Between 1942 and 1946, French Naval Lieutenant Jacques-Yves Cousteau and engineer Emile Gagnan developed the Aqualung, a portable underwater breathing device that revolutionised diving. Previous self-contained underwater breathing apparatus (SCUBA) had consisted of clunky and awkward methods of continuously blowing air into a divers face, but the Aqualung used pressure valves release air only on demand. This meant that the equipment could be scaled down to a back-worn tank and mouthpiece, and didn’t require a sealed suit. Skin diving, as it was to be known, had begun.
Into the sixties, an increase in wealth, the ability to travel abroad on holiday and the reducing price of SCUBA equipment meant that it became more accessible and therefore more popular with the public. The National Association of Underwater Instructors was formed in 1960 to regulate and teach the increasing number of students with an interest in the sport. This lead the formation of PADI, the Professional Association of Diving Instructors, in 1967.
Dive watches were generally about a decade ahead of the sport, but IWC didn’t release anything into the market until 1967. The first Aquatimer—using a super-compressor case made by EPSA, a company that also manufactured cases for the likes of Jaeger-LeCoultre—was water-resistant to 200 metres. The super-compressor case allowed the watch to have a rotating internal bezel as it did not require screw-down crowns to make it water-tight. It used IWCs ingenious Pellaton winding system with its built-in shock protection.
In 1982 IWC wowed audiences again with the first titanium diver’s watch, this time with ten times the water resistance at 2,000 metres. Designed by Porsche, the single most impressive feature of the watch was its lack of helium escape valve—instead off ollowing in the footsteps of manufacturers that had spent a lot of money developing their versions of the HEV, they produced a case that was just outright strong enough to cope with the strain of decompression.
The GST came next in 1997, available in titanium and steel, and was also rated to a depth of 2,000 metres. The simple design and integrated bracelet was classic IWC design, and the push-to-turn external bezel was a stroke of design genius, making the GST one of the most sought-after Aquatimers. The GST bowed out with the GST Deep One in 1999. It previewed the look for the 2000 range of Aquatimers, which returned to the original internal rotating bezel and featured a depth gauge built into the case.
The next range of IWC Aquatimer had a fresh design, losing the integrated bracelet and internal rotating bezel. Instead they gain a luminescent, sapphire glass bezel for easy low-light reading, as well as a super-legible face. As always, the quality is up with the best, and the patented Pellaton winding system continues to provide power. This was recently replaced by an entirely new design.
IWC has taken a steadfast approach to making its divers, using simplistic engineering rather than fanciful unnecessary technologies, and as such their Aquatimers are among the hardiest—and best—divers available to buy.
- The 1970’s Aquatimer Ocean 2000 was designed by Ferdinand Alexander Porsche, who also created the Porsche 911.
- The Aquatimer GST Deep One was the first wrist watch to feature a mechanical depth gauge.
- Jamie Foxx wore an Aquatimer chronograph in the 2006 movie ‘Miami Vice’.
[Note: This is an updated post of a Guest Article published earlier on our website by Gary Robery from Watchfinder.co.uk]