Useless Dive Watch Features We Love
Look at most people’s mechanical sport watches and you’ll notice they were either designed for diving or designed to look like they were designed for diving. We have a rather healthy appetite for timepieces meant to travel deep underwater, even though most people wearing such watches would – under most circumstances – have the more pedestrian occupation of “desk diver.”
People’s interest in dive watches has very much to do with their promise of performance, as much as it has to do with their actual performance. On a very practical level dive watches excel at putting up with abuse, are typically easy to read, and tend to simply look cool. However, in the scheme of dive watches, the brands that produce them tend to include a lot of niche features that are wholly lost on dive style watches or the people that tend to wear them. So, let’s examine some rather useless dive watch features that we nevertheless still seem to love.
Helium Release Valves
Many dive watches have an automatic or manually operated helium release value. These came about to be used by mostly commercial divers who needed to spend time in pressure chambers to prevent getting the bends (decompression sickness). The valves allow gas to be released from a watch case so as not to damage the movement and crystal, as pressure changes in the watch during various instances.
Having said that, watches known as saturation divers don’t even need helium release values. While helium release valves are interesting, the vast majority of actual divers will never need them – not to mention people not diving, as these little values are utterly useless on land. Nevertheless, in watches like the Bell & Ross BR02 the valve ring is wrapped in orange just to make it stand out.
A lot of dive watches come on metal bracelets, and many of those bracelets have an extension system which opens it up a couple of centimetres so that the bracelet can fit over one’s wrist whilst wearing a diving suit. The purpose of these extensions is to allow people to wear a watch all the time, but also while diving. Of course by wearing a watch strap on a dive watch this issue is all but negated. Diver’s extensions are so rarely used because most people would not dive with their daily wear.
What some brands such as Rolex have done is change the function of a diver’s extension, so that it can be micro-adjusted by millimetres to allow for a little extra space to “let out” the bracelet on occasion.
When divers submerge underwater it is often crucial to know their diving depth. For the last several decades this information has been acquired by electronic devices or wrist diving computers – which perform much better than the only mechanical systems. Nevertheless, some watch brands develop extremely expensive timepieces with mechanical depth gauges. While technically cool, these depth gauges have limited precision, and few would choose them over an electronic system. At the most mechanical depth gauges would be used as a back-up device. On land these depth gauges are utterly useless, but these still seem to have a market for aficionados.
Chronographs are watches that have stop watch features in them and they are actually very useful. Furthermore, timing events underwater (such as the length of your dive) is also very useful. Having said that, most dive watches on the market which come with chronographs can’t be used underwater – at least not the chronograph function. That’s right, by pressing the chronograph pushers underwater, the case might let water in and thus ruin the movement. Many dive watches have screw-down pushers to prevent this, but many don’t. There are exceptions though and chronographs which you can use underwater do exist.
One impressive system for this has been developed by Breitling, which uses magnets to activate the chronograph on some of their high-end quartz dive timepieces.
Extreme Water Resistance
Perhaps the most common useless feature on a dive watch is a level of water resistance that no one needs or could even possibly use. It is of course worth noting that the watch industry is famously unclear about what watch depth resistance ratings mean – at least up to a certain level. For example, a watch that claims to be water resistant to 30 metres is only safe for washing one’s hands in a sink. It isn’t until a watch is water resistant to 100 metres that swimming with it is OK, 200 metres is when something can be used for recreation diving and snorkelling and it is only at 300 metres that a watch can be considered to be a professional diving timepiece.
Having said that, timepieces can be way beyond this depth rating in an ongoing mission to promote total masculinity. Not that anything is wrong with that, and people do love deep diving timepieces, but it is worth mentioning that most of these timepieces are claimed to survive where no human being can.
Dive watches that are water resistant to 500 or 1000 metres are much more common these days and some have water resistance ratings of 2000 metres or more. Hublot has one that is water resistant to 4,000 metres. Nevertheless, timepieces with even deeper water resistance ratings are available. Thick with metal and sapphire crystal these watches will make for an impressive wrist statement, but no one on earth (or under the water) will ever come even close to testing their claimed durability.