Most watches today, and that includes dive watches, keep time with what’s called quartz movement. In the old days, which here means before the 1960s, watches kept time by means of springs. That’s called mechanical movement. You had to wind the watch once in a while to squeeze up the unwound parts and springs. By the way, when you wind a mechanical movement watch, you’re also providing the power.
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Dive watches are first and foremost…watches. Knowing what makes your dive watch tick will benefit your watch-buying decisions, and what the heck it’s kind of interesting as well.
In the old days, and yes we use that term a lot here on dive-watches.org, watches were powered by means of winding action the user had to perform regularly. By winding your watch, you were literally winding up little bands that would then release slowly over time (ha ha) with the help of teensy springs to keep everything running smoothly. The things didn’t simply unwind, however. Something called escapement turned the whole process into a finely tuned system where periodic bursts of energy would keep the watch ticking nicely along until it was time to wind it again.
Winding a watch presents all kinds of issues to most people, like forgetting or fumbling with the teensy knob, or just plain hating to have one more miniscule tedious job to do on a regular basis. In 1957 they came up with electrically-powered watches and the haters of teensy tasks amongst us rejoiced. Added plus for patriots: it was made in the USA.
So for a little while people had battery-powered mechanical movement watches. There were still springs and cogs in the watch, but instead of winding for power, you had a battery.
Of course the big revolution was in how watches kept time, which is called movement. That’s covered in another post. Shortly after the battery revolution, in the 1960s, the world got quartz movement watches. Battery-powered quartz movement watches are now the norm.
Electrically powered watches require batteries, and this is where we are today with modern timepiece technology, including dive watches. Watch batteries are teensy and designed to give off teensy amounts of power for looooooong periods of time. We’re talking years here. Basically the improvements are now concentrated in the battery itself…smaller, better. longer lasting.
From the very first dive watch in 1927 to today’s Rolex Sea Dweller, rated to 4,000 feet, there’s an entire world of watches designed to accompany divers on underwater excursions. Of course history buffs and watch collectors are gaga over the very first dive watches, which effectively came out in the 1930s.
Some sources say the first dive watch came out in 1927, and it was a Rolex. However, the first watch produced on a large scale and more widely available was the Omega Marine, pictured here. Before the Omega Marine came out in 1932, dive watches were specially produced for explorers and the military.
It seems the Mediterranean Sea must have caused great inspiration for dive watch technology, since all the first and best dive watches were from that region. Omega and Rolex are Swiss, and the world’s second commercially produced dive watch, Panerai’s Radiomir, was Italian.
The “Radiomir” was produced for the Italian Navy, and it came out in 1936. If you come across one of these, get ready to see distant relatives and long-lost friends line up at your door to see you, because you’re going to come into some money.