At one time or another, anyone with a taste for the ocean has probably strapped on a pair of flippers and paddled out to see what’s out there. And it turns out there’s all kinds of stuff there – so much so that some people want to go further and stay longer. They end up buying tanks, regulators and suits and going to exotic places to see more and more exotic things.
Scuba diving has exploded over the past 70 years with new equipment and gadgets hitting the market all the time. However, one vital piece of equipment has changed little over the years: the diver’s watch. Let’s explore.
Of course, before all the equipment, people were still swimming in the ocean. Even in ancient times, coastal dwellers held their breath or breathed through a reed in order to gather food or escape danger. Somewhere around the fourth century, it was discovered that a large cauldron overturned and forced underwater would hold enough air for a swimmer to take a few breaths inside the ship before venturing out.
These primitive diving bells spawned other innovations over the years, including the invention of goggles in the 13th century, leather suits in the 16th century, and air pumps in the 1770s. rebreathers and other advances would follow.
The big breakthrough came in 1942 when wartime demands prompted French innovators Émile Gagnan and Jacques Cousteau to come up with the first scuba regulator. Hooked to a tank of compressed oxygen, this device released air on demand, detaching divers from a hose connected to the surface.
A year later, the now famous Aqua Lung entered the market and the modern scuba diving industry was born. It remains a technical sport with classes required for certification and an unfortunately constant list of casualties among new and experienced divers alike. Nevertheless, diving enthusiasts will dream of drifting through the underwater world, and anyone who has tried it will find it hard to disagree.
So that brings us to dive watches. Due to the critical need to monitor your time underwater while breathing compressed air, dive watches are an essential part of every diver’s kit. They should be waterproof to an appropriate depth, easy to read in low light conditions, and include a rotating bezel with markings to track elapsed time or decompression data.
Most of the best watchmakers include such models in their ranges, and a few have become iconic. Among these are the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms (1953), the Rolex Submariner (1954) and the Doxa SUB 300. All were innovative, but the Doxa developed something of a cult following. Its high-visibility orange dial, spring-loaded bracelet and multi-function bezel have since been widely copied, but nothing looks like a Doxa.
Founded in Switzerland in 1910, the company got its start producing dashboard clocks for airplanes and automobiles. It flourished and over time shifted to making more high-performance sports watches.
When the Doxa SUB was first introduced, its advantages were obvious and quickly caught the attention of Jacques Cousteau. He and his crew aboard the famed research vessel Calypso carried Doxas for years, and Cousteau was the brand’s first North American distributor.
More recently, Doxa has been regularly mentioned by name in bestselling writer Clive Cussler’s novels. His books featured swashbuckling adventurer Dirk Pitt who saved the world with tedious regularity, while being aided by his trusty watch.
With fans like that, who needs a lot of marketing?
Mike Rivkin and his wife, Linda, are longtime residents of Rancho Mirage. For many years he was an award-winning catalog editor and authored seven books, as well as countless articles. Now he is the owner of the Palm Springs Antique Galleries. His antiquities column appears on Sundays in The Desert Sun. Want to send Mike a question about antiques? Write to him at [email protected].