The Best Watches To Wear At Sea
Whether you’re climbing aboard a yacht or diving into the deep blue, here are MR PORTER’s most seaworthy timepieces.
Waterproof watches hit the mainstream 90 years ago when, in 1927, Rolex founder Mr Hans Wilsdorf famously gave record-breaking swimmer Ms Mercedes Gleitze his first Oyster model to wear on her swim across the English Channel. After 10 hours in freezing conditions, she was pulled from the water sopping wet and half conscious, but her Rolex was bone-dry inside. It was only a matter of time before other brands followed suit, adopting the same watertight hermetic cases with added countdown indicators and sub-dials in the 1950s suitable for sailing regattas and other maritime pursuits.
Today, it’s events such as the America’s Cup alongside our endless desire to plunge deeper into the big blue that drives watchmaking innovation. We want timepieces that have the ability to withstand the extreme pressures of travelling far below the water’s surface, as well as travelling as fast as possible on top of it. From a visual standpoint, a dive watch is easy to spot – a moveable bezel, typically external, is crucial, as are large, luminous markers and hands for legibility at extreme depths. And a sailing watch is generally known for its countdown functions.
So, as you prepare to embark on your next aquatic adventure – sailing the Atlantic, scuba diving unchartered reefs or surfing the Pacific – take the plunge with something from this selection of serious submersibles.
This, gentlemen, is the watch that British sailor Sir Ben Ainslie and his crew wore as they powered through the Bermuda Triangle in the final of the America’s Cup. It’s a formidable version of Zenith’s original El Primero, so named because it was the first automatic chronograph when it launched in 1969. The same high-frequency movement still powers this sleek, modern timepiece, which is cased in polished stainless steel with a slate-grey velvet-finish dial. The screw-down pushers, 200m water-resistance and matt-black carbon-fibre-coated rubber strap make this every inch a watch for derring-do on the high seas, but its smart design advertises your adventurous side in the office, too.
Swiss horology expert Oris has been manufacturing precision timepieces for more than a century, but has made a splash in recent years with its diving watches. The specialist Aquis Depth Gauge model in stainless steel has been designed with the certified dive master in mind. Its most remarkable feature is a patented mechanical depth gauge that, somewhat bafflingly, provides a reading by allowing water to enter the timepiece. In this respect, it is the first of its kind. Powered by the brand’s signature automatic red motor movement, and waterproof down to 300m, it’s right at home among the deep beds of the Barrier Reef. Thanks to its clean steel strap, ceramic bezel and simple, graphic face detailing, however, it also looks pretty smart on dry land.
Britain’s leading luxury watchmaker, Bremont, founded by Messrs Nick and Giles English, has been on board with the America’s Cup for the past two years and produced a slew of related watches (including the Oracle), of which the Regatta Chronograph is the most elegant. Encased in a gleaming 18ct rose-gold case, it features Bremont’s exclusive proprietary movement, while its style is inspired by the beautiful J-Class yachts of the 1930s. The chocolate-brown alligator strap and lacquered cream dial are hardly designed with race day in mind but, come prize-giving, this timepiece will go down a storm at the captain’s table.
The US Navy’s Sea, Air and Land operations force – aka the Navy Seals – is famous for its all-guns-blazing style. So it needs a watch that can be relied upon under extreme pressure and conditions, day or night. Not satisfied with what was out there, it approached the big thinkers at Luminox, the Swiss brand best known for its robust watches with built-in illumination. The result is a tool-watch, crafted from carbon-reinforced polycarbonate and fitted with a rubber strap and a scratch-resistant mineral glass-face. This Colormark 3081 model, like all Luminox watches, is water-resistant to a depth of 200m and fitted with innovative self-illumination technology that will help you keep track of the time at any depth.
Sailing and watches have always been a natural fit. Aside from appealing to those well-heeled gents who retire at 50 and spend their days sailing on a J-Class yacht, there is a timekeeping element of regatta racing that lends itself to colourful chronometers. Finest among them is Bremont’s reliable Oracle I, which has been designed to be used on the water, or in the water. Incorporating the Bremont anti-shock movement, it’s built with a durable 500m water-resistant case and is powered by an automatic chronometer movement. It has interchangeable straps – in red high-grade rubber or a black Kevlar option – and is robust enough to take to the bottom of the sea, but refined enough to wear on deck.
There aren’t many one-stop watches that can perform on deck as well as they shine at a cocktail party. But IWC Schaffhausen has a winner in its Portugieser Yacht Club Chronograph, complete with stopwatch, flyback and totaliser function, as well as six-bar water-resistance and a 68-hour power reserve. The original model was created in 1939 at the request of two seafaring businessmen. To celebrate its 75th anniversary, the Swiss powerhouse released an updated version in polished stainless steel, fitted with a silver-plated dial.