Over at Hodinkee.com, Jack Forster ponders The (Almost) Inexplicable Popularity Of The Diver’s Watch. While the journalist can’t pronounce time-of-death for the dive watch – his boss sells sells thousands of ’em – Mr. Forster acknowledges the fact that dive watches are the horological equivalent of the buggy whip. The writer then lists three reasons why dive watches are so popular . . .
First, they’re a “significantly more practical and pragmatic choice for daily wear than non-dive watches.” In other words, they’re rugged. Second, they look rugged. The dive watch “says you’re a person who, though you might spend the majority of the day warming a desk chair with your posterior, could outside the workplace be a person of physical bravery, if not outright daring.”
Third, “dive watches feel authentic – they project an air of necessity which other categories of timepieces simply fail to match, on many levels. In a world full of timepieces whose designs seem more or less arbitrary, or at best present in order to appeal to highly subjective vagaries of taste, the dive watch, we feel, looks the way it looks for a reason.”
All three of Forster’s explanations are spot-on. All three sound the death knell for the dive watch.
First, G-SHOCK has rugged nailed down, but good. Second, the “cool” of wearing a dive watch in the office or at the golf course/tittie bar is on its last legs. And third, in a market bristling (and Breitling) with retro-watches, authenticity is everywhere. And you may ask yourself, well, how did we get here? Sherman, set the Way-Back Machine to 1965 . . .
That’s the year James Bond’s Thunderball introduced millions of Boomers to underwater machismo. At the same time. Jaques Cousteau’s groundbreaking (ocean piercing?) documentaries captivated a worldwide audience. Dive glamor reached its apogee in 1977’s The Deep. Like Bond (but not Cousteau), Nick Nolte’s character wore a Rolex Submariner, the sine qua non of underwater horology.
If any dive watch can lay a claim to Forster’s “authenticity,” it’s the Rolex Submariner. It’s not the first but it is The Mother of All Dive Watches, a timepiece that still personifies dive watch desirability. Which brings us to the million dollar question: does a $10k Rolex Submariner continue to give rich collectors and upper management-types a “I heart adventure” hard-on? Yes! But not for long.
Tastemakers have moved on. While a handful of stars are Sub-ed up, most of today’s Rolex-clad Insta-famous folk wear models suitable to bedazzled blingage. The rest – athletes, singers, movie stars, the Kardashians – are dive watch deficient. They sport enormously expensive Swiss Grail watches and even pricier, aesthetically challenged Richard Mille timepieces.
Bottom line: dive watches aren’t as cool as they used to be. So why do Submariners and downmarket derivatives still sell? Why are there waiting lists for the Sub? What’s the real reason so many Seiko dive watches and their underwater ilk fly off virtual shelves?
It’s the same reason perfectly restored muscle cars sell: dive watches appeal to fashion victims and Baby Boomers. The fashionistas are moving on (as they do). Baby Boomers are dying off (Roger who?). And die hard watch collectors have more Internet-enabled choices than ever (including high end waterproof watches that look nothing like the Submariner).
Don’t get me wrong. It’ll be a decade or so before the dive watch bubble bursts. But you don’t need to wear an Apple Watch – as the majority of watch-wearing humans now do – to know the timepieces they are a changin’. You heard it here first: the dive watch’s day is done.