If you are looking for a dive watch, you are in the right place. Here we have the best divers for a budget below £5,000 - a level of spending that could be defined as "less than a Rolex Submariner", but that would be a very dismissive way to describe some of the most accomplished and most carefully designed water-resistant watches out there.
A dive watch is a simple concept, after all, and while you can easily spend more than £5,000 on a Rolex, Panerai or Blancpain, you can get watches that cleave faithfully to the guiding principles laid down in the 1950s and 60s for a lot less. Watches that will last you a lifetime, providing rock-solid build quality, clear and legible design, excellent night-time visibility and resistance to water that will weather everything the average wearer will throw at it. Those are the criteria we have used to compile this list.
Further to that we have focussed on those watches which combine those basic strengths with appealing design and value for money. Some are less hardcore than others; today's dive watch is as concerned with emulating the style and flair of the genre's golden age as it is with surviving the depths, so while every watch on the list has more than adequate water resistance, not every single one is an ISO-certified piece ready to jump into the Great Blue Hole. And as always, we limit ourselves to one watch per brand.
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Since this watch launched in 2016, Alpina and its big brother Frederique Constant have been purchased by the Citizen group, and all signs are that the strategy for this 136-year old brand is to focus on hybrid smartwatches. Sigh. But you can at least still buy the Seastrong Diver Heritage, a well-sized, characterful vintage-toned piece that while definitely on the more mellow end of the diving spectrum, still boasts 300m water resistance and an inner rotating bezel.
Anonimo does make some much more conventionally styled dive watches (as well as being a key player in introducing bronze cases) but we are firmly here for the electric blue accents on this Leopard Racing limited edition. The 45.5mm watch is water resistant to 200m, runs the ubiquitous Sellita SW 200-1 movement (38 hours power reserve) and will be capped at 97 pieces. Somewhat oddly for a diver, it boasts a strap made from flame-retardant fabric.
The Swatch Group’s lawyers aren’t known for their laid-back attitude, so Aquadive’s use of the “Bathyscaphe” name does raise eyebrows. Like Squale below, Aquadive as a brand is more beach shop than Bond St, but the watchmaking is serious: 1000m water resistance, ceramic bezel and ETA 2836-2 movement. It measures 43mm across and comes on either a rubber or fabric strap. Limited to 500 pieces.
Ball’s watches are at their best when at their simplest. The 43mm Engineer Master II Skindiver (the names are never simple, however) is a case in point: twelve thick tritium gas tubes for the hour markers, plus two thin ones on the hands, a classic dive bezel (ceramic) and options of steel or rubber for the straps. You’ll get hands-down the best night-time visibility of any watch, although it lacks the bezel-embedded gas tubes of some of the newest models.
Despite boasting one of the most unappetising names for a watch (and that’s ignoring how odd a word ‘aquascaphe’ is), Baltic’s diver has become something of a cult classic. It’s about as simple as a throwback design gets – no date window, no crown guards – and keeps costs down through online retail and Japanese Miyota movements. You do still get sapphire crystals and 200m water resistance, however.
Dive watches are round. We all know that. Except no-one told Bell & Ross, who slapped a rotating dive bezel on their recognisable square BR03 template, beefed up the luminova and introduced a tried-and-tested high-contrast-plus-bright-orange colour scheme. And guess what? It really works. It’s rated to 300m, measures 42mm across (and wears snugly thanks to those short lugs) and comes on rubber or fabric. Ceramic case at this price is a bonus, too.
The seafaring name and the history notwithstanding, the Superocean Heritage never really figures in conversations about dive watches. Partly because the more modern Superocean exists; partly because Breitling is so much bigger on flying than diving. But the Heritage is, to our eyes at least, better looking than its contemporary sibling, and still perfectly capable of getting wet. Resistant to 200m, it uses calibre B20, which is the “in-house” automatic Breitling buys in from Tudor, so it’s identically specced to the Pelagos.
Redesigned for 2019, Bremont’s S2000 is one of the most hardcore divers on our list, and now comes with a flashy yellow bezel decoration; it’s just that little bit glossier all round than its forebear. As the name implies, it’s rated to a massive 2000m of water pressure. Like Seiko, it moves the crown away from 3 o’clock for greater protection, which also marginally reduces the perceived size on the wrist (it’s a fairly chunky 45mm x 18mm). Movement-wise, you’re looking at a modified ETA 2836-2 with 38 hours of power.
A lot of Certina’s watches are pretty anonymous. But the DS PH200m is the brand’s standout watch and an excellent value proposition. Based on a 1960s diver, it has been upscaled to 42.8mm but is otherwise loaded with retro charm. Water resistance of 200m and an 80 hour power reserve are great at this price; hesalite acrylic instead of sapphire has throwback appeal but will scratch easily.
The Christopher Ward business model is essentially well-specced tool watches that owe a lot (sometimes too much) to established Swiss models. So it’s no surprise that this has a very Submariner/Seamaster feel – but a 600m dive watch with ceramic bezel, micro-adjustable bracelet and sapphire crystal for less than £1000? Hard to argue. Power reserve is a little low (38 hours) but that’s off-the-shelf Sellita movements for you.
Doxa has plenty of underwater history, but hasn’t always thrived as a business like some of its rivals. New for 2019 is a wild array of colour schemes on its decidedly vintage designs, from “sharkhunter” black to “Caribbean” blue. Confusingly the 300T is water resistant to a whopping 1200m; the dual scales are for calculating decompression times. The movement is an ETA 2824-2 and the watch measures 42.5mm across.
Eterna is another brand that’s been through choppy waters of late; you’d be forgiven for overlooking them in your search for a dive watch. But then you would miss the 1973 Super Kontiki, a turtle-shaped 200m diver that pairs well with the fancy Milanese mesh. Powered by the ETA 2824-2, it’s 44mm wide and good for 38 hours, so it won’t win many Top Trumps rounds, but its good looks get it out of trouble.
Sister to the sold-out Leven and Endeavour divers, the Hecla is Farer’s more colourful dive watch. Named after a class of Royal Navy ocean survey ships, it has an inner rotating bezel controlled by the crown at 4 o’clock (Farers always have bronze crowns for timekeeping) and 300m water resistance. It has a sapphire caseback, showing the ETA 2824-2 within, which Farer guarantees for 5 years – not a given even among pricier brands.
Favre-Leuba offers all of its Raider watches in 44mm or 41mm sizes; even the smaller ones feel chunky thanks to that case design, but sometimes that’s what you want in a dive watch. The watch is available in yellow, blue or orange, with grey, black or steel cases and on leather, rubber or metal bracelets. You get applied hour markers, 300m water resistance and yes, of course, an ETA 2824-2 movement.
Maxing out your £5,000 budget gets you IWC ownership; the Aquatimer is almost certainly going to get a refresh in 2020 (and with that, expect a price hike) but we’re fond of the reference 329001 and while it’s around, it’s worth a look. It’s 42mm wide, has an internal dive bezel with mint green accents and quick-swap straps (assuming you have other IWC straps to swap in). The movement’s a modified ETA 2892-A2 with 42 hours in the tank.
Many love the Longines Legend Diver, and rightly so. But 2018’s Skin Diver has topped it for pure retro points; there’s no date, and the hands and dial are a direct homage to the 60s original – although the watch, like the Certina, has swelled from 40mm to 42mm. It’s good for 300m water resistance, has a sapphire crystal, a screw-down crown and a bezel in PVD-coated steel. Strap options include tropic rubber and leather.
Emphasising the date on a dive watch isn’t how we’d go about things, but atonement comes via the relatively svelte case (44mm x 12mm and 300m-rated), ceramic bezel and jazzy orange accents. No rotating bezel and slightly stubby hour markers mark this out as better suited for dry land, but still. Power comes from a Sellita SW 400 with several in-house improvements (fast date setting, for instance). Power is 38 hours.
Better known for being business-like and Bauhaus, Nomos Glashutte now does a 300m-rated Club Sport – and its first-ever metal bracelet. There’s no dive bezel but the crown screws down (and has a red safety warning if it isn’t fully screwed in) and the hour markers have a generous coat of Luminova. Thanks to the in-house Neomatik movement it’s slimmer than most divers (42mm x 10.2mm) and there is a sapphire caseback too.
Omega makes a lot of great dive watches. Who knew, right? For £4,720 you can have the entry-level Planet Ocean (600m, hard as nails, subtle as a brick) or, same money, the Seamaster 300 Master Co-Axial 41mm (vintage stylings galore). But for nearly a grand less, you get this – the everyday hero. Equally good movement as the vintage-y 300, plus applied lume plots, laser-engraved dial, helium valve and a date. In our video review we said it had knocked the Rolex Submariner off its perch and we stand by that verdict today.
This has been the big success story at Oris. It isn’t a hardcore diver (there’s the Aquis for that) but it is full of personality. The Sixty-Five now comes in literally dozens of versions, all running on basic Sellita SW 200-1 calibres, and all with 100m water resistance. The watch’s strength isn’t in its stats but in the richness of its dial finishing and all-round pleasant looks. We’ve picked out the one with a r-Radyarn strap made from recycled polymers and produced with an eye on reducing emissions.
For our budget of £5,000 you can actually get into a Panerai Luminor and keep a little more cash in your pocket with the PAM774 Base Logo at £4,200. We prefer the small seconds dial of the Marina Logo, but given that they’re otherwise identical, don’t blame you for banking £300. Both run the hand-wound 3-day P.6000 in-house calibre, both lack ‘sandwich’ lume dials and both measure 44mm across with 100m water resistance.
Best known for slimline ceramic pieces and modern designs, Rado has belatedly discovered there’s gold in them there heritage revival hills. Cynical or not, the 42mm Captain Cook is a fun watch with a distinctive concave bezel profile and domed sapphire. The red date disc, revolving anchor logo and sunburst dial all add the impression someone was thinking about the details, too. Water resistance is 200m and it shares an 80-hour movement with the Certina DS200.
It took us a while to warm up to Reservoir, but among the legions of 1960s-reissued dive watches it is sweet relief to find a brand offering something different. The Air Gauge has a full Luminova dial and an inventive take on the (ceramic) dive bezel to accommodate the retrograde minutes counter. There’s a jumping hour mechanism above the power reserve indicator at 6 o’clock (37 hours). Water resistance is an unusual 250m.
The Daymark isn’t really a dive watch by design, but it ticks a lot of the same boxes (complete absence of bezel notwithstanding). It’s supremely legible, bears no superfluous indicators or dial text, and has the sturdy lines of a tough, resilient watch, with 200m water resistance. It doesn’t have a screw-down crown, and it does have a display caseback, but as it’s not a purpose-built diver we won’t hold that against it.
We love the Seiko Prospex “Ninja Turtle” and we’ve been impressed by the value of the new Seiko 5 Sports. But if there’s one sub-£5,000 diver we would spring for, it’s the Prospex re-creation of a 1970 classic – the original “turtle”. Limited to 2,500 pieces, it measures 45mm across, has 200m water resistance and 50 hours of power reserve. Like all Seiko divers, it has the crown at 4 o’clock for greater protection against knocks.
Another watch with its crown at 4 o’clock, albeit without the protective lines of the Seiko’s turtle shaped case. Everything you’d expect from Sinn is here: no-nonsense legibility, German submarine steel, argon-filled cases to reduce condensation and a functional range of -45/+80 degrees Celsius. Most impressive of all, it is water resistant to 1000m – but it gets there by being 47mm wide, so it’s not for the thin-wristed.
Taking its name from the Italian for shark, Squale has always been a serious dive brand, supplying 500m rated cases to half of the industry back in the 1960s and 70s. The Blue Soleil epitomises the brand, with its ‘dive-shop’ logo text and gradient blue-black dial. Dare we say it, it’s the kind of watch that will actually look even better with wear and tear. Go for the sandblasted steel and rubber strap for the most authentic look.
Named after a WWII submarine, the Finnish Vetehinen comes from Stepan Sarpaneva’s more affordable SUF range. Elements of his signature design are present in the thickly-scalloped bezel and burly crown, as well as the distinctive “devil’s tail” hands. Powered by an Eterna Calibre 39 automatic (65 hours of power), it measures 42mm and is water resistant to 300m. It’s not cheap, but it’s rare (only 52 will be made) and it’s cool.
Far and away one of the more youthful watches on our list, the 43mm Aquaracer’s standout visual feature is the detailed faceting to the hour markers, hands and bezel; borderline fussy in pictures, it’s much less noisy in real life. Powered by TAG Heuer’s Calibre 5 (really an ETA 2824-2 or Sellita SW 200-1), it’s good for 300m. There are countless versions available, but we favour keeping it simple with this blue/black model.
At this budget, most divers are 316L stainless steel, but at Tudor you get a titanium bracelet, case and bezel (with a steel caseback and folding clasp). The satin finish, combined with the matt ceramic of the bezel and matt black dial make this easily the most business-like watch Tudor makes. No flashes of colour or retro details here, just pure legibility. Since 2015 the Pelagos has used Tudor’s in-house calibre MT5612, with 70 hours power reserve. Depth rating: 500m.
Somewhere between a field watch and a true diver, the U1-DZ from Unimatic takes the minimalist cool of the brand’s debut watches and adds an olive drab paint job. It’s still rated to 300m, however. Inside is a Seiko automatic movement, which scores highly for reliability and price, but poorly for daily accuracy. Rather than showing calibrations for elapsed dive time, the bezel is set up for second timezone tracking. Limited to 400 pieces.
£529.62 inc VAT
The Super Sea Wolf sounds menacing, but look at it – it’s more of an eager puppy than a vicious predator. The two tone blue and glossy bezel finish combine to make this one of the happiest-looking watches out there. The crystal is mineral glass rather than sapphire, and at 40mm x 11mm it’s a bit smaller than some of the others here. Powered by Fossil Group’s in-house STP 3-13 movement, it’s resistant to 200m pressure and comes on a blue textile strap.