Mechanical Depth Gauge Watches — Are They Worth The Cost?

I openly admit that I’m a mechanical watch geek. And for that reason, most of my watches wouldn’t know what to do with a battery if it bit them in the butt, so to speak. Mechanical watches run entirely on movement, either via the user manually winding them up each morning, or via an automatic winding movement. The best watches are often Swiss, and quite costly. The appeal for many people, myself included, is in the craftsmanship required to create one, and in the link to history, as the mechanical movements have remained largely unchanged throughout time.

The original dive watches were mechanical, as all watches were mechanical when scuba diving became popular in the 1950s and 1960s. Thus many of the most iconic dive watches, including the Rolex Submariner and the Omega Seamaster, are mechanical. Only later, in the late 1960s and 1970s, did the modern, quartz-based watches that we know today come about, and the modern dive watches hit the market. But mechanical watches are still around, and many of them are made in the tradition of the early dive watches.

New models are launched every year, and recently, more and more of these dive watches have been produced with integrated analog depth gauges. Some, such as the Oris Aquis Depth Gauge, feature a small tube where water enters, and, using the increasing pressure at depth, display your depth at any given time. Others use some version of the more traditional Bourdon tube, as you’d find in old-fashioned (pre-dive computer) depth gauges. These include the newly launched IWC Aquatimer series.

So why the sudden surge in this feature? Truthfully, while many mechanical watches label themselves “dive watches,” few divers rely on them as dive instruments, as they did when the watches were introduced. In those days, a diver kept track of his or her dive using a dive watch for time and a depth gauge for depth. Then, using a dive table, they’d know how long they could stay submerged before they needed to surface. Modern dive computers make these rather simplistic dive profiles all but a thing of the past, and with one instrument that keeps track of (and remembers) your depth and time, and calculates your remaining no-deco time in real time, dive watches have became more of a fashion statement and less of a dive tool.

Japanese manufacturers Seiko and Citizen are still making dive watches, and some of these do have built-in depth gauges. This means they can be used as simplistic backup “computers” in case your primary fails. I own one of these, and have used it on one occasion to monitor my ascent and deco stops when my primary computer failed me.

By adding a depth gauge to these dive watches, the manufacturers are no doubt trying to recapture some of their diving pedigree, and they’re succeeding in the sense that it would be possible to use these watches as backups, in the same way I use my current one.

However, all these watches have one thing in common: they are very expensive. An IWC Aquatimer will set you back $19,000; the classic Blancpain X Fathoms would set you back $38,000, and even the relatively inexpensive Oris Aquis Depth Gauge costs $3,500. And considering what even a top-of-the-line dive computer costs, these watches just don’t merit the cost in terms of functionality when a Seiko or Citizen watch with a depth gauge can be yours for around $500.

These watches ultimately appeal to a niche crowd (part of the reason for the price tag), which can be divided into two: desk-diver watch fans, who want to own a dive watch with more features than other high-end mechanical watches, and scuba-diving watch aficionados who want a mechanical, high-end watch that they can actually take diving and rely on in case of emergency. The craftsmanship cannot be denied in these pricey timepieces, so if you’ve got the means, by all means pick one up.

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