It was the sea that prompted the vast increase in timekeeping accuracy during the 18th century. After four Royal Navy ships were wrecked off the Scilly Isles in 1707 due to navigation errors caused by inaccurate ship’s clocks, the British government offered a prize of £20,000 (equivalent to about £2.8 million today) to solve the problem. Clockmaker John Harrison dedicated over forty years of his life to improving chronometers so that navigators could calculate the position of their ships more accurately. Abraham-Louis Breguet, arguably the greatest watchmaker of all time, was likewise official chronometer-maker to the French Navy. Today, timekeeping duties have been taken over by electronics, but fine mechanical watches have now learned to cohabit with the sea, both above and below the waterline.
Bell & Ross BR 01 Instrument de Marine
Bell & Ross have connected to the marine chronometer heritage with their BR 01 Instrument de Marine, which mirrors what became the classic aesthetic for historic shipboard chronometers, with white lacquer dial and Roman numerals. The BR 01 combines Indian rosewood with bronze to create an evocative period look. The watch is powered by a hand-wound movement with a 56-hour power reserve.
Related article: 5 of the best 20th century vintage watches
Ulysse Nardin, which has an anchor as part of its logo, has had close links to seafaring throughout its long history. Today, the brand is partnering with the Artemis Racing team for the America’s Cup, celebrated by the Diver Chronograph Artemis Racing. This watch is perfect both on board and underwater, with a 200-metre water resistance rating. Its appearance is unique for its blue and yellow colour scheme, and its advanced construction techniques: the case is in stainless steel coated in rubber.
The iconic pieces that Panerai supplied to the Italian Navy in the 1930s and ‘40s provide constant inspiration for the brand’s designers today, and the Luminor Submersible 1950 Three Days Automatic combines a cool dark blue dial with a warm bronze case for stunning good looks. The leather strap with contrasting stitching completes the maritime effect. Its unidirectional rotating bezel and 300-metre water resistance make it a classic diving watch.
Rolex’s prestigious reputation is partly due to founder Hans Wilsdorf’s intuition in the 1920s, well before any other brand, of the importance of water resistance, not just for diver’s watches, but for all its timepieces. Still today, the Oyster case guarantees water resistance across the range. For example, the Oyster Perpetual Yacht-Master 40 combines the prestige of the Rolesium case – the brand’s steel-platinum alloy – with a 100-metre water resistance. The Calibre 3135 self-winding movement has Rolex’s own Superlative Chronometer certification that attests to a precision of within +/- 2 seconds deviation per day – industry-leading for mechanical watches.
Related article: Chronographs that are designed to do the job
Blancpain has been committed to the underwater world since 1953, when its then CEO Jean-Jacques Fiechter worked with French Army combat diving units to create the first diving watch in the world. The specifications they developed became what is now the ISO 6425 standard for diving watches. The Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe Chronographe Flyback Ocean Commitment II is distinctive for its all-blue ceramic case, very tough and scratch-resistant. It has all the features of a diving watch, with 300 metres water resistance and a unidirectional rotating bezel, along with another asset that is surprisingly rare in the world of chronograph diving watches: the pushers can be operated right down to the rated depth of 300 metres. This limited-edition timepiece has a commendable trait: for every watch sold, Blancpain donates 1,000 euro to scientific oceanic research. Helping to ensure that the high seas will continue to provide the perfect, uncontaminated natural setting for these timepieces and the men who wear them.