Love the Skin You’re In: the Lightweight Skin Diver

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Part of the appeal of dive watches is the idea of sheer functionality—the sense that the hunk of metal strapped to your wrist could, at any given time, sink down hundreds of meters into the ocean and work as well as the day it left the factory. It’s a captivating idea, but one that also leads to some very chunky case designs in the pursuit of ever-higher depth ratings.

Luckily, since the early days of commercial divers there have evolved three distinct breeds of timepiece. The first are the professional divers—think Doxa Subs, Omega Ploprofs, and the like. These big, brutal pieces strive for function above all else, birthing some unique and iconic designs along the way.

Second, there are what we might call the “traditional divers.” These are watches that are best exemplified by the likes of the Rolex Submariner, the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms, and Omega’s Seamster Professional, three archetypes that usually come to mind when dive watches are mentioned. Extremely capable and handsome timepieces that tend to conform to a similar base visual plan, these are far and away the most common.

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At the far end of the spectrum from the professionals, however, are the lightweights. Skin divers, as they’re sometimes called or branded, tend to be a bit smaller, slimmer, and oftentimes a bit less water resistant (generally 100 to 200 meters) but offer a dressier, more refined approach. (Some watches marked “Skin Diver” or “Skindiver” on the dial featured higher water-resistance ratings and even helium-release valves, so this isn’t a hard rule.)


“…people came from the skin-diving companies and they said that we have problems getting a good quality skin-diving watch…so we started making and double-branding with some of the big names in skin-diving equipment, such as Spirotechnique. And would you believe it, these watches started selling like crazy! The company came out of trouble because of these watches.” – Jack Heuer, Interview with Calibre11 on getting into dive watches


These skin divers can trace their lineage back to the mid-late ‘50s and the constellation of cottage-industry watch brands that dotted the Swiss countryside. While the big dogs like Rolex and Blancpain were breaking ground and developing their own dive cases, many smaller marques lacked the budget to design these complex works of engineering in-house.

A vintage Precimax Aquamax advertisement.

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However, the diver style quickly exploded in popularity, and no brand’s lineup was complete without an entry into the growing field. The obvious solution was to turn to dedicated case makers, legendary names like Erwin Piquerez S.A. (EPSA), Squale and Monnin. These specialist houses clothed the rest of the Swiss watch industry for decades, bringing virtually every watchmaker on-board the diving train. Along the way, they developed the archetypal skin diver case as a lower-cost alternative to hefty, higher-rated designs.

A Squale-cased JungFrau Diver

While several brands produced these pieces, they all worked toward a similar archetype: a slim, arched main case with a pronounced downward curve, semi-integrated squared lugs, tall acrylic crystal, a thin rotating bezel of either polished or painted stainless steel, and a modest depth rating of 100-200 meters. Perhaps the purest example of these are the Squale Super 10/20 Atmos series. Available in 200 or the rarer 100-meter varieties, Squale supplied these cases to dozens of small brands like Darwil, Eaglestar, Jungfrau, and many others.

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This template led to some truly beautiful watches. These are what I’d call gentleman’s sporting timepieces that offered plenty of functionality coupled with elegant styling. (And honestly, how many of us will ever go more than 600 feet underwater?) These designs were a staple of the industry for decades, surviving from the late ‘50s/early ‘60s all the way to the Quartz Crisis in the late ‘70s in some cases. By that time, changing tastes and an industry nearing the brink of collapse spelled an end for the style.

Late-era Heuer “Monnin” diver. (Image source: TZ-UK; user Europa.)

In recent years, however, we’ve seen an uptick in interest for smaller, slimmer dive watches, with no end to the trend in sight. Modern skin divers like the w&w-favorite Oris Diver’s Sixty-Five, the serially underrated Zodiac Seawolf 53, and the upcoming Halios Seaforth might be upsized slightly from their vintage brethren, but each offers a svelte, classy option for a daily-wear diver. This new breed is clean, versatile, and brings a touch of formality to deep-sea style. Case in point: much as we love the current Seiko Turtle, it’d be horribly out of place underneath the cuff of a blazer. On the other hand, the Zodiac for example would add an air of classic dive-club charm in the same situation.

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In the end, it’s this charm that keeps the skin diver a vibrant part of the dive watch community, and a vital counterpoint to the massive 46mm, 1,000-meter beasts that populate so much of the field.

Featured image via Analog/Shift.

Hailing from Redondo Beach, California, Sean’s passion for design and all things mechanical started at birth. Having grown up at race tracks, hot rod shops and car shows, he brings old-school motoring style and a lifestyle bent to his mostly vintage watch collection. He is also the Feature Editor and Videographer for Speed Revolutions.
seanpaullorentzen
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