Mid-dive-table mediocrity or how to spend $1000 on a watch (Part 1)

Spurred on by recent claims from new entrants that there is little to offer the consumer in the $1000 dive watch market, I thought I’d try and provide a brief synopsis of what’s really out there. As I see it, consumers have three basic choices in this market:

1) tried and test, “prosumer” watches, such as Seiko and Citizen

2) low production number watches from (largely) new entrants

3) vintage / pre-owned dive watches (following a suitable service).

In the prosumer* market, two watches stand out at this level**: the Seiko SBDC003 “Sumo” [approx. $598, available Seiyajapan] and the Citizen Aqualand Professional Jp1030-02l [£349, available here]. The former provides the diver with a large, highly legible dial, sapphlex crystal, 200m WR and the sweetly ticking beat of Seiko’s 6R15 mechanical movement. As a true “diver’s” watch, you can rest assured that it’s guaranteed to meet the relevant ISOs, and the Prospex moniker (shared by the top of the range Marine Master) gives additional comfort. The bezel is large, rugged and easy to operate with cold fingers / gloves.

Seiko Sumo

The latter, whilst similar in size, is an ani-digital, with sub- and supra-readouts providing water temperature, depth, elapsed time and even an audible ascent warning. While the Citizen is battery-powered, its large hands are reassuringly old school, and the pronounced bulge on the left hand side of the case is retained from the original late-80’s models. The manual may be the size of Belgium, but the Aqualand is easy to strap on, and, being water-activated, you can plug-and-dive.

The watches come on a variety of rubber strapsand stainless steel bracelets, with plenty of after-market options. At the price-point (a shade under $600) I was almost tempted to overlook both of these, as it really doesn’t seem fair to compare them to $1,000 watches. However, the Sumo is so well-made, and so nicely finished, that it beats many other watches in this bracket and could easily sell for $100-$150 more if it were made by a different manufacturer. The Citizen is a veritable dive tool, but seems to me to be an interesting starting point.

Both of these watches mark the owner out as someone with at least a passing interest in the water, and wouldn’t be out of place on the outside of a drysuit off Shetland, nor adorning the tanned wrist of a diver enjoying the tranquil blue waters of the Red Sea. The orange-faced Sumo requires a little more effort to wear – if only because the dial can be startling in bright sunlight!

Having dived with the Sumo on numerous occasions, I can certainly vouch for its legibility – even at depth (here seen at about 60 feet), the dial is extremely easy to read – with less diffraction than with many watches.

Honourable mentions should go, in no particular order, to:

– The Suunto Elementum Aqua (RRP approx. $800-900) which is a good looking dive computer-style watch with all the elements of a good dive timer, but without the functions of a proper computer (no Nitrox? No Freedive mode?). It’s stylish, and has innovative use of the pusher at 2pm (you twiddle it as well as push it).

– The yet-to-be-released, but rather nicely styled Squale Professional 101ATM. Retro looks, from a decent Italian company, with great links to the past. ETA 2824-2-powered with WR to 1000m. Should be available in October from www.squale.ch

[To be continued]

*I use the term “prosumer” lightly. Obviously, professional sat divers use Casios and the occasional COMEX. Dive guides and instructors tend to favour Stingers, it seems. Prosumer just refers to people who want a decent dive watch with a hint of the “professional”. I’m not sure it’s the correct term, but I prefer it to “tool watch” or, far, far worse, “tactical”. Shudder.

**defined as watches over $500, under $1000. I have purposely not considered any true dive instruments / computers in this piece, although there are plenty of good-looking models in this price range.

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