Five Great IWC Diving Watches

I’ve picked my favorite Ingenieur, Portugieser and Pilot’s Watches from IWC.  Now I need to go shopping for the best diving watches IWC has ever produced. Once again, it’s not an easy task; there are too many alluring models from which to choose.

 

Diving watches are a favorite category of many watch fans, and for good reason. As I explained in 2004: “The diving watch is both a mechanical triumph and social phenomenon. Mechanically, it is a triumph because it represents great engineering although it appears deceptively simple. Constructing an impervious watch case has been no small feat, and that achievement allowed the wristwatch to evolve both into a scientific tool and recreational accessory.”

 

The Swiss watch industry developed the first water resistant wristwatches in the 1920s, but diving as a sport developed in popularity in the 1950s, due in large part to the celebrated explorations of Jacques-Yves Cousteau and Lloyd Bridges on television’s Sea Hunt program. IWC’s first true diving watch was not among the first in the industry, but it certainly must have made a splash when it was shown at the Basel Fair in 1967.

Ref. 812 AD

It’s this first IWC diving watch that, in my opinion, has to be the first chosen in any vintage-oriented, curated watch collection.  This model, reference 812 AD (later renamed as reference 1812 in 1974), was notable because it has water resistance of 20 atmospheres or about 700 feet. 37mm in diameter, conservative –or classic, if you will—in design, it was distinguished by two crowns, although several other brands’ diving watches of that era also used that design. The 812’s movement was the classic IWC caliber 8541, with 25 jewels. The 812 AD also was given a name, Aquatimer, which at that time for IWC was used only for a few, special models.

 

The Aquatimer name spawned several other diving watch references from IWC. The first was reference 816 AD (renamed reference 1816 in 1974). This model had more of late 1960s/1970s-look consistent with bell-bottom jeans, with a flared cushion case and colorful fade-dials. Although few if any amateur divers were likely to dive that deep, the reference 816 AD Aquatimer was water resistant to 30 atmospheres or about 1000 feet. At the 1979 Basel Fair, it was succeeded by a new Aquatimer reference 1822, which primarily reflected some engineering differences.

 

 

All these models are highly collectible, but the reference 812 AD is, in my opinion, a perfect combination of engineering and design that is completely infused with IWC DNA.  Likewise, the next turn in IWC’s diving watch reflects that DNA, only differently.

 

As background, the 1970s became a difficult time for the entire Swiss watch industry, primarily due to the development of, and flooding of the market with, relatively inexpensive quartz watches. IWC was sold by the Homberger family to VDO, a German instruments manufacturer, and a new CEO, Günter Blümlein, initiated new strategies for the company. One primary initiative was to appeal to a younger clientele and, to do that, he developed an alliance with Porsche Design to produce newer, trend-forward watch models.

At the 1983 Basel Fair, IWC then introduced a special Porsche Design model, reference 3500 or the “Ocean 2000”.  This watch must be the second IWC watch in my IWC diving watch collection.

 

The Ocean 2000 was and is a great watch. Modern, classic and clean in design, it was unusually large for its era at 42.5 mm in diameter.  This model was noteworthy for its titanium case and bracelet, which in the early 1980s involved an especially difficult manufacturing process and a technology pioneered by IWC. But above all else, the Ocean 2000 was water resistant to a phenomenal 200 atmospheres or approximately 2,000 meters, over 6,500 feet.  This watch looked sporty yet engineered, and well-reflected both the iconic Porsche Design and the especially prized IWC DNA.

Ref. 3500
Ref. 3536

In the late 1990s IWC’s collaboration with Porsche Design ended, and IWC needed to develop a new product line, which was called GST. At the 1998 Basel Fair, IWC then introduced a new diving watch, the GST Aquatimer reference 3536.  When it first came out, I thought the watch might be too large –given its height plus its diameter of 42mm. I was wrong; this is another classic diving watch, with a water resistance of 200 atmospheres. Both the black dial and silver (which looks white) contain a heady dose of IWC DNA, and either watch is a perfect candidate for the third one that I would select in a diving watch collection.

 

At this juncture in IWC’s history, the last 20 years, IWC’s production of different diving watch models increased exponentially. I believe that this says something about the market but also reflects well on IWC’s development. It also creates a conundrum for the collector: how can “only” two more watches be selected out of so many interesting models?

 

 

The remaining candidates are many. I’ll start looking at the GST Deep One, reference 3527, introduced in 1999.  A ground-breaking candidate with a depth gauge, even if it was water resistant to “only” 100 meters. Another great design, with a yellow arc on the dial reflecting a sportiness and an internal bezel similar to the original Aquatimer designs. This watch looked, and indeed was, both sporty and engineered: quintessentially IWC.

 

There also is a unique “split-minute” Aquatimer from 2004, reference 3723. Not as complicated, the Cousteau watch models further compete for a place in any collection. The Galapagos models with rubber-clad cases also compete, as do the pieces in homage to the Darwin Foundation in the Galapagos.  Watches with brass cases also are special, even if heavier than other models. Some of the newest models also appeal to me, including the 2017 Aquatimer Automatic 2000 and many of the chronographs.

Ref. 3527
Ref. 3723

To my thinking, chronographs should never be ignored by the watch collector. Telling elapsed  time in addition to “regular” time is a special function, both useful and making a philosophic statement. Fortunately, IWC has produced some beautiful chronograph diving watches: so many, in fact, that it again makes choices difficult.

 

It might simply be style, but I find all the contemporary IWC chronographs in the reference IW3795xx series to be alluring. There’s the Sharks model, IW379506, and the striking La Cumbre Volcano, IW379505, as well as the bronze Expedition Charles Darwin model, IW379503. In a different reference series, Expedition Jacques-Yves Cousteau, IW376805, has an alluring dial that appeals to me.

 

Like my search for five great IWC Pilot’s Watches, the search for five great IWC diving watches becomes a high-class problem, with too many wonderful candidates. Having mulled over the many choices, here’s what I finally came up with for my first four:

 

  • The original Aquatimer, reference 812
  • The Porsche Design Ocean 2000, reference 3500
  • The GST Aquatimer, reference 3536
  • The Deep One, reference 3527

The fifth one, again, can be difficult. I love the split-minute Aquatimer, and believe it is “under-appreciated” today by the market. But then I would have all “historical” models, and some of the more modern ones should not be ignored.   Given so many great contemporary representatives, I like those that serve as “basic representatives, the 2017 Aquatimer Automatic 2000 and the Sharks edition chronograph. The Sharks model is powered by the in-house automatic caliber 89365, an integrated fly-back chronograph with column-wheel and vertical clutch.

 

Given that my first three diving watches are “time-only” models, and given my partiality to chronographs, the Sharks model, IW379506, is my fifth choice. This is especially the case because I believe that movements are the essence of fine mechanical watches, and the calibre 89365 is an especially fine movement, one of the best chronograph movements ever produced in Switzerland.

 

In actuality, I think it would be better to choose ten diving watches from IWC.  But I can’t do that – having already chosen five Ingenieur, Portuguiesers and Pilot’s watches. There are so many watches, and so little time to dive even deeper.

Ref. 379506

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