When you're surrounded on all four sides by the seas, it's hard to not imagine taking a dip in. And if you're atop an atoll on the Maldives, chances are it's essential you pick up diving or find yourself without aid when the atolls go under. But diving offers a serenity that only those who have tried it will appreciate. It's as if the rest of the world has disappeared around you and you enter a brand new universe, one where you're merely an observer and the elegance of Nature becomes apparent.
We'll be the first to warn you that no one should step into the oceans without being properly equipped. Here are our top choices of timepices that should be accompanying you on your next dive.
1. Blancpain Fifty Fathoms
Diving timepieces are inevitably tied in with the military, since the frogmen were the first to explore the depths of the seas in order to carry out covert activities under cover of darkness. It was essential that divers then had three pieces of equiment: a compass to direct, a diving watch to keep track of time and a depth gauge. When the French military were searching for a watch that could stand up to their requirements, Blancpain provided the solution with the Fifty Fathoms watch. The earliest timepieces had only essential information: clear luminous markings for time, rotatable bezel, as well as being highly water-resistant. It was also an amagnetic timepiece, and Blancpain conceived the double O-rings to seal the watch. Today, Blancpain's timepieces go much further than 50 fathoms (approximately 92 meters), but this would later become an icon in diving when Jacques Cousteau selected it for his own expeditions underwater.
2. Rolex Submariner
A dress watch that would also be attuned to the needs of the sporting enthusiast. That was the challenge set to Rolex when it first conjured up the Submariner. The watchmaker would set records when its timepieces went to 1,000 feet of depth. Till today, the Submariner's origins and its early development years remain as murky as the depths of the oceans it penetrated. Prior to the Comex era, there were numerous models that were circulated. The ref. 6204 was the first exposed to the public in 1954, with a bubble back case and eventually evolved into the ref 6538, chronometer certified and guaranteed to a depth of 660ft. Slowly the 5510 emerged, and eventually the Single and Double Red Sea-Dweller, so named for the one or two lines of text on the dial indicating the Submariner status and its depth rating. Experts can write entire volumes on the variations and argue for days about what was truth and fiction about these timepieces, but it was the 5513, Comex Submariner, that would skyrocket the timepiece to cult fame. Today, the Submariner has a much more powerful water resistance as compared with its predecessors, but relatively little has changed in its looks.
3. IWC Aquatimer Deep Two
It may not have the same rich history as its prior two cousins, but the Aquatimer is one that deserves acknowledgement because of the use of the depth gauge complication. Specially designed for divers, the Aquatimer Deep Two is an improvement on the Deep One mechanical depth gauge, acting as a sort of mechanical diving computer that can keep track of depth of dive as well as the length of the dive. Two indicators on the depth gauge (displayed on the dial) indicate the maximum depth attained (the red pointer) as well as current depth (blue pointer). Not merely a useful tool, it also helps to ensure that you don't rise too quickly to prevent the bends. The rotatable bezel keeps track of the time that has elapsed and a quick change bracelet is perfect for adjusting straps from steel to rubber.
4. Omega Ploprof
The Seamaster has a long lineage beginning with sports - it was first created for the LA Games, as official timekeeper in 1932. During this era, scientific scuba diving was also in deep demand and in the 60s, the need for an ultra water-resistant watch led to timepieces such as the Sea-Dweller by Rolex, and the Ploprof (short for Plongeurs Professional, or professional diver) was the result of a collaboration with Comex and Jacques Cousteau. The case was designed to be completely watertight, and was considered to be more watertight than a submarine. The Ploprof was used for extended underwater expeditions, and the timepiece was tested up to depths of 1300 metres, even though it was guaranteed to only 600m. Even then, the resulting stop was due to deformation of the crystal. Recently the watch firm reintroduced the timepiece into its collection with a shark-proof bracelet, designed to withstand even the bite of the creature.
5. Bell & Ross Hydromax (no longer in production)
The Hydromax was a truly unique timepiece, conceived during Bell & Ross' early years as a professional diving watch designed for the most arduous of environments. Working wtih the French Marine Institute to create a highly specialised timepiece, the duo designed a timepiece that was filled with a transparent silicone oil along with a watch case that had a rubber back to adjust for expansion and contraction of the liquid in different temperatures. This ensured pressure did not build up and damage the watch or the movement. At the same time, the oil ensured the watch was perfectly viewable from any angle underwater. The Hydromax managed to handle water pressures of up to 11000 metres underwater, the depth of the Mariana Trench.