The Best Dive Watches of 2024, Chosen by a Military Diver

We spoke to a certified combat diver about his favorite time pieces
A Sangin Neptune in its natural environment

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Dive watches are the ultimate time keeping tool: They’re waterproof, easy to read, illuminated, and have a timing bezel that’s useful for more than decompression stops. I’ve used my dive watch collection to monitor legal shooting light, time dinner in the oven, and make sure I’m on time for the next meeting. 

While I’m a watch nerd and love divers, I needed help from someone with serious diving experience to make the best dive watch picks. So I called up watch enthusiast and military diver, Ashley Spurlin, to get his favorites.

Here’s our combined list of the top dive watches across various price points and use cases. 

Spurlin’s Picks

Author’s Picks

How I Chose the Best Dive Watches

The author wearing a Bremont S501 while duck hunting.

I think it’s safe to say that if you’re coming to Outdoor Life for a watch recommendation, you want something that’s proven in the field or on the water. That’s why I sought out feedback from someone who has used dive watches for their intended purpose. 

Spurlin joined the military in 2000 and still serves as an advisor today. He completed the Combat Diver Qualification Course and has dived throughout the world as an Air Force Combat Controller on a special operations team. In addition to his military diving career, Spurlin grew up diving in Monterey Bay, California, which is one of the nation’s premier diving destinations. He’s also a watch guy, and is passionate about historic military designs and their ties to various military diving communities. 

As for me, nearly all the watches in my collection are dive watches, and I’m always looking for one more. Yet, you won’t find my name on a Rolex waitlist. While I admire luxury watches, they’re not in my price range. That’s why my dive watch picks are all value-oriented options. I chose them based on specific budgets, and many of them I’ve owned or are on my want list. 

The Best Dive Watches Chosen by a Military Diver 

Best Overall: Tudor Pelagos FXD

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Key Features

  • Reference Number: M25717N-0001
  • Fixed Spring Bars 
  • Movement: MT5602 (COSC)
  • Titanium case
  • 42mm in diameter
  • 12.75mm thick
  • 52mm from lug to lug
  • 70-hour power reserve
  • Waterproof to 200 meters
  • Ceramic, unidirectional bezel
  • Matte black dial
  • Fabric NATO Strap 

Pros

  • Durable movement
  • Robust design
  • Lightweight
  • Good illumination 

Cons

  • Some users will prefer a watch compatible with a bracelet
The author wearing his FXD Black while fishing.

Photo by Scott Einsmann

The FXD, the new black dial FXD in particular, was our unanimous choice as the best overall dive watch. To us, it’s the perfect tool watch and one worth saving up for. 

“They hit a home run with that watch: the size of it, how they designed it, why it uses fixed spring bars, and the face is clean and simple. It’s a beautiful, beautiful watch. And it’s attainable by most watch enthusiasts,” Spurlin says. 

Spurlin likes that the watch uses a reliable and robust movement, and has a matte, easy-to-read dial. He also appreciates the FXD’s ties to French combat swimmers, and knows of several elite U.S. units that have had special FXDs made for them. 

Shortly after my interview with Spurlin I picked up an FXD. It’s been on my wrist nonstop since and it really is the ideal watch for outdoorsmen. The one big change I made is adding an Erika’s Original MN strap, which is an incredibly comfortable elastic strap. It’s certainly an upgrade over the stock rubber and fabric straps.

Best for Actual Diving: Garmin Descent

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Key Features

  • Sapphire crystal
  • DLC coated titanium bezel
  • Fiber-reinforced polymer cae with titanium rear cover
  • Battery Life: 25 days (smartwatch)
  • Case Size: 43 or 51mm
  • Waterproof to 200 meters
  • Dive Features: Depth, dive timer, no fly time, air integration, customizable conservatism, dive ascent, safety stop, deep stop, 3-axis dive compass, and much more 
  • Compatible with T2 Transceiver 

Pros

  • A dive computer and daily smartwatch in one 
  • Easy dive logs

Cons

  • Large watch
  • Requires charging 

When Spurlin is diving for work his analog diver serves as a backup, and his primary watch is a Garmin Descent. He’s tried a lot of smart dive watches, but likes the Garmin for its ease of use. 

“If I’m underwater at night doing a dive, I don’t want to have to look through menus to find the functions I need. I don’t have time for that,” he says. “That Garmin has everything right on the main screen.” 

The Descent has a lot of functions for recreational divers and even salvage divers using mixed air. It will time out your air, your decompression stops, and log the dive for you. But, Spurlin’s main use case is navigation.

“You’re hitting the water off a boat, and then you’re on a Draeger or rebreather, and then you’re using your watch to keep time as you’re navigating to your targets,” he says. “And you can put that Garmin watch right next to your dive compass. That thing is always dead nuts.”

Read Next: Best GPS Watches

Best Value: Sangin Neptune

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Key Features

  • Case Width: 40mm
  • Lug to Lug Length: 49mm
  • Case Thickness: 13.9mm
  • Lug Width: 20mm
  • Bezel Width: 41mm
  • Case: 316L stainless steel 
  • Crystal: Double domed sapphire crystal with a multi-layer blue anti-reflective coating applied to the interior surface of the crystal
  • Luminous: SuperLumiNova BGW9 rated after full charge
  • Bezel: 120-click unidirectional, nickel-edged bezel with aluminum insert
  • Water Resistance: 200m 
  • Movement: SII NE15C – manual winding / automatic winding with ball bearing stop second device / Quick date correction / 21,600 bph / ISO 6425 attributes, such as antimagnetic to 4800 Amp and shock-resistant (calibrated in three positions)
  • Power Reserve: 50 hours power reserve (SPRON510 mainspring)

Pros

  • Good quality for the price 
  • Clean and functional design

Cons

  • Availability is limited

The MARSOC raider-founded Sangin Instruments offers several watches, but the Neptune is their flagship diver. It comes in at under $1,000 with a SEIKO automatic movement and a rubber dive strap. They also offer it on a bracelet. 

“The MARSOC guys do extensive dive operations,” Spurlin says. “Their dive school in Panama City, Florida, is called the Marine Combat Dive Course. So he [Sangin’s founder] knows underwater operations, and he knows exactly what to build at that price point.” 

The author has worn his Sangin Neptune while hunting and fishing throughout the country.
The author has worn his Sangin Neptune while hunting and fishing throughout the country.

Scott Einsmann

I’ve been wearing a Neptune for the last four years, and it has serial number 51. It’s never been serviced and continues to stay within its timekeeping spec. I’ve owned a lot of dive watches, but the Neptune is the one I wear most often because of its clean layout and wearable design. 

Spurlin’s current daily wear is a Sangin Professional, which uses a quartz movement and combines a dive watch with a pilot’s watch. 

We obviously both love Sangin, but it’s important to know that they are a microbrand that makes their timepieces available by drop. So, you have to sign up for their newsletter or follow them on social media to buy one. When they have stock, their watches typically sell out very quickly. Occasionally they’ll also do pre-orders to alleviate the stress of getting in on a drop. 

More Military Divers

My interview with Spurlin was equal parts watch talk and military history. He brought up several brands that were new to me and have a rich history or ties with military divers. Here are more of his favorites.  

Tornek-Rayville

Most watch enthusiasts know of the French Blancpain Fifty Fathoms and its claim as the original dive watch. But, I didn’t know that an American company was secretly supplying a rebranded Fifty Fathoms to the U.S. Military in the 1960s. 

“At the time the American commandos wanted the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms,” Spurlin says. “But there was the Buy American Act, which prevented U.S. divers from getting the Fifty Fathoms.”

So an enterprising New York Importer, Allen Tornek, approached Blancpain with the idea of creating a Fifty Fathoms with a USA-based company’s name on it. And so the Tornek-Rayville was born. The Rayville in the name was created as the American-sounding counterpart to the town where the Blancpains were made, Villeret. 

An original Tornek-Rayville will set you back well into the six figures at auction. But, you can buy the reissues from Tornek-Rayville for around $1,000. 

ZRC

According to Spurlin, ZRC is a favorite among French combat divers, and it’s one of his favorites because of its unique 6 o’clock crown position. 

“They figured out through studies of actual divers, military divers, when they would go to wind their watches sometimes they thought it was closed. And it turns out that it wasn’t closed all the way and then water would get into it,” he says. “If a ZRC’s crown is not closed all the way, you cannot put the watch on. The crown stops the band from wrapping around your wrist.”

Akrone

Akrone makes field, pilot, and diving watches at affordable prices — most are $550 to $1,300. They have designed several watches in conjunction with the French military, but are relatively unknown in North America. 

“We don’t see these watches [Akrone] because we’re not hanging out with French commandos or divers every day,” Spurlin says. “So you don’t hear about this watch company. But it’s like the Sangin watches to French military divers.” 

Author’s Picks

Best for $3,000: Longines Hydroconquest GMT

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Key Features 

  • Stainless steel and ceramic bezel
  • Sapphire crystal, with anti-reflective coating on both sides
  • Case: 41.00 mm
  • Lug Distance: 21 mm
  • Thickness: 12.90 mm
  • Water-resistant to 30 bar
  • Unidirectional rotating bezel
  • Weight: 180.5 g
  • Caliber: L844
  • Power reserve up to 72 hours

Pros

  • True GMT movement for an incredible price
  • Highly legible dial layout
  • Well finished
  • Good bracelet

Cons

  • Additional thickness to house the GMT movement

The Hydroconquest GMT is equal parts dress, tool, and traveler’s watch. It’s also a Longines, which, to me, means value for the dollar. It utilizes Longines’ in-house assembled, true GMT movement, has an impressive 72-hour power reserve, and 300 meters of water resistance. The bracelet has a push-button micro adjust and has a mixture of brushed and polished finishing. The 120-click, unidirectional bezel, has positive clicks and a 12 o’clock lume pip. I love the minimal dial text, which keeps the face legible and clean. While the Hydroconquest GMT isn’t COSC certified it is the same movement you’ll find in the COSC Spirit Zulu Time. 

If you don’t need the GMT complication, the standard Hydroconquest costs around $1,200 and is also a great buy. 

Best for $1,000: Christopher Ward C60 Trident Pro 300

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Key Features

  • Size 40mm
  • Case Material: Stainless steel
  • Height: 11.3mm
  • Lug-to-Lug: 47.45mm
  • Case Weight: 68 grams
  • Weight inc. strap 160 grams
  • Water Resistance: 30 ATM (300 meters)
  • Movement: Sellita SW200-1
  • Power Reserve: 38 hours
  • No. of Jewels: 26
  • Vibrations: 28,800 p/hr (4Hz)
  • Timing Tolerance: +/- 20 sec p/day

Pros

  • Excellent finishing for the price
  • Good bracelet with micro-adjust 

Cons

  • Low power reserve 

If you’re a watch enthusiast who enjoys a watch for more than its ability to tell time, then take a look at Christopher Ward. The watchmakers there are producing some of the best value, especially when it comes to their bracelets and finishing. The C60 Trident Pro 300 is a tool watch with its applied indices filled with lume, easy-to-grip bezel, clean dial layout, and easy-to-service movement. The watch wears small because it’s thin for its depth rating. It has a display caseback, beautiful brushing and polishing, and well-executed bracelet. I like that it comes in a variety of dial colors and is consistently in stock for purchase. 

Best for $500: Seiko Turtle (SRPE05)

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Key Features

  • Water Resistance: 200 meters
  • Weight: 124.0 grams
  • Unidirectional rotating bezel
  • Screw-down crown
  • Screw case back
  • Caliber Number: 4R36
  • Movement Type: Automatic with manual winding
  • Precision: +45 to -35 seconds per day
  • Power Reserve: Approx. 41 hours
  • Jewels: 24
  • Thickness: 13.2mm
  • Diameter: 45.0mm
  • Lug-to-Lug: 47.7mm
  • Sapphire crystal with anti-reflective coating on inner surface

Pros

  • Excellent illumination
  • Time-proven design 

Cons

  • Some won’t like the “cyclops” day/date window

The SRPE05 takes the iconic Turtle design and makes some significant upgrades. The upgrades include a sapphire crystal, ceramic bezel, and an improved bezel action. It also sports a waffle dial design. You get all that and SEIKO’s legendary durability in a sub-$500 watch. 

Read Next: Garmin Fenix 6s Review

Best for $300: Citizen Promaster Dive Eco-Drive

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Key Features

  • Case Width: 45 mm
  • Lug Width: 22 mm
  • Water Resistance: 200 meters
  • Mineral crystal
  • Stainless steel
  • Elapsed time bezel; Promaster crown
  • Aluminum bezel; one-way rotating elapsed time bezel
  • E168
  • Eco-Drive
  • Powered by any light source, continuously and sustainably, eliminating the need to replace watch batteries.

Pros

  • Reliable
  • Accurate

Cons

  • Strap isn’t ideal for daily wear

The Promaster is an ISO compliant dive watch that will run forever. The Citizen Eco-Drive is a unique movement that can run indefinitely as long as it is exposed to a light source. You don’t have to worry about winding it or changing batteries. It comes with an extra-long strap for fitting over your wetsuit. 

Best for $50: Casio Duro

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Key Features

  • Stainless steel case
  • Aluminum bezel
  • Unidirectional bezel 
  • 200-meter water resistance
  • Three-year battery life with a SR626SW
  • Accuracy: ±20 seconds per month

Pros

  • Clean and easy-to-read design
  • Comfortable for daily wear

Cons

  • Strap could use upgrading 

The Casio Duro has achieved legendary status by being a sub-$100 watch with 200 meter water resistance and an accurate quartz movement. It’s well regarded by divers and watch collectors as one of the best value divers.  

How to Choose a Dive Watch

choosing a dive watch is a matter of personal taste
A watch should match your lifestyle and your budget.

Scott Einsmann

Movements

When I first started collecting, I was obsessed with accurate automatic movements. Now I realize it’s not a big deal if my watch is off 30 seconds per day or 30 seconds per month. I can easily reset the watch every few weeks. If you truly care about time-keeping accuracy, a quartz movement is far superior to any mechanical watch.

What I do care about in my movements is their ability to resist magnetization and withstand shock. Both can affect your watch’s function. Magnetization commonly happens from being exposed to electronics, like the laptop I type on all day. Shock from shooting a gun or swinging a hammer can also damage intricate mechanical movements. 

Manufacturers are fortifying their movements to withstand that type of daily abuse. Bremont, for example, uses a Faraday cage around the movement and designs their watches to withstand severe shock. Other manufacturers use things like silicon hairsprings to prevent magnetization. 

Another feature I look for in a movement is ease of service. Exotic, in-house movements are cool, but there’s something to be said for being able to easily find a part or even have a movement swapped for very little money. 

Waterproofness

In my opinion, 200 meters of water resistance is more than enough. If you’re a salvage diver, then maybe you’ll use 300+ meters of water resistance. For the rest of us, it’s just a cool feature we won’t use. 

Dive Watches for Diving

It’s safe to say that most dive watches made today will never reach a depth beyond the deep end of a pool. That’s because divers now use dive computers or smart watches like the Garmin Descent. Yet, Spurlin says mechanical timepieces still have a role. 

“In my opinion, I would say that they do still fill a role for military divers,” he says. “Yes, we want the computer because it makes life easier and it’s awesome. But, when you’re 30 or 200 feet underwater, and your computer fails, which could happen, you better have a backup plan. And the backup plan is the simplest most rudimentary thing that always is there and always works — your watch.”

Final Thoughts on the Best Dive Watches

From retro 60s divers to modern tool watches, I think dive watches are unmatched in their aesthetic and practicality. The problem is there are thousands available, and new microbrands are popping up all the time. How do you figure out the right one to buy? 

I follow the advice I heard from watch designer George Bamford, “buy a watch that makes you smile.” While watches are practical, they’re also deeply personal, and you have to like what’s on your wrist. 

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Scott Einsmann

Executive Gear Editor

Scott Einsmann is Outdoor Life’s gear editor. He oversees the gear team’s editors and writers who are subject matter experts in bows, knives, hunting, fishing, backpacking, and more. He lives in Richmond, Virginia with his wife and two bird dogs.

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