Unless you’re in the forces, for most people today, finding the right watch is no longer a life or death decision.

Sure, you still want to have the right tool on your wrist at the exact moment you need it. But it generally won’t mean the difference between running out of oxygen when 100 metres deep underwater or miscalculating your landing when bringing in a light aircraft.

For this reason, most people aren’t restricted to one specific type of watch but are open to the many options and styles available on the market today. Function and style have been separated, and today you can be a businessman and wear a dive watch, a pilot and wear a dress watch, or a tailor and wear a military watch.

With manufacturers noticing this shift — and blurring the lines between traditional watch styles by creating hybrid models — we thought it was time to set out some clear distinctions between two of the most popular watch types: pilot watches and dive watches. This way, you’ll be able to spot the characteristics that make them unique and make sure you get your hands on a shinning example of aviation or aquatic history.

The Deep-sea Companion

First made for explorers and adventurers of the 19th century, dive watches are traditionally built to withstand being regularly submerged in salty water of up to 300m in depth and a pressure of up to 30 bars.

A give away feature of the dive watch is the unidirectional rotating bezel that is used by divers to know how much oxygen they have left. They also feature large, contrasting dials with luminous numbers for easy reading in deep, dark, murky waters.

These characteristics, along with their large cases that allowed divers to rotate the bezel even when wearing gloves (and a little help from James Bond), are what have made the dive watch so popular today.

However, with sophisticated computers to measure the time and depth of their dive, many modern divers don’t bother with dive watches anymore. Their main proponents are those fascinated with their craftsmanship and who understand the huge role they played in horological history.

Flying High And Accurately

Some pilot and dive watches may look similar, but there’s one major factor that makes them different: whereas dive watches are made for mainly one thing, pilot watches are made to do many things.

The next thing you may notice is that, as pilot watches are designed for the skies, not the water, the can often appear on leather or steel bracelets.  Looking towards the dial, and the main characteristics that can give a pilot watch away include slide rule bezels, chronographs, tachymeters, and world time/GMT functions.

You won’t find all these complications on pilot watches. However, the slide rule bezel is one most pilots, at least at the time, couldn’t do without. It’s designed to help with performing arithmetic or conversions such as converting nautical miles to kilometres or working out if you have enough fuel left to make it to your destination. It’s a specialised tool that takes time to learn how to use, but once you do, it will be an invaluable assistant to all your flights — whether in the cockpit or cabin.

Parker’s is a century-and-a-half old watch retailer built on loyalty, reliability, and value for money. Check out our reviews on TrustPilot or browse our catalogue to see the latest models we have in stock.