OCT, 18

Are Watches Waterproof?


In our high-tech world of gadgets and gizmos, there is still a place for the traditional timepiece. Even though people probably look at the time more on their smartphones than on their watches, we still love watches as a fashion accessory and to tell the time when it’s not appropriate to get the phone out.

The watch industry is not one to stand still and luxury watch brands enjoy creating and releasing high-end timepieces that display more features and details that any one person could probably use and utilize in a whole lifetime’s worth of wearing!

Of course, whether or not you choose to make the most of every single element of the best watches is entirely down to the individual wearer. If you are thinking of buying a new watch and want one that does more than just tell the time, it is a good idea to have some knowledge seen on luxury watches. The most basic thing to know is that generally, any timepiece designed just to tell the time like basic Seiko or Casio models is a fashion watch. Any timepiece with additional features comes under the general heading of sports watch like Rolex Submariner or Omega Seamaster, for example.

The legacy of sports watches began with dive watches and aviation watches and one of the original defining features that remains a major factor today is water resistance or as is so often described, waterproof.

So many people assume that the term water resistant and waterproof are synonyms but this isn’t the case.

Let’s take a deeper dive (pun intended!) into the watchmaker world to explore whether or not there is such a thing as a truly waterproof watch. Hopefully, this information can be helpful to you if you are looking for a new watch to add to your collection, especially if the degree of water resistance is something that you consider to be an important factor.

Water Resistant Watch vs Waterproof Watch

man jumps on body of water holding his nose

Firstly, let’s get to grips with the fundamental differences between the terms water resistant and waterproof. Although plenty of brands use the terms interchangeably, in the real world they do mean different things and it is important to be able to distinguish the two.

In simple terms, a watch that claims to be water resistant should be able to withstand a limited amount of contact in a wet environment, whereas something that professes to be waterproof should, in theory, not be able to be penetrated by salt water or fresh water at all.

The truth is that it is incredibly difficult to guarantee a state of waterproofness for any wristwatch or watch case, and the risk in believing the advertising can be very high if you have paid thousands of dollars for a deep sea timepiece that is not able to withstand the required submersion or water pressure.

Even the finest examples of diving watches and general water sports watch on the market can be susceptible to a natural aging process along with effects from extreme conditions, and any activities like snorkeling, scuba diving, and deep diving can be damaging to your watch over time.

It is not unreasonable to assume that an item made from dozens of miniature components might begin to suffer water damage and/or corrosion when repeatedly exposed to large amounts of moisture and water pressure. The very opposite is more apt, it would indeed be unreasonable to think that such a delicate, intricately put-together piece of luxury jewelry (although practical) could withstand so much saturation!

Of course, this is not a matter of simple splashes that we are talking about, as we are confident in saying that any high-end luxury stainless steel timepiece has achieved a high enough water resistance rating to be able to market itself as such.

The “Legal” Position

The difference between water resistance and waterproof is not a question of semantics. We’ve already mentioned that the terms have been used interchangeably and unfortunately, it can create confusion.

In 1960, (as far as records show) the Federal Trade Commission stepped in to apply some guidance for the terms’ usage. The definitions were formalized under International Standards and waterproof was excluded.

The standards are:

Watches described as water resistant meet ISO 2281

Diver’s watches meet ISO 6425.

Today, you should be extremely wary of any watch that is advertised as waterproof.

Where Does Waterproofing Fail?

One of the leading factors in the failure of many watches that claim to be ‘waterproof’ is the degradation of the gaskets that are designed to ensure what is called a gapless construction. These are the seals that you might notice around a watch’s bezel and they are commonly made from a type of plastic, rubber, or silicone. The problem is that these seals can be affected by extreme hot and extreme cold, and the material weakens and is eaten away bit by bit.

This is the reason that many people will tell you it makes sense to get your watch serviced regularly, and depending on what brand you opt to buy from, certain seal repairs may well be covered by a warranty. During such a service, the watchmaker will perform a dry pressure test on the timepiece to make sure that it is in good enough condition to last for at least a few more years until the next service date.

Watch Water Resistance Ratings

So now that we have established that no watch can ever truly live up to the name of being completely waterproof, the next thing to do is understand the different levels of water resistance ratings. Watchmakers undertake a universal series of water resistance testing and the rating is provided for each watch.

Three ratings indicate to what level a watch is water resistant and it is usually marked on the watch as well as in the product description.

The most common of the three is a measurement in meters, which will usually be signified by the M in upper or lower case.

The second most common way is to communicate depth rating through ‘atmospheres’, abbreviated to ATM. To help you visualize, one atmosphere is equivalent, roughly, to 10 meters of depth (making 10ATM the same as 100M).

The third way to express water resistance is by ‘bar’. A bar is a unit of pressure instead of depth. Though it is a factor that is still talked about among watchmakers and enthusiasts, it isn’t as frequently featured on the dial of a watch. One bar is equal to one atmosphere, which makes it redundant to mention when the atmosphere is more popularly used.

The most common depth ratings of watches that you are likely to see are 30M, 50M, 100M, 200M, and 300M. Once you start to go into the upper ranges such as 500M, 1000M, and even more, these tend to be truly specialist diver’s watches that are reserved for experts in their particular field.

Water Resistance Ratings Explained

Free A Wristwatch in the Water  Stock Photo are watches waterproof

Finally, let’s take a look at some of the common water resistance ratings across the watch industry, and what you can expect the capabilities of the watch to be in terms of the water-resistant vs waterproof debate.

3 ATM/3 Bar/30M

This is the most common level of water resistance on the rating scale, and something that you should expect to find on most good-quality fashion watches. Though the rating specifies a potential depth of 30 meters, the reality is that a 30M watch is suitable for accidental splashes and not much else, along with the standard daily activities of hand washing and moving around in the rain.

5 ATM/5 Bar/50M

Once again, we wouldn’t want you to attempt to dive 50 meters down into the water with one of these on your wrist. These watches, however, are perfectly fine to be submerged in water for short periods but don’t swim wearing a 50M watch too vigorously, or for too long.

10 ATM/10 Bar/100M

From the 100M point, watches start to feel like the real deal in terms of water sports. You should feel comfortable and confident carrying out activities like snorkeling, boating, and swimming in a watch that boasts this level of water resistance.

20 ATM/20 Bar/200M/ & 30 ATM/30Bar/300M

These two rating levels can easily be lumped together in terms of effective water resistance because they can both genuinely be used for something like true diving. They will perform very well at extreme depths, and the best examples should last for years without their water resistance being compromised.

100 ATM/100 Bar/1000M

At this point in the rating scale, you will have entered into the world of a serious saturation diver. Watches that have been verified at this level will be expert machines that are finely tuned to deliver results and, vitally, help to keep deep sea divers alive! Any 1000M watch will be, quite frankly, enormous, with a thick case back and sapphire crystals that are several millimeters thick. They are not designed to look fashionable and glamorous, but rather to be able to withstand the huge amounts of external pressure that their intended environment puts on them.

Choosing a Water Resistance Watch

For most people, a general sports watch with 3 ATM/3 Bar/30M rating will be more than adequate for their needs.

If you want a watch for specific activities, the water resistance should be one of the desirable features you assess along with other functions and features. The ratings should point you toward the most suitable models for your particular job or hobby.

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