We continue our journey through understanding the evolution of the diver watch and what technological engineering feats were overcome to allow us to have a waterproof mechanical watch.
Last time, we left off at how Rolex had announced itself to the world with the Oyster and Mercedes Gleitze.
Mercedes Gleitze and Daily Mail news
The Oyster brought Rolex great success – in unveiling this watch to the world they not only proved their innovative engineering but also opened up a new market segment in waterproof watches. Many other brands were keen to have a slice of this market and were not slow to act.
Modern day Pasha de Cartier
Cartier who had now already amassed substantial fame, becoming synonymous with monarchs and royalty, produced its first waterproof watch in 1932 for the Pasha of Marrakech who wished to have a watch that he could use on his “occasional” swims. Cartier, by-passed Rolex’s patented screw down crown design, by producing a wristwatch of round design where the crown was protected by a screw cap. This cap was attached to a chain which was then attached to the case. It truly special piece and a great way to circumvent Rolex’s patented design. It was named the Pasha de Cartier and reissued in 1985.
Notice the chain around the crown
Between the years of 1926 and 1933, thanks to Yves Le Prieur, diving equipment improved. Although the Pasha de Cartier and Rolex were without doubt well equipped to prevent sand and moisture from entering the case during shallow swimming, they were literally quite “out of their depth” when it came to depth.
Up stepped Omega who produced a watch which used an external case. Now this seems a bit backward since Rolex had just produced a wristwatch seemed to do away with the external case but in fact it was quite necessary. One reason was that due to the depths that diving was now performed, an external case was required to protect the wristwatch and secondly, they couldn’t use a screw down crown design due to Rolex’s patent anyway. The Omega Marine was launched – the world’s first diving watch.
The Omega Marine used an external case with a sapphire front – an important development and improvement to what had previously been used. The external case which was in two parts was locked in place with a large clasp and leather which was used to keep out salt and water.
To test the Omega Marine, it was placed in hot water of 85 degrees celsius and then quickly plunged to a depth of 70m in Lake Geneva. When it was taken out there were no traces of water inside the case and the wristwatch performed perfectly.
Now, producing such a watch for exploration and adventure is quite reasonable but when it comes to placing it into the public domain for retail, it is quite another. It was in fact, many years later, in 1939 that they released the Marine Standard. The case was still retained the rectangular shape that had previously been used but instead this time rubber gaskets were used to properly seal the case and the sapphire crystal. This was the world’s first – rubber gaskets in wristwatches and is an innovation still used today.
Omega Marine Standard
I think at this point of the article and series it is suitable to take a pause in the narrative and actually admire the achievements of these watchmakers. All had identified that the solution of producing a water resistant watch was through closing the gaps between the bezel, crown and case. Although none had produced the modern dive watch that we see today – their innovations, persistence in adversity and their unwillingness to accept the average meant that collectively they had pieced together the puzzle of producing the world’s water resistant dive watch.
As mentioned in Part 1 of Diver’s watches, there is definitely a romance between diver watches and everyday man. Whilst, most of Earth’s land has been explored by man – the seas and oceans are still relatively unexplored. Man’s own biological incapabilities cannot allow him to freely explore these places without advances in engineering and technology and its in the face of adversity that we are truly tested. Rarely do we not prevail, rarely do we fail and if we do it’s usually due to ironically; time. The development of diver watches is resonates to the lives of everyone of us – we all face struggles and difficult times in life, we all face the unknown but we move forward: to dare is to do. With a diver watch, it’s something that accompanies you along your journey; through the unexplored and will never let you down.
The Aqua Lung
Continuing our journey of understanding the modern day diver watch we need to first look at the history of the aqua lung. Its development gave impetus for the development of the diver watch. Up until then, diving had strictly been for military and exploration purposes with heavy equipment required and had little purpose as a widespread leisure activity. With all due respect, the Omega Marine Standard was only water resistant up to 2 atmospheres (20 metres).
Jacques-Yves Cousteau and Emile Gagnan
The aqua lung was developed in 1942 by Jacques-Yves Cousteau and Emile Gagnan and was the first open circuit breathing apparatus that allowed dives of up to 160 metres. Critically, now you could perform a dive without connection to the surface. 1942 was also the advent of World War 2 where diving was employed as sabotage and espionage purposes. More refined accessories were now required including depth gauges, compasses and yes, you guessed it, wristwatches.
The aqua lung changed warfare
The Regia Marina – the Italian Navy’s special diving force requested to have wristwatches that were reliable for combat, could be easily read and of course were waterproof. They worked with a small company specialising in diving equipment and together with Rolex, developed important advancements in both water resistance and legibility. The company was of course Officine Panerai.
Giovanni Panerai in front of his Florence Store
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