Of all the new releases at Watches and Wonders, the international watch trade show in Geneva that took place earlier this year, it was the hardest one not to miss. The name alone was huge: TAG Heuer Aquaracer Professional 1000 Superdiver. A big name for a big 45-mm-diameter watch, it boasts a dodecagonal black-and-orange bezel, a chunky bracelet, a garage-door-size helium escape valve, and a brilliant arrowhead hour hand loaded with enough lume to read Proust in the dark—even at 1,000 meters underwater. With a large brutalist crown guard and a relatively slim—by deep-dive watch standards—15.75-mm thickness, the message is clear: TAG Heuer is back in the extreme dive watch market.
The Superdiver is a project close to TAG CEO Frédéric Arnault’s heart, albeit one born out of frustration. A keen skier, golfer, chess master, and tennis player, Arnault is also an experienced diver. “When I joined [TAG], I was approached to sponsor someone wanting to go deep diving,” he says. “I thought, Okay, that’s cool and it’s in line with our Don’t Crack Under Pressure slogan. But if we do something like that, we need a watch that goes deep. And we didn’t have that.”
Now TAG Heuer does. The Super-diver is just the latest in the company’s long history of pushing the limits of ultra-deep-dive watches. And this iteration merely returns the Swiss watchmaker to where it was in 1982 when the 1,000-meter Diver debuted. Back then, one kilometer underwater was extraordinary, putting it within reach but still 220 meters short of the most emblematic of extreme dive watches: the Rolex Sea-Dweller.
By the time the Sea-Dweller launched in 1967, Rolex had already been deep diving for a decade and a half. In 1953, off the southwestern coast of Italy, an experimental Rolex plunged to a depth of more than three kilometers fixed to the outside of a bathyscaphe. The achievement was eclipsed in 1960 when the same vessel descended 10,916 meters to the bottom of the Challenger Deep (the deepest known point of the earth’s seabed) in the Mariana Trench with another experimental Rolex attached to its hull. Even though the watch was equipped with a crystal resembling a transparent Ping-Pong ball that made it impractical for everyday wear, the feat captured the world’s imagination. When offshore oil exploration hit its stride in the 1960s, the Sea-Dweller became the default timepiece of the underwater elite.
In 2008, the appropriately named Rolex Deepsea sparked a new era for the deep-dive watch by functioning at depths of 3,900 meters. Three years later, Hublot launched a 4,000-meter watch (the King Power Diver), only for Rolex to up—or, more accurately, lower—the ante in 2012 with a specially engineered Rolex Deepsea Challenge attached to a submersible with Titanic director James Cameron aboard.
Then, in 2019, Omega claimed a record depth of 10,935 meters when three prototypes of its Omega Seamaster Planet Ocean Ultra Deep watch were attached to Limiting Factor, the submersible owned by Texas businessman Victor Vescovo. Those extra 19 meters gave Omega a chance to challenge Rolex for bragging rights and provided a backstory for its biggest launch so far this year (MoonSwatch aside), the Seamaster Planet Ocean Ultra Deep, a watch with a dive depth of 6,000 meters.
Of course, 6,000 meters is overkill. The Professional Association of Diving Instructors defines deep dives as beyond 18 meters—and even adventurous recreational divers limit themselves to 40 meters. The record for the deepest dive (701 meters), achieved by Rolex advertising star Théo Mavrostomos, has stood for 30 years, yet the deep-dive watch has never been more popular. Breitling—primarily associated with aviation—has a 2,000-meter watch, while Zelos (an obscure but accessibly priced brand) successfully crowdfunded the Abyss, the third iteration of which has a depth of 3,000 meters and a retail price that starts at $699. It raises the question: What is a watchmaker to do, now that it’s getting increasingly tricky to stand out in this field? The only answer, it seems, is to go deeper.
A version of this story originally appeared in the June/July 2022 issue with the title “Going Deep on Watches. Extremely Deep.”