A dive watch is more than just a timepiece, it’s literally a life-saving device when it comes to tracking your oxygen consumption and time beneath the waves. When it comes to finding an accessory that you literally have to trust your life to, we recommend you don’t skimp. That isn’t to say you need to spend thousands of dollars, just to ensure that if you’re going to go the budget route, you’re sure that your watch actually has the stones to handle its business when the chips are down.
When finding a set of watches that could be counted on come hell or high water, we took into account several primary factors: Water resistance, ability to fight corrosion, readability under the water, bezel rotation, price, and the construction quality of the crown and case back. In each case, the watches we chose had to be capable of fighting off water and working well under adverse conditions and when pitted against father time. When our goggles cleared and we’d depressurized, only the 10 best dive watches under $500 remained.
Casio MDV106-1A Stainless Steel
Pro: Large, striking face
Con: Poor luminescence
Basic Build: We were pleasantly surprised with the build quality of the MDV106. Utilizing mineral glass and a screw-down crown with a back that locks via screw, it makes a tough show of keeping water out at the most vulnerable points. The Japanese quartz movement is solid with only the most marginal of ticks detectable in the second hand. You’ll only see about 20 seconds worth of change per month, which is well within industry standards, even among more expensive dive watches. 200 meters water resistance claims are completely true.
Timex Expedition Dive Style
Pro: Excellent natural lume
Con: Bezel is tough to use in the dark
Quite a Looker: With triple chronographs sunk into the striking blue face complete with the Timex Indiglo technology, this is a sharp looking piece of hardware in or out of the ocean. Full quartz movement and a mineral face make it work well, though we’re not too sure how much punishment it can take, so it might not be the ideal choice for adventure seekers.
Orient Men’s ‘Black Mako’
Pro: Band molds to wrists comfortably
Con: Tends to gain time
Odd Man Out: Orient is an underrated name in the dive watch game, which is a huge benefit to anyone who’s looking for a bargain. Their automatic movement watches are some of the most reliable around and with a tight bezel and screw-down crown, the Mako not only works well but stands up to rough conditions with aplomb. Despite the rock-solid frame, the watch is light and fits easily on slimmer wrists, making it an excellent accessory that won’t overburden you when out on land.
Pro: Clean, timeless look
Con: Too much play in the band
True Pro: Unlike dive watches that tend to prize function over form, this strikes a better balance for a look that goes with a jacket and tie as much as a day at the beach. A Hardlex crystal set into the 42mm face gives it a sense of gravitas while the stainless steel build offers just enough flash to be noticeable. Able to run without a battery, the SKX007K2 uses a perpetual pendulum to wind itself off just the movements of your arm. The high-contrast face along with fully marked bezel makes marking time easy.
Seiko SRP307 ‘Black Monster’
Pro: Water resistant up to 660 feet
Con: Sharp bezel angles
Silver Surfer: On the face is a set of hour markers that are bold as brass, without being half as tacky. The large arrows ensure that you’ll never need to guess where the hands are pointing. The simplistic analog display is powered by Japanese automatic movement that won’t lose seconds or fail to work under several atmos of pressure. The crystal window is made of sturdy Hardlex that can handle scrapes, scratches, and bumps against coral without flinching.
Pro: Slender profile
Con: Cramped face
Solar Driven: Powered by light and therefore unneeding of a battery, the Eco-Drive is the watch of choice for those who want to prove how responsible they can be when it comes to environmental issues. Not merely green but also quite capable with its unidirectional bezel, varied luminous indicators, and full 300 meters (990 feet) worth of water resistance.
Pro: Smooth crown action
Con: Plagued by QC issues. Inspect out of the box
High Visibility: Capable of being seen from quite a ways away, the big, luminous bezel and numerics are intended for those who need real at-a-glance visibility with their dive watch. Using a huge face with only the basics displayed, you’ll never have more information than you need, but just a hard-core timepiece with a fold-over stainless steel clasp.
Citizen Promaster Altichron
Pro: Sports watch style
Con: Large 50mm face
Best Bargain: This is a honey of a deal. Ordinarly pushing deep into the $800 range, the Altichron by Citizen is one of the busiest watch faces you’ll see, but once you’re over the learning curve, it’s got loads of information that you can ascertain at a glance. A titanium case with leather strap, bezel with slide-rul DNA built right in, and an altimeter for use out of the ocean, this may be more than you need, but at this price, we’d take it and run.
Victorinox Swiss Army Dive Master 500
Pro: Screw down crown
Con: Does not have a “wear anywhere” appearance
Pure Swiss: You can’t get more Swiss than the company who makes the knife for their army. With an olive drab appearance that is more militaristic than most dive watches, the Dive Master is all about ruggedness and accuracy. A sapphire crystal protects the face from damage as luminous hands and markers adorn the front for easy reading in any lighting conditions. Capable of going down 1600 feet, this is the deep sea divers affordable best friend.
Pro: Clicking, ridged bezel
Con: Crystal does not fit flush
Showpiece: While traditionally, watches meant for diving prized function and not form, this is so attractive it’s hard not to wax poetic about it. Using Miyota 9015 movement, a sapphire crystal, SuperLumiNova hands, and bearing nearly 1000 feet worth of water resistance, it’s equally impossible to talk about how well it works.
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