Watches have a single primary job: tell time. Of course, now that watches are getting smarter, many of us demand more from our timepieces. But whether you need your watch to monitor heart rate, display text messages or just show the time, the all-important gadget must be fully functional. One of the biggest threats to a watch’s reliability is water damage.
Most watches are designed to fend off water. Chances are, any watch you come across will say “water-resistant” somewhere. But not all watches are truly water-resistant, and even certified water-resistance can mean anything from OK against sweat to fully functional at 1,000 feet underwater.
If you’re in need of a genuinely water-resistant watch, read on. In this article, we’ll outline the following:
- What water-resistant and waterproof really mean
- Different levels of water-resistance
- The best water-resistant watches to buy right now
Waterproof Vs. Water-Resistant
Before proceeding, we need to debunk a common misconception; no watch is waterproof. In fact, no product is really waterproof at all. The term waterproof was legally discontinued in watch advertising back in the 1960s, but in casual conversation, we still use waterproof interchangeably with water-resistant. Even the most advanced dive watches will still succumb to water damage after extended use in the deep ocean. Sure, some watches have gotten close, such as Omega’s recent experimental watch that was brought down to the Mariana Trench.
However, almost all watches are now labeled as “water-resistant.” This means the watch has been tested for protection against some form of humidity. But this label has a wide range of meanings.
Levels of Water-Resistance
All water-resistant timepieces exist on a massive spectrum of water-resistance. Some water-resistant watches can handle rain or a shower, others can be submerged a few feet and some can survive deep-sea diving.
Most water-resistant watches will display their level of resistance in the form of either meters, feet or both. This isn’t as straightforward as it seems, however, as these ratings aren’t standardized and might not reflect a watch’s real capacity. If, say, a watch is rated at 330 feet, it might only be reliably water-resistant for casual activities like swimming.
Some water-resistant watches use the ATM scale to express resistance. ATM means atmosphere and denotes the level of pressure that a watch can withstand, with ATM ratings typically ranging from 1 to 10 ATM. Watches with a rating of 1 ATM can withstand the pressure at around 10 meters but are really only reliable against rain, snow and splashes. A watch that’s rated at 5 ATM will be ok to use for swimming or snorkeling, and anything higher (such as 10 ATM) gets into real diving watch territory.
The Best Water-Resistant Watches
To help find the right watch for your aquatic lifestyle, we’ve rounded up some of the best water-resistant timepieces on the market. We have options that are tough against everyday scenarios such as rain and snow, watches for swimming or beach days and even some for serious divers. We also made sure to pick a range of watches for every personal style and budget.
1. Seiko Diver’s Watch
Seiko has been making timepieces since the ‘60s with equal attention to function and fashion. This classic Diver’s watch is a great example of Seiko’s rugged craftsmanship and reliability with an automatic Japanese quartz movement. This means the watch’s battery recharges with the movement of your hand as you walk around (or swim). The watch is rated at 200-meter water resistance, so it’s all but bulletproof for a casual beach day or long swims. Plus, the Hardlex crystal display ensures protection against bumps and scratches. You get all this for around $340, making it a solid deal and our #1 pick.
2. Garmin vívoactive 3
Many of us have made the switch from traditional timepieces to smartwatches. However, most of these new gadgets are not great with water. Garmin’s vívoactive 3 is different. This watch boasts an ATM rating of 5 (or 50 meters water-resistance), making it safe for most water activities including swimming, snorkeling and diving (although we don’t recommend using it for serious scuba action). As you’d expect from any capable smartwatch, the vívoactive includes apps, GPS, widgets and smartphone connectivity for enhancing your workouts and just making life a little easier.
3. Casio Analog Sport Watch
BEST BUDGET PICK
You don’t need to spend a fortune to get a good water-resistant watch. This Casio Sport Watch is rated at 330 feet water resistance and costs less than $25. It’s a great companion for surfing, swimming sailing or just reliable everyday use. Japanese quartz movement ensures that you won’t miss a minute while a molded resin band and durable plastic case keep the watch safe. On the display, you’ll find easy-to-read white numbers on a black face as well as a date and day window at three o’clock.
4. Garmin Swim 2
BEST FOR SWIMMING
If you’re in need of a watch for swimming, check out Garmin’s Swim 2. The digital smartwatch is engineered for swimming with a sleek, sporty design and plenty of features to up your game. Along with heart rate, distance and time, the watch also monitors your stroke to gauge efficiency. All these stats can be displayed on the watch face or on your smartphone. The only downside with this smartwatch versus a traditional analog watch is that you’ll have to recharge it regularly, but that isn’t an issue if you’re just using it for swims.
5. Timex Expedition Field Watch
BEST CASUAL PICK
Good water-resistance isn’t just useful for sports watches. Everyday watches can benefit from real protection against water damage in case of rain, cooking, impromptu swims or anything of the sort. This Timex Expedition Field Watch is a great example of a handsome, affordable timepiece with impressive water-resistance. It’s rated at 330 feet, making it solid for everything short of diving. The watch is also seriously good-looking with a classic, rugged design that works with nearly any modern outfit.
6. Victorinox Swiss Army I.N.O.X. Watch
BEST MID-RANGE PICK
Victorinox is one of our favorite mid-range watch brands because they balance elegance and rugged usability. This I.N.O.X. watch is one of their best pieces. The watch’s stainless steel case and design are ridiculously sleek, and it’s built to stay that way with a scratch-resistant sapphire crystal lens. This high-quality lens is also glare-resistant for easy readability in the sun and underwater. If you’re planning on using the watch for high-impact activities, the included removable bumper keeps the timepiece safe. The whole thing is also protected by Victorinox’s incredible three-year warranty and, compared to similarly elegant watches, it’s actually quite affordable too.
7. Citizen Men’s Eco-Drive Promaster Diver
BEST HARDCORE PICK
If you’re doing any serious scuba diving or hardcore water sports, we recommend this deep-sea beast, the Citizen’s Promaster Diver. The watch is water-resistant to 1,000 feet and built for action with an anti-reflective crystal lens, reinforced urethane band and rotating elapsed-time bezel. You also get Citizen’s beloved Eco-Drive functionality which uses light (sun or artificial) as energy. This means no battery changes. Ever.
8. Tag Heuer Aquaracer
BEST HIGH-END PICK
Even when you get into high-end watches from powerhouse brands, water-resistance is finicky. If you have the money and want a truly respectable, heirloom-worthy water-resistant watch, go for this Tag Heuer Aquaracer. It’s water-resistant up to 1,000 feet and features a sporty look that’s quite refreshing to see in the high-end watch world. There’s not much to say about the watch, except that it’s loaded with all the features you’d expect from a premium timepiece including automatic movement, a scratch-resistant sapphire lens and a high-end titanium case.