THE JOURNAL

Treasures from the deep: IWC and the history of the dive watch

IWC has a grand history of watches with cases engineered for underwater use. From an inauspicious start in 1945 to today’s Aquatimers models, IWC dive watches have been capable of submerging to great depths. Michael Friedberg analyzes their history.

 

The first wristwatch termed “waterproof” produced by IWC wasn’t meant for diving. It was produced in 1945 under a British military contract as a “W.W.W.” – an abbreviation for “watch, wrist, waterproof”. 

 

Collectors frequently use the misnomer “Mark X” for this watch, and it wasn’t actually waterproof. It was really more “water-resistant”. Unlike the other so-called “Dirty Dozen” military W.W.W. watches, IWC uniquely used a snap-on case back with a lead inner sealing ring to increase water resistance. No specifications are known, but its water-resistance probably was only to about 10 meters.

 

The first true IWC water-resistant wristwatch arrived more than two decades later, with IWC’s Aquatimer model in 1967. That classic watch, reference 812 AD (re-designated as 1812 in October 1971) had a water resistance to 20 atmospheres, about 650 feet. It used a rotating internal bezel and two crowns, one of which operated the bezel.

 

Two years later, a second Aquatimer model was introduced as reference 816 AD (later 1816). It had shaped cases and striking “shadow” dials, as well as greater water-resistance to 30 atmospheres. In the late 1970s, this model was succeeded by reference 1822.

IWC Aquatimer (ref 812 AD)
— IWC Aquatimer (ref 812 AD)
IWC Ocean 2000 (3500)
— IWC Ocean 2000 (3500)

Two great names, one great watch

In 1981, the legendary Günter Blümlein became IWC’s CEO and expanded its collaboration with Porsche Design. A revolutionary new model, Reference 3500, the Porsche Design “Ocean 2000”, was introduced in 1983. Its water-resistance rating was 200 atmospheres – 2000 meters or about 6500 feet. No amateur can safely dive anywhere near that depth, but its extraordinary water-resistance represented an extraordinary engineering feat.

 

With its titanium case, the Ocean 2000 appealed to a younger, active clientele – and it provided a huge margin of water-resistance for every diver. The Ocean 2000 then was followed with other IWC/Porsche Design Ocean models, including the especially collectible “Ocean Bund” – a watch used by divers in the German military.

After the collaboration between IWC and Porsche Design, in late 1997 IWC unveiled a new “GST line”. The GST Aquatimer, reference 3536, with a water-resistance to 200 atmospheres was shown at the 1998 Basel Fair. This now-iconic model was supplemented in 1999 with the GST Deep One, reference 3527, which had a unique complication, a mechanical depth meter – and surprisingly a shallow depth rating to 10 atmospheres or about 100 meters.

 

After the GST models, over the past 15 years IWC has produced numerous new Aquatimer models. Collaborating with the Cousteau Society, in 2004 IWC introduced several models, including an orange and blue dialed Aquatimer, IW354803. This watch had two crowns and an internal rotating bezel like the original Aquatimer. IWC also introduced its first diving chronograph, which could function underwater. 

The Aquatimer line was revised again in 2009, now with an external rotating bezel with a special coated sapphire glass. Further redesigns then occurred in 2014, including a new case construction with an external/internal rotating bezel.

 

There also was a collaboration between IWC and the Darwin Society and its research facility in the Galapagos Islands. There have been special edition watches to honor IWC’s role there, including a rubber-cased Aquatimer and, in 2014, a special bronze-cased model, the Aquatimer Chronograph Edition “Expedition Charles Darwin,” IW379503.

 

Since 2009 there have been many noteworthy Aquatimer models, including two with mechanical depth gauges, the “Deep Two”, IW354702, and its 2014 successor, the “Deep Three”, IW355701. There even are two special perpetual calendar limited edition with digital dates and months, IW379402 and IW379403. The latter has a Ceratanium case and celebrates 50 years of IWC Aquatimers. 

Today, there are beautiful chronograph edition “Sharks”, IW379506, and an alluring blue-dialed Cousteau chronograph, IW376805. There also are both an Aquatimer Chronograph, IW376804, and an Aquatimer Automatic, IW329001. These models are water-resistant to 30 bar – a different depth measuring standard (with 1 atmosphere = 1.02325 bar) or just over 300 meters here.

 

Regardless of depth rating, all these watches allow their proud owners to safely dive far beneath the water’s surface. Appealing to today’s casual lifestyle, these are also “tool watches”, reflecting a fine heritage and engineering prowess. And with stellar design, too.

Michael Friedberg has been collecting watches, especially IWCs, for more than three decades. From 2001 through 2015 he was moderator of the IWC Collectors’ Forum and has written extensively about IWC’s history and technical features.

 


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