It's officially summer and things are heating up in the HODINKEE Shop. In honor of our favorite season we are hosting a month of content dedicated entirely to dive watches. Expect dive-focused content, products, and perhaps a limited edition to celebrate. Stick around and you'll be sure to learn something new – let's dive right in, shall we?
When Émile Gagnan and Jacques-Yves Cousteau invented the Self Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus (SCUBA, for short), it allowed scientists to access worlds that had never before been accessible. The military also made use of the new technology, but perhaps the segment in which SCUBA proliferated most was in the private sector. PADI, a leading SCUBA training organization, has issued millions of licenses, and that's just one organization; there are plenty of other organizations offering aspiring divers a chance to get their fins wet too.*
In the early days, those newly minted divers needed watches. Back then, a dive watch was an essential piece of equipment. Divers didn’t have the luxury of a dive computer, but instead absolutely relied on their wrist watch to track bottom time. The watch industry responded with a bevy of brands that produced dive watches to support the burgeoning hobbyist SCUBA industry of the '60s. An entire category of watches proliferated in tandem with the popularity of SCUBA diving, fueled by TV shows like The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau and magazines like Skin Diver.*
The late '60s and early '70s was a great time to be a diver and a watch enthusiast. The options were limitless. Some brands focused only on dive watches, while most larger manufacturers focused on producing one capable watch in the dive category, putting all of their engineering muscle to produce some seriously tough watches suited for the deep. These companies took the development of these watches very seriously; Omega even enlisted the help of aforementioned Mr. Cousteau and COMEX in the development of the Omega Ploprof, an instrument that epitomizes the design of the '70s dive watches with its chunky case and unusual angles.*
Jacques Cousteau and his many classic dive watches have inspired generations.
Innovation in functional design and technology exploded during this era. The Supercompressor case, manufactured by EPSA, was used by a handful of brands. This case design utilized a spring that put tension on the caseback that was compacted as water pressure increased, pushing together the case and forming a seal with a hefty O-ring, essentially making the watch even more water-resistant the deeper it traveled. Squale and Omega utilized bezel locking systems that used a push-button to keep the bezel in place and guard against accidental knocks and turns that could throw off a diver's timing. Rolex developed the Triplock crown, a system that utilized three gaskets to ensure water resistance. *
But right around the time of the quartz crisis, dive watch design had advanced to the point where the only differentiating factors came down to style. This era saw the dive watch reach a point where it almost couldn't get any better. Even today, water resistance and the general design of dive watches remain the same as in the '60s and '70s – largely considered among collectors as the absolute peak of the dive watch.*
Digging through old issues of Europa Star magazine, we've spotlighted five brands that represent the pinnacle of the dive watch during its peak era.*
Z.R.C Grands Fonds

The French Zuccolo Rochet Company took an approach to the dive watch that saw the crown move to six o'clock in order to mitigate the possibility of the crown digging into the wearer's wrist as well as serving as an alternative solution to a traditional crown guard. The*watches also featured a bakelite bezel and a magnesium shielding around the movement, making it anti-magnetic. The watch was packed with innovation, and French diver Claude Laperyre of Cousteau's Calypso team can be seen wearing the watch in a number of*documentaries. *
Squale

HODINKEE published a brief history of Squale in 2014. Founder Charles Von Buren dabbled in diving and designed a watch suited specifically for the sport. He used the name Squale, Italian for shark, and launched a brand. But Squale didn't only make dive watches under their own label, they also grew to become a large case manufacturer for a number of other brands at the time. The Squale shark became a symbol of quality and often appeared on dials and casebacks of watches wearing another brand name on the dial as well. The 50 Atmos case was perhaps the biggest hit, with the crown at four o'clock and a subtle squared-off case profile.*
Jenny

Jenny produced the world's first dive watch rated to 1,000 meters, but the Swiss manufacturer is relatively unknown today. While Jenny did indeed produce its own watches, with Jenny branding and the "Caribbean 1000" designation, the company was largely successful from supplying parts to other watch manufacturers. Since Jenny created the case and gasket system design to reach 1,000m water resistance, the company was able to sell that technology to a number of other watch producers by offering them a turnkey dive watch that consistently led the pack.
Sicura

Ernest Schneider was the CEO of Sicura Watches until 1979, when he bought Breitling and became the CEO of the famed manufacturer. But the opportunity to lead Breitling was earned through the great success of Sicura, a brand known for following the trends, but doing so with quality at a price point that was accessible. The demand for dive watches was high from the late '50s through early '60s, and Sicura produced a range of watches targeted at the growing market. These watches were mainly "skin divers," which were a class of dive watches best suited for the light submersion that was typically associated with skin diving, which today is know as snorkeling. These watches featured a rotating bezel and a highly legible dial, but focused less on water resistance and more on affordability and accessibility.
Aquastar

Many modern brands tout their Cousteau connections, but you won't find any modern ad campaigns highlighting Aquastar's association with the diving legend. However, he did in fact wear an Aquastar Deepstar Chronograph. Aquastar watches were popular among his diving team on the Calypso as well. As the name suggests, Aquastar was very much focused on dive watches, and the market segment at the time was large enough to support a company engineering watches for the singular purpose of diving. A proprietary O-ring that formed a complete seal in the case was a major innovation that led to a depth rating of 500m for the Benthos 500, one of the brand's early releases. Aquastar was founded in 1962 and it was only shortly after that when the 500m depth rating was achieved. In the '70s, another innovation emerged in the form of a regatta timer that visualized elapsed time differently than anything else before it. Through five dot-shaped windows in the dial and a newly developed Felsa 4000N movement, users were able to track intervals by watching the dots change colors at calibrated intervals. The Regate, as it was known, proliferated in the yachting community as well as the diving world.*


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