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The 8 Best Affordable Cushion Case Dive Watches - Buyers Guide

Posted on November 20 2020

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Cushion Case Dive Watches


What is a cushion case watch?

Let’s keep things simple. The term describes a watch case that is roughly square, but with rounded corners. This isn’t a technical term that describes a fixed design, but rather, a casual description for a general style.

You may also see this or similarly styled watch cases described as a Tonneau shape. Tonneau’s French translation is simply Barrel. This type of case is barrel-shaped. So more of an oval than a rounded square shape.

To be honest, I tend to use the two terms interchangeably and I suspect the nuances don’t matter to other watch fans either. So this post features watches that some would consider Tonneau cases.

I’m working on a literal interpretation of the word cushion and researched watches that generally have a case that is cushion-shaped. The only point I really wanted to stick to was that the watch must also have a round dial and glass. Once a watch has square or rectangular glass I’d suggest that you’re no longer looking at a cushion case model.

This style of watch has been around for a century, with brands like Hamilton and Omega producing cushion case models. But it’s probably the Italian military dive watches from Panerai in the 1930s that get referenced most as good early examples. These watches were then used in WWII by the Italian Navy and had been designed to be very functional and rugged timepieces.


This case shape has remained popular and was particularly common during the 1970s. Really, this is the era that many of the current cushion cases models are harking back to. Dive watches at the time were beginning to increase in size and often had a bold use of colouring. 
A good example of this would be Doxa’s Sub 300. It’s a classic look that is regularly imitated, although the style is far removed from the simple Panerai DNA. Doxa 300 Sub

There were also more pared-down Japanese models on the market, with Seiko releasing its own iconic models. I’ve looked at a few of those here. They tended to produce cushion case divers that would double as military watches, but they also did a few colourful models including the Seiko Pogue.

One interesting element of cushion case watches is how they wear. The square design allows for a wide watch that doesn’t become too long. By the very definition of a square, the watch won’t be bigger lug to lug than it is in width. But, if the watch was rectangular the lug to lug measurement would be bigger than the width and may make the watch too large for your wrist.
So a cushion case can make a larger watch wear comfortably - the original Panerai Radiomir is a good example of this.

The Best Affordable Cushion and Tonneau Case Watches

The eight watches that I’ve selected highlight the variety of case shapes under the cushion case banner, and the depth of styles that can be achieved. Whilst all dive watches, I’ve included both quartz and mechanical models as well as large and small manufacturers. I’ve also included a good spread of prices so that there should be a watch to suit everyone’s budget.

We’ll jump straight in with a piece that recreates the fashionable look of a 1970s dive watch.


Bulova Devil Diver Watch


In the 1970s American manufacturer Bulova pushed the water resistance limits of their divers watches to 666ft. The watch that they created was jokingly referred to as the Devil Diver.

This current watch is described by Bulova as a tribute to that 1970s Oceonographer. It is a slightly modern twist on the original Devil Diver. It’s chunky workhorse of a watch with plenty of colour and flair - there’s also a blue/orange model and green variation.

With the retro cushion case and dial, this ticks the boxes for a faithful reissue - something I particularly like. The sapphire crystal has a box magnifying lens over the date window which isn’t a common feature and is distinctive. The same can be said of the lume filled tubes that are used for the hour markers. Both are nice features that catch the eye.

If you’re looking for an affordable retro-styled diver with a colourful back story and cushion case, this could be a contender for you. It has good specs, including a reliable automatic movement and 200M water resistance.

Bulova Oceanographer Devil Diver 98B320

  • 44mm Diameter
  • 15mm Thick
  • 19mm Lug Width
  • Stainless Steel
  • Automatic movement
  • Sapphire Crystal
  • 200M Water Resistance

Pantor Sealion Automatic Watch


Hong Kong based Pantor has carved out a niche producing rugged dive watches, with a hint of vintage-styling. Their range is all powered by reliable Japanese movements and the watches are substantial builds.

The Sealion is one of their core watches and features a Japanese automatic movement, sapphire crystal and a helium valve. The watch is tough-looking but has a bold green dial that creates a more light-hearted aesthetic.

At 42mm it’s a mid-sized model and is not overly thick. The general impression is of a sporty piece that could conceivably be your everyday beater watch. Rather than design flair, or brand story, this watches appeal is from the build quality and specifications.

Pantor Sealion

  • 42mm Diameter
  • 12.5mm Thick
  • 22mm Lug Width
  • Stainless Steel
  • Japanese Automatic movement
  • Sapphire Crystal
  • 300M Water Resistance


Seiko Padi Mini Turtle Watch


Regular readers will know that Seiko often features on my blog, whether it’s when we looked at iconic Space Watches, Famous Seiko’s or affordable alternatives to the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms. Having been producing timepieces since the 1800s, and now one of the worlds biggest manufacturers, they can be pulled into any conversation about watches.

This release is a slightly smaller version of their well-known Turtle design and comes in at 42mm wide. It’s a no-nonsense dive watch with a blue and red pepsi bezel. The slightly smaller case has lead to the Mini-Turtle nickname.

With the large white markers and black dial, this is a very legible and functional watch. The addition of a rubber strap enhances the idea of the watch as a tool rather than jewellery.

Seiko Padi Mini Turtle SRPC41K1

  • 42mm Diameter
  • 13mm Thick
  • Stainless Steel
  • Japanese Automatic movement
  • Mineral Crystal
  • 200M Water Resistance

Alpina Seastrong 300 Automatic Watch


Swiss brand Alpina isn’t a brand I feature regularly, although they did get a mention in my post about Super Compressor watches. They just about qualify as affordable, but as an independent, family-run company, they’re not in the same price point as the likes of Seiko and Bulova.

They’re a well-established brand, tracing their roots back to the late Victorian period. As far back as 1938, they introduced their Alpina 4 concept - four features that their watches should have. Anti-sock, anti-magnetic, water-resistant and stainless steel construction. They’ve moved on a lot from there and are now probably best-known for their Startimer and Seastrong lines.

This model is from that Seastong collection and has a cushion case in the strictest sense. A square case with rounded-off corners. In this model the stainless steel case has a bronze PVD coating. This is complemented by the brown bezel and strap, and the black dial.

The Seastrong has a vintage feel, without the 1970s vibe of the Bulova. If the Bulova is play then this is work. The distressed leather strap and bronze coating give an aged feel to what is actually a modern watch with a Swiss automatic movement.

This design really works for me - I especially like the knurled, over-sized crown and the angular case and lugs. It is, however, the most expensive watch I’ve featured.

Alpina Seastrong 300 AL-525LBBR4V4

  • 44mm Diameter
  • Stainless Steel with Bronze PVD
  • Alpina AL-525 Automatic movement
  • Sapphire Crystal
  • 300M Water Resistance

Vostok Amphibia Automatic Watch


I’ll use any excuse to include Vostok in my posts. They’re quirky, bullet-proof and inexpensive. I’ve included more of the backstory elsewhere and I’d suggest you have a look at some point.

The basics are that the company was created after one of Moscow’s watch factories was moved out of the city during WWII. The new plant produced watches for the military and it’s most successful watch was the Amphibia. A cheap, reliable dive watch.

This watch has a cult following for two main reasons. Firstly, the Soviet-era designers who created this watch were trying to emulate the performance of Swiss luxury brands. Remember, Rolex was supplying watches to the British Royal Navy. The Soviets were working on a tiny budget and had to innovate.

Secondly, these watches were built purely to work and have a long life. Style and beauty weren’t of major concern. The result is a watch that looks like it’s straight out of Communist Russia.

There’s a large selection of Amphibia variations, with a number of dial and case options. All the models have an in-house Russian automatic movement and 200M water resistance. This white variant is a clean, minimal design with a heavy-duty cushion-style case. There’s no date window and the watch has nothing that isn’t necessary.

It’s a functional diver designed to go a decade without a service and ultimately last a lifetime. It’s also the most affordable on my list and I think that every watch fan should have at least one Vostok.

Vostok Amphibia 090486

  • 41mm Diameter
  • 15mm Thick
  • 22mm Lug Width
  • Stainless Steel
  • Russian Automatic movement
  • Acrylic Crystal
  • 200M Water Resistance


Spinnaker Hull Automatic Watch


Spinnaker is a newer watch brand, based in Hong Kong and owned by Dartmouth. I’ve already featured Spinnaker in a couple of posts as they offer quite a selection of watches at the price-point I like to shop in (see Panerai alternatives here)

You’ll also be aware of a couple of other brands in their stable, the likes of Balast, Dufa and Avi-8 (more here). They’re affordable watches, produced in the far east, but readily available in the UK and US.

The Spinnaker range initially began as a series of designs based around sailing and the ocean. Although they’ve expanded that somewhat, the majority of their watches are still focused on this niche, with the Hull collection reminiscent of a Panerai.

There are a number of variations of the Hull watch, all housed in a cushion case. My choice would be for this model that retains the simplicity of the early Radiomir designs. The mixture of Arabic numbers and Roman numerals may take a little getting used to, but it makes for a nice touch. As does the textured dial.

Although not a functional diver, it boasts a Japanese automatic movement and a hardened mineral crystal. Not bad specifications.

Spinnaker Hull SP-5071-01

  • 42mm Diameter
  • 12mm Thick
  • 22mm Lug Width
  • Stainless Steel
  • Japanese Automatic movement
  • Mineral Crystal
  • 100M Water Resistance

Zodiac Grandhydra Watch


Zodiac has great heritage when it comes to dive watches. History may remember that Rolex introduced the Submariner to the world at the 1954 Basel watch fair. 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. Central to their current range is the Sea Wolf collection, which includes cushion case models. Some of these can be quite pricey.

At the more affordable end of the Zodiac range is the Grandhydra - a more affordable quartz powered model. Essentially, it’s a quartz version of Zodiac’s Sea Dragon watch from the 1960s-70s. The case is described by the manufacturer as a barrel style, but I’m happy enough to include it with cushion case models.

Obviously, the bright orange dial is the central feature of this watch, and it’s really in keeping with Zodiac’s back catalogue and current range. They do place an emphasis on colourful models and it works well here. The hands and indices are authentic for the period that inspired the watch and the date window is neatly tucked away at 6 o’clock.

With Zodiac now owned by Fossil their watches are quite easy to find and accessible.

Zodiac Grandhydra ZO9952

  • 40mm Diameter
  • 12mm Thick
  • 20mm Lug Width
  • Stainless Steel
  • Quartz movement
  • Sapphire Crystal
  • 200M Water Resistance


Panzera Aquamarine Automatic Watch


Australian watch company Paneza having featured in a couple of my posts, the last time being when I looked at Panerai alternatives.

They’re a company that I find interesting. What is particularly appealing is that they use a mixture of Swiss and Australian talent. As they state “all critical processes are carried out in our workshops in Sydney Australia and Lugano Switzerland”. Each watch, with its individually engraved serial number, is then shipped directly from Australia.

On the whole, they specialise in large tool watches. They do 47mm pilots watches and 45mm divers - like the one above.

Part of the Aquamarine collection, this is very much a modern take on a classic design. The bold modern fonts and prominent hands are contemporary design points. The case and mesh bracelet, however, are more vintage and hint at that dive watch lineage that goes back to the Panerai.

At 45mm, it’s significantly bigger than the vintage models would have been - the Zodiac at 40mm is more authentic in that area. But this isn’t a reproduction or homage. It’s a chunky, modern diver that takes inspiration from the iconic cushion case models, without trying to emulate them.

Panzera Aquamarine A45-01M

  • 45mm Diameter
  • 13mm Thick
  • 24mm Lug Width
  • Stainless Steel
  • Japanese Automatic movement
  • Sapphire Crystal
  • 200M Water Resistance


Cushion or Barrel case?

They’re very similar so I’ve lumped them together in this post. The general style of both is a distinctly vintage look. And as we’ve seen, many cushion case watches are either direct reproductions of earlier models or acknowledge them as influences.

As a fan of brands reissuing the best of their back catalogues, there are some cushion case divers that I really like. The Bulova I’ve featured, for example, is a classic design that works as well now as it did in the 1970s. Alpina and Panzera have successfully taken inspiration from vintage designs and updated them to create their own modern interpretations.

Whatever your preference, there’s a good quality cushion case diver out there for you. If you’re unsure about the style, I’d recommend trying the Vostok. It’s cheap, fun and a great place to start. If you have a better idea, let me know below.


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