Who Uses High-End Dive Watches To Actually Dive?

Keith S. from Colorado, USA asks:

In your estimation how many high-end dive watches get many actual, daily use miles in true ocean environments? How do they fare? My perceptions lead me to believe that regular divers wouldn't rock a $12K Clerc Hydroscaph to the "office" each day. I am friends with a former full-time scuba instructor, and from the income they earn are more likely to wear a Seiko Orange Monster (or even cheaper brand) since dive computers handle the work dive watches used to.

Are high end dive watches simply status symbols? I have no doubt they are fine timepieces, but would a Hydroscaph or even a Rolex Submariner actually last in the environment they're supposed to thrive in, or at least marketed to thrive in?

In the watch world we have a term called "desk diver." It describes the kind of person who is an "aspirational" or perhaps real diver who nevertheless spends most of their time out of water, but wearing a dive watch. Dive-style watches are the most common type of dive watch because of their looks, legibility, and durability. All good brands like to have at least one good diver in their collection. The truth of the matter is that no matter how capable most dive watches are, few of them see anything deeper than a kitchen sink.

Part of that is because most people who dive are afraid to take their high-end watches underwater, even if they are designed for that. There is something unnerving about taking your $5,000 or $10,000 plus watch under water. It doesn't help that inexpensive watches starting at about $100 or less would do the job just as well, and because dive computers are what most people use while underwater for necessary functions. Today many divers wear a watch, but as a back-up tool if anything.

There is no way to give an actual percentage to the question of how many high-end dive watches get used underwater, but I'd venture to say 1% or so actually spend any significant time in the sea. When we swim or dive with high-end watches it is mainly for novelty value, since they aren't strictly necessary. Long gone are the days that you needed to heavily invest in a serious professional dive watch if you wanted to have a reliable instrument underwater. So wear your affordable diver when diving and keep your nice ones for desk duty.

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  • csong36

    My husband wears his Rolex Submariner while surfing and swimming in the ocean.  And while working on his car and doing just about everything else.  He likes the idea of it getting thrashed because he thinks it gives it character.  I recognize he is in the minority though.

  • MarkOs

    I live on a small Caribbean island and we spend a lot of time in and around the water. I have worn my Breitling in the ocean and pool. I normally however change watch when we head to the beach to my Swiss Army, not because of the water but I am more concerned about fine sand getting into the bracelet . My next purchase is likely to be a dive watch in the $1000 range that I will wear when out playing and keep the Breitling for the office.
    There are a lot of dive instructors here, all wear really beaten up watches that look like they have had a lot of abuse, not a high end diver in sight.
    Also why do you see dive watches on leather straps? That looks like you have given up even pretending you get your watch wet and ruins the whole tool aesthetic for me.

  • Lesthepom

    I am not a diver despite living next to the barrier reef but I do wear all my watches to do some what some say are crazy things my gold and diamond Omega has been to some rugged fishing spots and I even changed a wheel on the boat trailer in it and then fished for the rest of the day I don’t see the point in buying a fantastic watch and keeping it in the safe in pristine condition for your relatives to fight over or were still sell for $10.00 because they have no clue what it is or think it is a fake and toss it in the bin if I get run over by a truck I hope I am wearing at-least my Rolex


  • AdrianRabet

    I am a diver and I use a Citizen Hyperland as my dive watch as it can act as a back up in case my computer goes on the blink.
    Most divers I know use either Citizens or GShocks on the basis of “Never dive with something you would rather not lose”

  • jurowla

    It has now become a standard for type design. The nice thing is that people associate the specifications of a dive watch with ruggedness. I know I do. I have two Rolex Submariners but the deepest I dive is to the bottom of our pool.! I guess its just the fact that it can if need be relied upon to work under extreme conditions. My Rolex Sub 16800 was worn nearly constantly for 28 years. At the end this magnificent timepiece was a shattered battered wreck. But it still did its primary task very well. It told the time. After it returned from Rolex in 2009 it looked almost the same as it did when I bought it and it will again and again. Tough machine.

  • MarkDevious

    I understand the arguments for aesthetics and durability. I own a diver, and I also own basketball shoes and track pants, though I do none of those activities.
    But at a certain point the “pretend” aspect gets a little silly. For example the prominent helium escape valve?
    I feel like that would be the equivalent of me walking around in a karate s

  • MarkDevious

    uit though I don’t do karate.

    Of course this is just my opinion, and I don’t claim to know where the line should be drawn. Some have told me that it’s a bit silly to wear a luxury dive watch at all. And I have to agree there’s validity to that opinion.

    I think that somehow a high price tag can make somewhat silly things seem reasonable. A dive watch you don’t dive with, a race car you don’t race, decorative dishes that you don’t use for dining, etc.

  • Shizuppy

    Divers don’t wear dive watches diving! They only wear them in the hot tub afterward.

  • Emir Roseley

    Some do. It is what they are made for. Otherwise, it’s hard to appreciate how awesome nice dive watches are.

  • Emir Roseley

    Some do. It is what they are made for. Otherwise, it’s hard to appreciate how awesome nice dive watches are!

  • Mark

    Agree. Most high-end dive watches (or time pieces if you will), no matter how capable, would be far too much of an investment to risk scratching and pounding during a dive along rocks and coral reefs, or generally banging around the boat. Even as a back up to their digital dive computer, I think most divers (whose last name isn’t Branson), would sooner wear something like a $50 Casio 20 bar capable diver’s watch with a lock down crown, or perhaps a Citizen Promaster Aqualand with a depth gauge, than a Rolex Submariner.

    Most PADI certified recreational divers actually snicker at the outlandish specifications like, “water resistant to 3000 feet” which is great for marketing to those armchair desk divers — I’ll include myself. Such silly specs only say that if a giant squid drags you down then at least your watch will be working far longer than you!

    It’s the same argument with rich poseurs who own Lambos, Porsches, and Ferraris. The majority of them, unless their name is Nico Rosberg, do not have the skills to fully take advantage of the capability of such a precision car other being able to step on the gas pedal which is why you see so many of them on freeway wrecks.

    Not to say you shouldn’t own luxury items. It’s a unique privilege. But let’s be real about their capabilities vs how they are actually used.

  • Matt West

    Totally disagree. I have a Rolex Sub and I have worn it everywhere from east africa to palawan diving. I’ve gone 130 feet deep with it on a dozen occasions. It does great. I’ve seen other divers do the same. I feel like anyone that has done serious diving has seen people with high end watches.