Posted on May 24 2018
Best Affordable Vintage Dive Watches
Diver’s watches are among the most popular timepieces, particularly with those who build up a watch collection. There seems to be a satisfying blend of form and function, of rugged and tasteful design married to durability and technical competence. For many, the perfect divers watch can be worn in the office during the week and taken outdoors at the weekend.
The history of divers watches has produced many iconic watches and some designs that have transcended the companies that originated them. The Rolex Submariner is a good example of this type of design. When we talk of ‘Submariners’ we could be referring to any number of companies who now produce their own version of this established design. See here for one such example.
This is an important point to consider when looking at divers watches. Many of the classic designs were born in the design studios of the world’s biggest and most established brands. The likes of Rolex, Omega, Longines and Blancpain. The price reflects this. For many, these luxury brands are out of reach. Therefore, we’re going to look at vintage styled divers watches whilst trying to highlight those that are relatively affordable.
What could be worse than a list of watches that you’re unlikely to ever own?
Here we give you ten divers watches, inspired by vintage designs, that are realistic purchases for the average watch geek.
Steinhart Ocean Vintage One
Where better to start than with a homage to a vintage Rolex Submariner.
Since it's launch in 1954 Rolex's Submariner watch has become established as a design classic. The original watch was a part of the Swiss manufacturers Oyster Perpetual line and was designed as a sports and diving watch.
Such was it's reputation as the best available divers watch at the time that the British Ministry of Defence chose Rolex as the suppliers to their Navy divers. Adding to the mythology of the watch was its endorsement by the leading cultural influencers of the time. Many will remember Sean Connery's Bond wearing his Submariner in Dr No.
Now an established style the Submariner has produced numerous clones, copycats and others that are in some way influenced by it. The Steinhart is at the extreme end - it is visually almost a remake of an early Rolex.
Founded by Gunter Steinhart, this German company have been producing watches for a couple of decades now. So not one of the larger established brands, but certainly a company that has built a solid reputation since its launch in 2001. This watch is clearly of high quality and is powered by a Swiss ETA automatic movement.
The vintage touches include ‘old radium’ illumination and a tall sapphire crystal that is reminiscent of the plastic crystals used in old watches. There’s no protection for the crown as you’d see on most newer Submariner styled watches.
Doxa Sub 300 Professional
Swiss company DOXA traces its roots back to 1889, with it’s most notable watch being the Doxa Sub. Whilst not as iconic as the Rolex Submariner, the Sub 300 is still amongst an elite group of highly influential divers watches. Unlike other manufacturers that were producing watches for the military Doxa’s brief was to design a watch for sport and professional diving. In fact, the Doxa team even consulted Jacques Cousteau, who at the time was the head of the US Divers Company. The result was this colourful watch with it’s a heavy tonneau case and distinctive bezel.
In 2017, 50 years after its initial launch, Doxa released a remake of this popular design. Like the original, there is a bright orange dial, the patented US Navy Seal non-deco bezel, dwarf hour hand and a self-adjusting “beads of rice” bracelet - all the elements that made the initial release so unique.
Like the Steinhart, this also houses an ETA movement and is around the same 42mm diameter. Interestingly the bracelet tapers from 22 mm to 20 mm where the clasp is equipped with an integrated wetsuit extension. Also like the Steinhart, the sapphire crystal is domed and mimics the shape used in older watches.
As noted earlier, it was 1954 at the Basel watch fair that Rolex introduced the Submariner to the world. However, at the same fair a year earlier Blancpain had launched the Fifty Fathoms and Zodiac had displayed its diver, the Sea Wolf.
Both Blancpain and Rolex would remain as large popular brands whilst Zodiac would disappear. Having American murderer the ‘Zodiac Killer’ reference the companies watches had only added to their problems.
In 2001 fashion brand Fossil bought the Zodiac name and once again began watch production. In 2015 the Sea Wolf returned.
The new version is larger than the original, although the case is still only a modest 40mm. There’s a number of variants of the watch with each one taking inspiration from an older Sea Wolf model. There are versions with ceramic bezels, engraved stainless steel bezels and with strap options that include canvas, leather, stainless steel and Milanese.
Each of the watches has an STP 1-11 automatic movement and a sapphire crystal. A particular favourite is the Super Sea Wolf 53 Skin which features large lumed triangle markers at 12, 6 and 9.
As noted, one early pioneer of divers watches was Blancpain, a Swiss company that had been producing watches since the 1700s. For the first 200 years the company was family-owned and it still prides itself on making less than 30 watches a day, each made by a single watchmaker. The original Fifty Fathoms was designed by the company in collaboration with the French navy and includes features that are standards of divers watches now. Namely, high water resistance, protected crown systems, automatic movement, black dial with clear illuminated numbers and a numbered rotating bezel.
The level of craftsmanship required to make this iconic diver means that the Fifty Fathoms is an expensive watch and as we’ve noted in numerous blog posts, an expensive, popular design usually means that similar, cheaper alternatives appear. (More about the Fifty Fathoms here)
For the Fifty Fathoms design among the best of the homages is the Helson Skindiver.
There’s nothing overly complex with this watch. It’s a functional diver inspired by probably the best example of a functional dive watch. It’s 41mm in diameter, has a reliable Japanese Miyota automatic movement and a domed sapphire crystal. It’s simple, compact and above all looks like a true vintage watch.
Seiko Prospex SRP 775
Japanese giants Seiko are a household name. A brand popular on the high street, but also a favourite with watch enthusiasts.
The brand has always been associated with diver’s watches and has produced a number of classics including the highly successful SKX series. Through the 1970s and 1980s they released a number of divers watches, of which the 6309 model, part of the companies third generation of recreational divers, was notable. It was a stylish, affordable watch in a large cushion case and has remained desirable to collectors.
The Prospex SRP 775 was released in 2016 and is essentially a new version of the classic 6309. At 44m it’s cushion case is larger than some of the others on this list but it has rounded edges and a recessed crown at 4 o’clock to avoid any discomfort.
It’s powered by Seiko’s 4r36 automatic movement that features both a day and date. This particular variation has gilt on the bezel numbers, the dial and hands.
Oris Divers Sixty-Five
No doubt it’s now apparent that many watch brands have searched their own catalogues for design inspiration. Swiss manufacturers Oris are no different and have released the Divers Sixty-Five which is described as “a revival of an iconic diver’s watch that first appeared in the Oris collection 50 years ago”.
The watch is almost a replica of their original design, although the company are keen to point out that it has been modernised by the use of current watchmaking techniques. This includes a case made of anti-corrosive stainless steel and a vintage-inspired bubble-curved glass made of scratch-resistant sapphire crystal. The result is a stunning watch.
It’s deceptively simple. There’s nothing too ornate in the styling, rather it’s a case of everything done well. That includes the movement - a Swiss Selitta SW200 that has been modified by Oris inhouse. Like the Steinhart the vintage aesthetic is enhanced by the use of “Old Radium” Superluminova.
Arguably the only weakness with the watch is its 100M water resistance.
Rotary Ocean Avenger
High street brand Rotary aren't an obvious choice for an article about vintage divers watches, being regarded by many as a cheap, everyday watch producer - - but the Ocean Avenger ticks a number of boxes.
The two main points to bear in mind are the price and the design. It's cheap and it looks the part. You can pick this watch up for around the £100 mark and importantly it has a little heritage. Like the Oris it's a design from the manufacturer's own catalogue. This is a re-design of a 1960's Rotary diver.
Unsurprisingly, for this price, you get a quartz movement and mineral crystal. However, it is advertised as having 100M water resistance so can take some careful use in water. The stainless steel case is 40mm and there are two variations of the watch.
The Amphibia is arguably the best value divers watch on the planet (more here) and with hundreds of designs having been produced since it's launch in 1967 there are going to be at least one you'll love. Whether it's the 'Scuba Dude' with its iconic graphics, the colourful Radio Room or the 'Zissou' as worn by Bill Murray in The Life Aquatic, there'll be a one that jumps out at you.
The original brief for the designers was to cheaply build a bomb-proof 200M rated divers watch for the Soviet military. The result is a much-loved design classic. A chunky automatic watch with some innovative features, yet still brutally simple. But the real attraction? Like the Rotary you can have all of this for £100 or less.
There's a number of case and dial variations, some a little cheesy and others hitting the vintage aesthetic perfectly. Although you get a lot of watch for your money there are a few things to remember. The bezel isn't particularly functional for diving and there's no quick date set on this Russian made automatic movement.
Rado HyperChrome Captain Cook
Rado’s Captain Cook mirrors in many ways the Oris Sixty-Five. It’s a large Swiss manufacturer faithfully recreating one of their own 1960’s watches. What’s particularly interesting is that Rado isn’t renowned for their diver's watches, having made their name with modernist ceramic designs.
Yet, this is an upgraded reproduction of a watch that they did initially release in 1962 and the emphasis has certainly been on maintaining that authenticity. This means that the watch is a bit on the small side at just over 37mm, has little in the way of lume and has a modest water resistance of 100M. But that’s the beauty of it. It’s just what a divers watch was actually like in the 1960s.
There are some nods to the modernism that Rado is famous for, including an inward sloping ceramic bezel, domed sapphire crystal and curved dial. Overall, it’s a quirky piece of nostalgia, priced towards the top end of what we’re highlighting in this blog.
Dan Henry 1970
Dan Henry is a new watch company started with a very simple concept. Dan was a collector of watches who shared details of his latest finds with fellow enthusiasts. Rather than continue to help his fellow collectors find the pieces they desired he started to produce them. Each watch model is named after the year it was inspired by.
The 1970 has a 'Super Compressor' look to it with an internal rotating bezel. Available in both orange and grey accented versions there's also a choice of case sizes in 40mm or 44mm. With the ever-reliable Seiko NH35 automatic movement and a domed sapphire crystal, you once again get a lot of watch for the money. It's one-sixth the price of the Rado.