So, you’ve decided to purchase a diving watch. Maybe you’re planning a vacation where you expect to do a little scuba-diving, or maybe you’re a professional diver, and you need a timepiece that you can rely on. Either way, you’ll want to be very choosy when shopping for a watch that will go with you into the deep blue at any capacity. It’s been said that more men have walked on the moon than have been to the deepest part of our oceans, which gives you an idea of how unpredictable the sea can actually be sometimes. Being able to keep track of time as a diver is extremely important, and could actually mean the difference between life and death at certain levels.
The Panerai Luminor Marina and the Rolex Submariner are both diving watches that are incredibly well-made, have gorgeous designs are designed to be submerged for long periods of time. We checked out each one and gave them both a thorough analysis to determine which could really hold up under pressure—literally. Despite Rolex being the first company to manufacture what is now known as an “oyster case,” we found that the Panerai Luminor Marina had it beat when it came to performance, durability and versatility. The Rolex model is just a bit too robust and clunky for diving, and while it was made of high-quality material, we just felt it wasn’t as suitable for the water as the Panerai.
The Panerai Luminor Marina
The Panerai Luminor Marina is inspired by many watches that were first released over 50 years ago. Its design is similar to watches worn by Italian Navy commandos, while also blending certain elements from the original Panerai watches. The 44mm, polished-steel case contains a black dial, with Arabic numerals and hour markers coated in material that will be visible at depths where the sun’s light won’t reach. That’s right: in layman terms, the markers and hands glow in the dark.
The seconds dial is positioned on the left in the 9 o’clock position and the calendar is on the right side at the 3 o’clock position. Unlike Rolex watches, there is actually a magnifying lens under the sapphire crystal that makes the date more visible, which gave the crystal a smoother surface overall. The most impressive part of the design is that the watch is waterproof up to 300 meters.
The Panerai Luminor has an automatic, Swiss mechanical movement that contains a custom Panerai OP III caliber. If you don’t know what the caliber refers to, it’s pretty simple; it refers to mechanism of a clock that encloses the movement. It’s sort of like a case within the case, and is very important to keeping the movement safe. The movement also contains 13 ¼ lignes, 21 jewels and a patented Panerai oscillating weight. The movement is also shock-resistant, and contains an Incabloc anti-shock device. It also has a 42 hour power reserve when fully wound.
The strap is also made of a very unique, water-ready material. We’re not talking about waterproof steel, or leather; the strap on the Panerai Luminor is made of thick, high-quality alligator. It’s black on both sides, has an eye-catching glistening finish, and even though it was stitched together, still felt like it would hold up just fine in the water. To fasten it, you’ll find a Panerai Stainless Steel buckle.
The Rolex Submariner
The Rolex Submariner has a classic Rolex design with a black dial and a black ceramic bezel. The 40mm case has the coveted Rolex Oyster design that makes it waterproof up to 300 meters or 1000 feet. Like the Panerai Luminor, the hands and markers are also luminescent (glow-in-the-dark), and the material is primarily brushed steel.
The dial window is also made of sapphire, and the hour markers consist of both shapes, as well as Arabic numerals positioned on the case itself. We did notice that the dial did not have additional counters for seconds and that the date was magnified by a raised window on the sapphire crystal. It gave the watch a more basic look, that wasn’t quite as stylish as the Panerai. The watch also contains a screw-down crown and caseback.
The Submariner is fitted with a 3135, self-winding mechanical movement made using only Rolex parts and methods. It is a Swiss chronometer, and has passed the Swiss Official Chronometer Testing institute’s standards. You’ll also find a Parachrom hairspring that offers shock-resistance and temperature protection. The movement has a 28.5mm diameter, a height of 6mm, 31 jewels and a power reserve of 50 hours. The 3135 movement has become the standard for Rolex watches over the last 20 years, and is found in many of their men’s watches.
The Rolex Submariner has a standard Oyster bracelet, which means that it consists of three rows of links, held together by hidden metal pins. It’s a heavy-duty design, and can shape to the wrist nicely, but feels a little clunky for a diving watch. It seems better suited as a bracelet for luxury watches that you might want to wear to a party or event. It is fastened by a deployment buckle that clasps nicely, and felt secure, but overall, we would have liked to see a bit more variance in the materials that went into the watch’s construction.
So, considering that both of these watches are extremely impressive, you’re probably wondering why we chose the Panerai Luminor Marina over the Rolex Submariner. The main reasons were the more economical, stripped down movement of the Panerai and the alligator strap. These may seem like minor factors, but when it comes to a diving watch, every little bit counts.
We felt that the alligator skin band would lend itself better to the water than the brushed steel of the Rolex, and that the more efficient movement would be more reliable than what was packed into the Rolex. While the 3135 movement has been a staple in many Rolex watches, we just felt that it contained too many parts that could easily malfunction. If diving watches weren’t as important to a user’s safety a complicated movement would be somewhat forgivable, but in the case of the Rolex, it was a major downside.
Last but not least, we felt that the Rolex was a little too bulky to take diving. It was a little clunky and moved around on the wrist a bit more than the Panerai, which took away from its overall wearability. If the bracelet had been made something equally as strong as steel, but more lightweight, the watch might have been more of a worthy contender. There are a number of Rolex watches with bands made of other materials, and we felt that even leather would have been a better choice for the Submariner.
If you aren’t a professional diver, you might be able to get away with a watch like the Rolex Submariner. It’s a perfectly suitable timepiece for someone who might want to go right from scuba diving or swimming to a beach party. In that case, it’s an excellent choice, and when it came to style, was more eye-catching than the Panerai.
However, for a serious diver that can’t afford for their watch to malfunction, the Panerai is a much better choice. It’s somewhat stylish but just performs better overall. While both watches have the same waterproof capabilities, the Panerai seems better suited for the water. Its alligator strap gave it a versatile, almost tactical look, and the lower part count in the movement had us less concerned about maintenance or it being affected by high-pressure. While the Rolex is certainly nothing to sneeze at, we felt that the Panerai Luminor Marina makes for the better timekeeping companion for venturing into the depths of the ocean.
Why Use A Diving Watch?
If you are going to make a significant investment in a diving watch, you almost certainly understand the importance of having an accurate, reliable timepiece. Here is a reminder why:
At certain depths, we have to continue breathing under greater levels of pressure. The air we breathe contains oxygen and nitrogen, and when pressure increases, each of these gases gets absorbed into the bloodstream. The time that a person stays submerged, the more of these gases get dissolved. This is normal and isn’t a problem on its own.
However, the risk comes in when divers ascend back to the surface. Rising too fast will cause bubbles to form in the bloodstream. If it helps, imagine opening up a pressurized container or a plastic bottle of soda. If there is a great amount of pressure in the bottle, opening it too fast will cause bubbles to form and, well, you’ll be drenched in soda.
The same thing applies to divers and the gases that build up in their bloodstream. The faster they rise, the more bubbles form in their bodies. This can cause serious dangers like embolisms in the lungs, tissues or blood vessels. It isn’t always deadly, but is very painful and in severe cases can, in fact, be fatal.
Okay, so what does this all have to do with divers and their watches? Well, to prevent this phenomenon from occurring, divers have to stop at regular intervals when they rise to the surface. This allows the bubbles that form in their bodies to dissolve naturally. A reliable watch is both practical as well as a safety precaution for most divers, because it enables them to make a safe trip back to the surface.
The first diving watch was built by Hans Wilsdorf in 1926, and actually had the original Rolex Oyster case design that is still seen today.