watch, big, clear, bold markers on a big, clear bold dial, surrounded by a big, clear, bold bezel. There’s no misreading this watch underwater and that, of course, is the point.

Further demonstrating this no-compromise form-follows-function approach are the deep knurls on the crown and bezel, proffering a sturdy grip regardless of how close to its 300m depth limit it is. So far, so good, but it’s in giving the bezel a twist that the real engineering nous shines. Unlike most dive watches, this bezel is internal, but unlike most dive watches with an internal bezel, this one is adjusted using the bezel.

Confused? Here’s how it works: twist the bezel from the outside, and the one inside turns with it, click after satisfyingly damped click. That way, you get the convenience of an external bezel, with the legibility of an internal. But IWC aren’t done yet; twist the bezel the other way, and the expectation is for the bezel to stop, as any other watch would to avoid accidentally reducing elapsed time. But no, it keeps going, decoupling from the inner bezel and leaving it behind.

But all this cleverness isn’t at the compromise of refinement; the details, from the alternating brushed and bead-blasted finishes around the bezel to the subtlety layered, sunburst blue dial, demonstrate a pride in this creation. The engineering will always come first, though; check out the way IWC engineered the strap-changing mechanism…

Ulysse Nardin Maxi Marine Diver 263-33-7/91

Ulysse Nardin is the watchmaker you go to for something different, something interesting. You could think you’ve seen all the designs in all the world, browse Ulysse Nardin’s collection and still find something new. Sometimes that’s because it’s just weird—but often it’s because of something genuinely unique and intriguing.

The Maxi Marine Diver certainly falls into the latter category, and it takes a moment to get a proper eyeful of it. Is it a sports watch? A dress watch? A flattened golf ball with hands on a strap? The Maxi Marine Diver does what any good bit of art, or piece of music, or novel should do—it takes a few attempts before the pieces start to fall into place and the whole begins to make sense.

So, what are those pieces? It’s hard to ignore that dial, so we’ll start there first. It’s finished in rhodium; that’s the same stuff white gold is plated in to make it pure white instead of a murky yellow, and here the matte finish with the dimpled pattern gives it the appearance of some kind of alien technology. It shimmers in the light, presenting an almost holographic sense of depth, a mild optical illusion if you like.

The dial is clearly the party piece of this watch, but it’s by no means a one trick pony; the attention to detail cashes the cheque the dial writes with plenty of change to spare. That ‘1846’ on the dial isn’t any old random number; that’s when the company was founded, so it knows a thing or two about designing watches.

To contrast the rhodium dial, for example, Ulysse Nardin chose big, delicate, blued hands, a theme that extends upon inspection to the power reserve and sub-seconds hands, as well as the marker surrounds and even the applied anchor in the logo. And the bezel, the polished numerals specifically, sit on a matte background that is broken up with an appropriately nautical wave pattern.

Even the bracelet gets the Ulysse Nardin treatment, the anchor logo emblazoned upon a centre link. Name another watch that has that (the Domino’s Rolex Air-King doesn’t count!).

There’s a 99% chance that, after watching this, you’ll still end up with a Submariner, and I expect you’ll enjoy it very much. But that 1% who’ve seen the Submariner and wondered if there was something more interesting, unique and special, now you know.

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