We found the best dive watches of 2021 for every budget and adventure.
If you can’t make the time or contortion to slip the phone from your pocket, a dive watch could be for you. That’s how I got hooked into this new world of old-school outdoor gear.
But why dive watches, specifically? In order to meet the requirements for scuba diving, watches of this type need to be extremely durable. Stainless steel, scratch-resistant crystals, and glow-in-the-dark paint are almost universal.
But it’s that water resistance (usually to at least 200 m), that makes these some of the most valuable set-and-forget tools you can wear on your person. Plus, come on — they look kind of cool.
Don’t stop scrolling after seeing the price of the top pick. While dive watches can become ludicrously expensive, most of the pieces we’ve included are well within the reach of mortal budgets.
There are no Rolexes or Omegas here. Instead, you’ll find a list of timepieces that offer great performance with looks, style, and value all their own. If you’re even casually interested in testing the waters, you’ll find a dive watch to catch your eye.
The Best Dive Watches of 2021-2022
Best Overall Dive Watch: Formex Reef Chronometer
Yes, this watch is just a hair under two grand. But believe it or not, compared to the Breitlings and Panerais of the world, this is a flat-out steal. And more often than not, those high-end brands are banking on the name, not the product, to justify up to 50% of their price. That’s why you won’t see them here. Into that gap have stepped a variety of smaller brands, offering nearly the same quality and functionality without the luxury price.
Formex is one of the leaders in this new field. The stunning Reef Chronometer ($1,790) comes with a wealth of customization from bezels to straps to dials. Most of these combinations don’t affect the price, though a rubber strap will actually bring the tally down. The hands, indices, sapphire crystal, and case (42mm diameter) are all of exceptional quality.
But the centerpiece here is the COSC-certified Sellita SW300-1 automatic movement. What’s COSC? In short, it’s a testing board for the fanciest of fancy watch mechanisms. Less than 3% of Swiss movements meet the accuracy marks required to attain certification. And it’s this solid bit of self-winding technology that elevates the Reef from a simple dive watch to the official title of chronometer.
That’s not the only trick on Formex’s bag. Both the strap and bracelet come with a micro-extension system, utilizing a pair of buttons mated to tiny metal notches that allow you to move the steel or rubber by small fractions.
This is a great way to keep your watch riding comfortably as your wrist expands and contracts throughout the day. It’s another of Formex’s seemingly small touches that make the Reef Chronometer into a premium experience.
If this isn’t quite your style, the Monta Ocean King is another excellent alternative. Though a bit more expensive than the Formex, this is another microbrand that’s putting pressure on the big names.
- Movement: COSC-certified Sellita SW300-1
- Luxury quality
- Versatile strap
- COSC certification
Best Dive Watch Under $1,000: Squale 500M Automatic Dive Watch
If you’re looking for the best combination of heritage, style, and real-world credentials, look no further than the Squale 500M Automatic ($859). This dive watch, as its name would indicate, features mind-boggling 500m water resistance, by far the highest rating on our list.
That’s because Squale is no mere luxury brand. The name, which comes from the Italian word for “shark,” has been around since the late 1950s, though its roots go back even further. And since then, the curved shark logo has gotten around.
Though made in Switzerland, the company has supplied watches to military organizations around the world, including the Italian Air Force and its Navy Diving Corps.
But the Squale 500M Automatic doesn’t operate on reputation alone. Its 42mm stainless steel case packs a Selita SW-200-1 movement with a 38- to 40-hour reserve on full spring. The blue dial is guarded by a sapphire crystal with SuperLuminova painted on the hour markers and hands.
The watch also features a screw-down crown, which is offset to keep it from poking into the back of your wrist. With a date window and 120-click bezel, it’s a dive watch that offers everything you need.
Well, almost. Astute readers will note this is the only one on our list that comes with a leather strap. While it’s comfortable for everyday use, this natural material doesn’t seem to jive with the Squale’s aquatic reputation.
A steel mesh bracelet is available, but it pushes the price just over the $1,000 mark. If we were to purchase one of these, we’d make sure there was a 20mm NATO strap in the mail at the same time.
Another (and slightly cheaper) option would be the Longines HydroConquest. At $1,275, this is a quality piece from an established brand with a metal bracelet and 300m water resistance.
- Movement: Sellita SW-200-1 automatic
- Rich history
- Iconic look
- Military pedigree
- Leather strap on base model
Best Dive Watch Under $500: Island Watch ISL-88 Islander
The ISL-88 ($299) is one of the most compelling pieces we’ve encountered in years. Though the brand name may be fairly new, Island Watch is no stranger to the horological scene.
It’s been a top online watch dealer for years, and the company’s passion has finally translated into its own lineup, the aptly named Islanders. The brand features top-flight materials and excellent construction at prices often a fraction of the big names.
For just under $300, buyers will be treated to 42 mm of stainless steel, standing 14 mm high and affixed to a comfortable bracelet. The waffle-patterned dial offers a great pop of texture, and the hands, indices, and bezel have all been coated with that lovely green SuperLuminova. All of this is capped off by an anti-reflective sapphire crystal.
One of the nicer touches here is the bracelet’s screwed links. This means that unlike traditional steel bracelets that require a trip to the jeweler for sizing, anyone with a small screwdriver can add and remove pieces at will. There’s no half-link, but the clasp does offer a trio of micro-adjust holes that offers almost the same effect.
If this particular design isn’t exactly to your liking, fear not. Island Watches offers dozens of models of their flagship diver. True, some of their pieces are less original than others. But it’s not as if they’re slapping a cheap movement into a brass case and calling it a tribute.
No — every piece I’ve handled from Island Watch has been nothing short of exemplary. And with many of the designs the company is emulating, having been put out to pasture by their makers, the Islanders are a great way to keep the legacy alive.
But don’t pigeonhole Island Watches as an “homage” brand. The ISL-88 convinced us that the brand is capable of exemplary and original designs. We reviewed one a little while back and were blown away by its bang-for-buck factor.
If you’re looking for a watch that tiptoes over the border and into luxury territory, there’s no better place to start than the ISL-88.
- Movement: NH35 Automatic
- Incredible value
- Wide range of designs
- Some designs are more original than others
Best Budget Dive Watch: Casio MDV106-1A “Duro”
Dollar for dollar, there’s no better dive watch than the Casio MDV106-1A ($43). Widely known as the “Duro,” it’s the perfect piece for anyone looking to dip their toes in the water without dropping a duffle bag full of cash.
But while the Duro’s price tag is rather humble, its specs are anything but. The 200m water resistance, a screw-down crown, and a 120-click bezel all for less than $50? Seems too good to be true.
The Duro’s 44mm case is composed of stainless steel with a lug-to-lug measurement of 48 mm and a thickness of 12 mm. This gives it a solid presence for those with average-size wrists, though its 3.2 ounces manage to ride rather lightly.
All this size makes for an incredibly legible piece with a black sunburst dial featuring large hands and applied index markers. The red-tipped second hand is a nice touch, adding a pop of color to the black, white, and polished steel.
There’s also a date window placed thoughtfully at the 3 o’clock position. All of this is operated by a reliable Japanese quartz movement, powered by a replaceable SR626 battery.
There are a few concessions to value, however. While most high-end dive watches offer sapphire crystals, the Duro comes with a mineral version. This is more prone to scratching, though it’s still leaps and bounds ahead of plastic or acrylic.
Then there’s the 22mm rubber strap. While it’s both comfortable and functional, it does feel a bit cheap compared to the rest of the package. Lastly, there’s the lume. While the hands and indices definitely glow, they don’t hold their light for long.
Still, the Duro has amassed a large following. Though many watch snobs turn their noses up at budget-minded quartz, the Duro is one of the few pieces that have drawn widespread acclaim from luxury sites such as Hodinkee. That’s quite the pedigree for a sub-$50 watch.
Whether you’re looking for a gift for a friend or a place for yourself to start, there’s no better combination of value and pedigree on the market.
- Movement: Casio Module 2784 Battery-powered Quartz
- Basic rubber strap
- Poor lume
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Best Solar Dive Watch: Citizen Promaster
If we’re evangelists for the Casio Duro, we’re full-on fanatics for the Citizen Promaster ($350). From its iconic look to its excellent timekeeping and affordable price, this diver’s credentials read like a siren’s song.
Speaking of majestic creatures, let’s get the elephant out of the room. Yes, the Promaster’s design evokes the feel of one of the all-timepiece classics, the Seiko SKX007. But this isn’t exactly a secret, as the 007 was one of the progenitors of the modern dive watch.
And where the SKX uses an antiquated, non-hacking mechanical setup, the Citizen version features an icon of its own — the EcoDrive movement. This solar-powered quartz module frees you from the hassles of winding and battery swaps.
It also allows you to stop the second hand with a pull on the screw-down crown, making accurate setting a breeze. Its 44mm stainless steel case and 60-click bezel are solidly crafted, and the lume is among the best in this price range.
If there’s a weak spot here, it’s the strap. While the included rubber certainly does its duty, it’s a bit stiff. The strap also has dive decompression tables imprinted on the surface which, while honoring the spirit of the watch, feel a little out of place.
Some will also argue the included mineral crystal is a few years behind the times. And we’d be inclined to agree. But this is still a sub-$200 watch, and our personal Promaster has remained scratch-free for years, despite serving as our primary outdoors watch.
In the end, the Citizen Promaster may be the very best option on this entire list. It also offers the classic look without the antiquated and unreliable technology. While the SKX is the choice for many watch traditionalists (and I’ll admit even I’ve lusted after one), the Promaster just works.
If we were stuck with one watch for the rest of our life, this would probably be it. Come at us, fanboys.
- Movement: E168 Citizen EcoDrive Quartz
- Solar power
- Great lume
- Classic design
- Unattractive strap
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Best Digital Dive Watch: Seiko ‘Arnie’ Prospex Tuna Dive Watch
OK, we cheated a little here. Yes, this watch has a mostly analog face. But what’s that up top? That’s right — with the addition of a small, completely functional LCD, the Seiko SNJ025 “Arnie” ($525) is the best of both worlds.
And speaking of multiple worlds, are you curious where its name came from? This particular Prospex is based on a watch worn by Arnold Schwarzenegger in, among other films, the action classic “Predator.” Seiko released this updated model back in 2019 and has been steadily introducing new color schemeys.
But the Arnie has more going for it than just a cool backstory. This is a rugged, large-bore bruiser of a watch. Its 47.5mm case is composed of stainless steel encircled by a plastic guard. And like its namesake, the Arnie is a tall boy, rising 15 mm above the wrist.
Inside you’ll find Seiko’s versatile Caliber H851 solar movement, offering an alarm, chronograph, calendar, and dual time features. Mated to this engine are two buttons and the crown. Each of these is of the screw-down variety, ensuring its hull meets the necessary 200 m worth of water resistance.
But as with even the best sequels, the SNJ025 isn’t without its flaws. Foremost among these is Seiko’s decision to go with Hardlex mineral for the crystal instead of sapphire. At over $400, this is pretty hard to overlook. There’s also the metal keeper on its silicone strap, which can nibble at arm hair when it gets hungry.
Even with its flaws, there’s nothing quite like the Arnie. We should know, since we reviewed one right after they hit the market. And while it didn’t stick around for the long haul (a little too big on the wrist), it’s one of the most fun watches we’ve had pass through our collection.
If you’re looking for a hard-working, multipurpose timepiece with a hell of a backstory, the Arnie is the watch for you.
- Movement: Seiko’s Caliber H851
- Nifty pedigree
- Versatile functions
- No sapphire crystal
- A little bulky for small wrists
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Best Heavy-Duty Dive Watch: Victorinox INOX Pro Diver
Need something that can stand up in tough outdoor environments? How about a watch that can literally be run over by a tank? That’s the INOX ($595), Victorinox’s epically durable timepiece. Not only has the company frozen it, reheated it, and dropped it from 10 m in the air, they’ve put the proof of their cruelty on YouTube.
Now, the version shown in the videos above is lacking one critical thing — the dive bezel. Thankfully, the Swiss maker offers the version shown here, adding the finishing touch to this powerhouse of a timepiece. All this capability doesn’t exactly come in a small box, however.
The INOX Pro Diver measures a hefty 45 mm in diameter, and it stands 14 mm high. Beneath the bezel, users will find an anti-reflective, scratch-resistant sapphire crystal covering the signature hands and Swiss Army shield. Water resistance is a respectable 200 m, thanks to the screw-down case back and crown.
Mated to the crown is the Ronda Caliber 715 quartz movement, which has a reputation almost as solid as the watch itself. In this guise, it boasts ISO 6425 certification along with antimagnetic properties. The rubber strap is one of the most comfortable we’ve encountered, especially for a watch of this size.
Now, we’ve never owned the version with the dive bezel. But we have purchased the regular INOX twice — once for a review and again after selling it and realizing the mistake. If our wrists and budget had been slightly bigger, we would have purchased the model recommended here.
But even in its standard trim, the INOX is a beast to behold. If it can survive years on construction sites and being frozen inside a brick of ice, it’s hard to imagine a task this watch can’t tackle.
- Movement: Ronda Caliber 715
- Bulletproof reputation
- Comfortable strap
- Gigantic wrist presence
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Best Entry-Level Mechanical: Orient Mako II Automatic Dive Watch
With its combination of quality construction, reliable movements, and affordability, Orient is a natural jumping-off point into the world of mechanical dive watches. A sister brand to the legendary Seiko, this company makes timepieces that, quite frankly, outshine their more famous sibling.
One of the most notable of these is the Orient Mako II ($157). It’s a 41.5mm stainless steel introduction to the conflicting joys of automatic timepieces. Beneath its mineral crystal and 120-click bezel spin the gears of Orient’s in-house 22-Jewel Cal. F69 movement.
This setup features both rotor and hand-winding along with the all-important hacking. And next to the 3 o’clock position — that’s a dual window with numerals for both the day and date. There’s also the ubiquitous screwdown crown and case back, yielding the standard 200 m of water resistance.
As good as the watch is on its own, the bracelet is also a humble standout. While it’s definitely nothing fancy, the steel links and clasp on our Mako II have proved to be one of the most comfortable we’ve worn.
It doesn’t pinch or bind, and the included half-link and fine adjustment holes allow for a reasonable level of adaptability. At the very least, it’s on par with some of its fancier cousins at a fraction of the cost.
On the negative front, the mineral crystal does accumulate wear. We’ve had ours for a while now, and the scratches have definitely had a chance to accumulate. But you know what? We kind of enjoy that.
Like so many tangible things, the dents give it that bit of personality that makes each object unique. The Mako II has a look that’s distinctly its own, and the accumulated (and completely superficial) markings only add to the package.
But what if you’re looking for something closer to the classical look of the Seiko SKX? Check out the Mako’s sister model, the Ray. It’s the same watch from a technical standpoint, wearing more of a classical dial.
Or if you’re looking to go just slightly upmarket, the Orient Kamasu is a wonderful option. Most of the internals are the same, but the upgrade to the sapphire crystal will eliminate the scratching problem. Whichever you choose, you’ll be in for a good time.
- Movement: Orient 22-Jewel Cal. F69 Automatic
- Sharp looks
- Reasonable accuracy
- Comfortable bracelet
- Scratch-prone mineral crystal
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Buyer’s Guide: How to Choose the Best Dive Watch
If you’re in the market for your first diver’s watch, there’s no more important factor than your choice of movement. It will deeply affect your relationship with the piece from both a timekeeping and power perspective. Let’s cover the three basic options.
We’ll start at the top with the automatics. By “top,” we’re referring to the most expensive option. Automatic watches are mechanically operated, keeping time through a series of tiny springs and gears working their magic while strapped to your wrist. Their ticks and spins produce the smooth, lovely sweep of the second hand instead of the more common second-to-second lurch of quartz.
But what the heck is “automatic” supposed to mean? In this case, the term refers to a mechanical movement that’s been fitted with a small inner counterweight and rotor. This piece swings around when you move your arm about, winding the watch’s spring and providing power.
Reserves vary, but you’ll usually be getting around 2 days of timekeeping from a fully torsioned spring. These can also be hand-wound using the crown, but so long as you’re wearing the watch for several hours a day, the mechanism can run almost indefinitely.
Now, the downsides. Because of their inherent complexity, automatic watches are less accurate than their electrically operated kin. Unless you plan on spending thousands of dollars, you’re going to be hoping for a piece that gains or loses less than 8 seconds a day.
Some poorly tuned models can be off by as much as half a minute, making precise timekeeping difficult. That’s why it’s important to find a movement that allows the gears to “hack.”
This means when you pull the crown all the way to the setting position, the second hand stops in its tracks. Some of the more iconic dive watches (like the Seiko SKX mentioned above) lack this important feature.
One step down the ladder in mystique and several rungs up in function comes solar quartz. These timepieces utilize a tiny cell to draw energy from the sun. They usually feature a capacitor capable of holding at least several months’ worth of charge.
Solar quartz is also remarkably accurate, usually straying as much time in a month as some mechanicals would in a single day. They’re relatively cheap and incredibly reliable and have the eco-friendly cool factor. Downsides are few, especially if you’re after practicality instead of prestige.
Lastly, we get standard quartz. It’s the same thing as the solar described above, except it operates on traditional watch batteries. This is almost always the cheapest option and can be the most reliable of all. It’s not exactly glamorous, but it’s a familiar standby for a reason.
Don’t let the cool kids fool you — there’s nothing wrong with standard quartz. The downside? You’ll probably need to visit the jeweler every few years for a battery change.
See that outer ring above the face of the watch, painted with numbers in 10-minute increments? That’s the dive bezel. These were introduced in the 1950s as a means of tracking both time elapsed and time remaining underwater. They can also be used as a slide rule of sorts for computing basic math.
Most of the time, these will be unidirectional. This keeps you from accidentally moving the bezel and leading yourself to believe that you have more air left than you really do. This isn’t a hard and fast rule, however. Some legendary dive watches like the Vostok Amphibia utilize a bidirectional ring. Still, more often than not, you’re going to want one that spins only a single way.
This bit of jargon is short for “luminous compound.” Basically, it’s a glow-in-the-dark coating applied to various parts of the watch. While some field or fashion watches paint only their hour and minute hands, most dive watches have it plastered across their indices and second hands, as well.
Some of the nicer models light up their bezels, too. This compound can be charged with just about any form of light and makes the watch readable in dark conditions. Whether you’re 50 feet underwater or rolling over in your sleeping bag at night, a good dive watch should glow like a swarm of orderly fireflies.
The big name to watch out for here is SuperLuminova. It’s the compound found on most of the highest-end timepieces, though it’s started to trickle down into more affordable territory.
Citizen and Casio both have their own versions of the stuff. Some are better than others, so be mindful of just how important nighttime visibility is to you before making your choice.
Strap or Bracelet
Again, it all boils down to a matter of preference. Stainless steel offers more of a jewelry effect and can often be very comfortable. The downside here is adjustability. Unless you have either a set of springbar tools (cheap but specialized) or a bracelet with a quick-adjust system (very expensive), you’ll be making a trip to a jeweler whenever you need to make a change.
The best method I’ve found is to set my bracelets at a happy middle ground, allowing it to slide along my wrist in the morning and then find a bit more purchase when the arm swells due to the day’s physical activity.
Straps, however, offer a world of possibilities. Rubber makes for a comfortable experience and easy cleaning and is a great companion to timepieces that will actually be used in the water.
Fabric NATO straps, while certainly feasible in wet conditions, will retain moisture as they sit against your wrist. Still, they offer a wide range of colors and patterns, making them one of the more comfortable and iconic choices.
The only material we’d shy away from on a dive watch is leather. Yes, we did recommend the Squale in the picks above. (Come on, it’s gorgeous.) Still, if you’re planning to do anything more than sit at your desk, it’s nice to have something that can back up a diver’s seaworthy reputation.
What Is a Dive Watch?
Unlike many questions in the watch hobby, there actually seems to be a clear-cut answer here. In order to be considered a true “dive watch,” the timepiece in question needs to come with the following things: passive illumination (or lume), a diver’s bezel, and at least 200 m worth of water resistance.
Lume is a common feature on a multitude of watches. We call it passive because rather than having to press a button to light up the dial, the hands and indices will give off whatever light they’ve absorbed from your surroundings. So, any time you look at it in darkness, there should be at least some measure of glow. Whether you’re underwater or just have your hands full in general, this added legibility is a vital touch.
Then there’s the bezel. We’ve talked about what they’re for above, but timing your remaining oxygen isn’t the only thing they’re good for. You can actually use it to do math or just set a reminder for when your pizza should come out of the oven.
The water resistance is pretty self-explanatory. If you’re going to be diving, you need something that won’t swamp or short out the moment you break the surface. Still, watches with as little as 50 m are often considered OK for swimming.
But with 200 m to play with, you can rest assured that there won’t be a problem. And because seals do degrade over time, the additional rating means your timepiece will stay waterproof for much longer than something with a lower rating.
Which Movement Is Best?
There’s no correct answer to this question. So instead, try framing it this way — which movement is best for you? Are you looking for a reliable, accurate watch that needs only the occasional battery change? Go with something in standard quartz.
Its combination of value and functionality rocked the world back in the 70s and 80s, so much so that the “Quartz Crisis” knocked a fleet of mechanicals from the market.
But what if you’re after something futuristic, maybe with even less need for maintenance? Look to solar. These are quartz movements fitted with a tiny cell that draws its power from the sun.
Many of these feature power reserves of 4 months or more, requiring only the occasional stroll through the outdoors to keep their capacitors at full strength. While these are often a bit more expensive than battery-powered models, your choice of renewable energy can pay dividends from both an environmental and quality-of-life standpoint.
Lastly, there are the mechanicals. This is the least reliable and most inaccurate option — and conversely, the most expensive. But it’s also the gold standard for most of the high-end watch enthusiasts out there. Why is that? It’s the cool factor.
Whether it’s the appreciation of the craftsmanship or the respect for history, the idea of wearing a bevy of tiny, spinning gears on your wrist has a bit of romance. Automatic movements also wind their springs with the movement of your body, removing the need for batteries.
What Is the Best Dive Watch?
For us, the best dive watch lies at the intersection of maximum quality for minimum cost. This is why pieces like the Casio Duro, Citizen Promaster, and Island Watch’s Islander are so compelling. But the story could be different for you.
Are you looking for something tough and functional without spending more than you would on a pair of nice shoes? Grab one of our budget-minded picks. Looking for something a little more luxurious? We have several options on the higher end that should be able to scratch the jewelry itch.