Dive Watches 101: How Swatch Helped Rescue the Dive Watch

Swatch Scuba SDK103 HypocampusThe quartz watch revolution (aka “quartz crisis”) of the 1970s affected not only the watch industry in general, but also, of course, the dive watch category within it. Considering the number of model launches, innovations and constant improvements to such watches in the 1960s and the first half of the ’70s, the ’80s and early ’90s were a rather dark time for dive watches by comparison.

Sure, there was the IWC Ocean 2000 in 1984, the TAG Heuer 1000 in 1986, along with some changes made to the Rolex Submariner and Rolex Sea-Dweller, but these were rare exceptions in an era when the presence of the mechanical dive watch was fading. In hindsight, people didn’t seem to particularly like the idea of a chunky mechanical watch with a rotating bezel back then, and recreational divers started to switch to battery-powered multi-function watches. This practically changed overnight in 1990 with the introduction of the 200-meter water-resistant Swatch Scuba as an important extension of the already massively successful Swatch range: Models such as the Bora Bora, Barrier Reef, Hypocampus, Medusa, Blue Moon and, most of all, the iconic Happy Fish (pictured below) in 1991 did, in fact, have a lot of people camping in front of stores, not unlike certain smartphones today.


Swatch Scuba SDN101 Happy Fish

So Swatch not only saved the Swiss watch industry; it probably also played a key role in the renaissance of the dive watch as an everyday watch: people got interested in, or at least used to the idea of, wearing a dive watch, even though most of them would never dive with it. And, in combination with the successful comeback of the mechanical wristwatch, the dive watch started to become more popular than ever. For instance, in 1993, Omega launched the Seamaster 300. Shortly after its appearance in the James Bond film “Goldeneye,” Omega would sell more than 50,000 pieces of that model per year. Shortly afterward, Panerai staged its impressive comeback, Blancpain reintroduced the Fifty Fathoms for a short time, the IWC Aquatimer returned, and, in 2002, Breitling launched the first mechanical dive watch water-resistant to 3,000 meters. The list of milestones goes on and on.

Swatch Scuba Libre SUUJ101 Lemon Profond

Today, most watch brands offer at least one divers’ watch model, and while people don’t spend their night camped in front of a watch store anymore, the Swatch brand is still in the game. The recently introduced Swatch Scuba Libre (above) remains a refreshing, affordable, and — most importantly — fun take on the dive watch genre. For more on dive watches, visit my blog, www.diveintowatches.com.

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  1. johnnyjohnny

    interesting info in article on comment…one thing everyone knows is that when you buy your first watch you are enthused about…as happened with the scuba libre for so many people…it is often the beginning of a lifelong obsession. which, in this case, would lead down the diver watch road, and eventually at high end ones.

    for me, oddly, the scuba libre saw the reverse of that. i started my watch obsession with lusting after a timex dive watche (mechanical) as a kid at the drug store. i went thru the entire watch thing, selling on my own website, settling on military issue and diver watches as my true love. it’s been that way for a while now, with me unable to even wear the occasional quartz i mistakenly get thinking i’ll like it. but when i saw the scuba libre i fell in love and ordered one. now i’ve ordered a second. so with this watch swatch has you going and coming.

    what sets the scuba libre apart from most swatches is that the unidirectional bezel easily pops off, and then allows removal of the mineral crystal, which allows access to the movement to be removed after pulling out the split stem crown (could be a spring loaded crown stem)…so you can actually replace the movement and, if you treat your scuba libre well, keep it going over the years like a normal beloved timepiece. heresy for most swatches. the only question is if you can find a movement from swatch or a supplier to purchase…hope so as this watch is a beautiful icon. to hear a mechanical guy say that, tells you something. thanks for the review and comment too.

  2. Randy Rogers

    Dear Mark,

    More so than SWATCH, TAG-Heuer deserves the credit for creating with color and Features in Formula 1, the ultimate ‘Beach Dive Watch’, when the TAG Grp. invested in the near bankrupt Heuer and began to the transition. Roughly 24 pieces aside from the monochromatic all black, had complimentary color combinations of Bezel, Case and Strap, a Uni-directional bezel, Mineral Crystal in Uni-sex and Lds., and as the Brands evolution began under Christian Viros, Luc Perramond and Phillipe Champion a SS-Head was created, still keeping the Retail price-points which had moved to $195 from $125 and $150, with the SS Jubilee type Bracelet on the SS at a max of $250, with the 1000 beginning at $395.00.. On a tangent, and to the old, retort, “there are no new ideas”, the Advertising also included a Scuba-diver scarily close to the open mouth of a whale, not unlike the current graphic Blancpain and Bathyscaphe have chosen.

    SWATCH, while insulating the issues with Omega, Rado, Tissot, pre-Breguet and Longine, used the Swatch Divers to capture along with the Swatch phenomenon units in the entry level category, that would be in Watch, Specialty and Department stores to buoy their short term fortunes.

    Randy Rogers

  3. enzo lópez fedelli

    Mr. Mark Bernardo, I wish to thank you for the important information about watches that you have kindness to send me.

    Best regards

    enzo lópez fedelli.

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