In 1960 a diving watch, engineered from a single block of steel and featuring a large, hemi-spherical, crystal lens, was attached to the external hull of the bathyscaphe ‘Trieste’. Crewed by Jacques Piccard and Lieutenant Don Walsh, of the U.S. Navy, the ‘Trieste’ descended 35,800 feet to the bottom of the Marianas Trench – the deepest recorded ocean depth – and remained there for some twenty minutes before ascending back to the surface.
The watch, now on display in London’s Science Museum, remained unaffected by the seventy tons or so of pressure to which it had been subjected and still worked perfectly. As a tribute to the watchmaker’s art it had proven itself beyond all doubt. But as a functional timepiece it was far too bulky to be discretely hidden beneath the sleeve of a shirt or jacket.
Not that diver’s ever tried to hide their watches. Apart from once being considered a necessary tool-of-the-trade, they were expensive status symbols that marked the wearer as somebody worth talking to at social gatherings.
I stumbled across this dubious piece of wisdom at an early age when trying to further my acquaintance with a girl that I’d just met at a party.
Me: “Hello. What do you do?”
She: “I’m an Art critic. Have you seen the Impressionist exhibition at the National Gallery?”
Me: “No. I’m a Diver.”
She: “Really? Judging by your watch, you’re not a very good one. Excuse me. There’s somebody over there that I really must talk to.”
Apparently my wristwatch, showing Mickey Mouse dressed in red shorts and yellow joggers semaphoring the time with his arms, was no match for those divers fortunate enough to own a ‘real’ diving watch.
He: – looking at his high-priced chronometer – “Is that the time?”
She: “Oh. You’re obviously a diver. I know that they have to get to bed early. Shall we leave now?”
Unable to afford one of the expensive and proven brands, I bought my first diving watch through a newspaper mail order advertisement. The Russian-made, stainless steel watch looked perfect. Best of all, it was cheap. Although supposedly water resistant to a depth of 50 metres, it only worked when it was placed face down on a flat surface. (I discovered this when I woke up lying on my back beneath a glass-topped coffee table watching the second hand whisk around the dial.) At any other angle the hands jammed together.
Two years later – somewhere south of Suez and still naïve in the ways of the world – I struck a deal with a street-trader for a slightly more expensive model. Depth rated to 100-metres, (I liked the idea of a 90-metre safety margin.), the watch worked perfectly up until the moment when, a few hours later, the ship sailed and I took a shower. The inside lens immediately fogged up with water droplets and the winder dropped off.
Before there’s a rush to try and sell me shares in a dental care scheme for gummy sharks, the purpose in mentioning my gullible attitude is two-fold.
The first: that diving safety doesn’t have a price-tag attached. And the second: that while diving watches may no longer be the expensive equipment items that they once were, advances in manufacturing technology have made owning a diving watch affordable and an investment in peace of mind … even if it is only regarded as providing back-up redundancy to a dive computer.
The above article first appeared in Asian Diver Magazine in June 2000