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The Battle of the Uber Military Diver’s Watches

The Battle of the Uber Military Diver’s Watches

Explore the most elite military dive watches. Dive into this underwater spectacle with your friends and explore a world of premium underwater timepieces.
May 27, 2024

Watch collecting has been popularised as a hobby for many years and this trend has prompted watchmakers to release a wide array of collections that saturate the watch industry. This calls for a thorough examination of the features that go into these timepieces. From unconventional designs to revolutionary themes, there is always something about each collection that caters to the preference of collectors from all walks of life, prompting them to satisfy their watch hunting instincts with an exquisite addition to their collection. Whilst surveying the various collections that watch enthusiasts gather, I came to an interesting revelation that there seems to be one universal dive watch with specific qualities and ethos that is included in almost every collection.

A dive watch projects, in its broad-shouldered rejection of the unnecessary, the same trustworthy, here-to-get-work done vibe as rolled-up sleeves, a loosened tie, and a (navy blue) jacket thrown over the back of a conference room chair with a devil-may-care disregard of wrinkles.

Jack Forster, Hodinkee 2019
(The Ocean Vintage Military 39 and the 20 Atmos Militare Ceramica)

The basic style of a diver’s watch has been preserved for more than half a century and remains the same even till today. Delving into the history of the dive watch which dates back all the way to 1950, it is apparent that to date, the fundamental elements that we associate with divers are still the same, including the familiar steel case with a rotating bezel, the classic black dial with different shapes for markers, 3 o’clock spots and the usual large screw-in crown protected by a crown guard. These elements characterise dive watches, setting this genre apart from others in the watch industry. Most watch collectors tend to acknowledge that the homogeneity of a dive watch is integral in a collection as one key quality required of a professional dive watch is that it has to be extremely practical for everyday wear.

From luxurious brands with high-end offerings to independent watchmakers like Squale and Steinhart, these watch companies have one thing in common: their dive watches attempt to diversify and create refreshing new looks while still fitting the criteria above.

The Military Roots

(First Omega’s professional dive watch commissioned by the British Army) (Photo Credit: Analog/Shift)

Other aspects that characterised these divers are their durability, versatility, waterproofing and arguably their evergreen aesthetic which make them worthy of the military. These features fuel the passion of watch collectors, especially mine, as they flaunt a sense of collectability due to their military connections. Today, military-themed dive watches have reinterpreted consumer demand for an everyday waterproof watch in the same way they have reshaped wearers’ appreciation for aviation and field timepieces.

As an avid watch collector, I can testify that drivers with individual military connections stand out and it is this simple touch that elevates the timepiece. In this article, I will dive into the popularity and immense appreciation of dive watches which are associated with specific military specifications. I will be focusing on the successful interpretations from one of the world’s greatest army, the British military, as well as their special forces back in the 1950s.

(On it’s military N.A.T.O)

Upon examining the Squale 20 Atmos Militare and Steinhart Ocean Vintage Military series, it is evident that the infusion of famed military specifications has now established itself as an iconic dive watch design.

The hype of vintage timepieces has taken over the watch industry from as early as the 1920s to 2000. During this period, watches with the military pedigree were at the top of the horological billboards because of the appeal of their no-frills aesthetic and sturdy construction. Clad in a tough case, these watches are relatively simple to operate and tested to guarantee reliability at all times. Every piece preserves their authentic roots and maintains strict military specifications. Purposefully designed and built, these timepieces are only worn by infantry advocates who often risk their lives in combat. It is impressive how coveted features like these make these watches popular and are highly sought after.

(On wrist with the “Shark” one)

In particular, this watch genre is curated for armed forces intended for warfare and the British Army pedigree is considered to be one of the most romanticized series and is highly esteemed by enthusiasts around the globe. From converted pocket watches crafted during the Second Boer War to today’s Royal Navy divers built for aquatic operations and counter-terrorism missions, watches have evolved tremendously and the selection of timepieces within the watch industry has expanded over time. Few countries can match the variety (although scarce in volume) and quality built for the British armed forces. It is also interesting to note that their proper dive watches are the most popular among collectors. This is because less than a handful of countries used proper dive watches in their armies as exquisite divers were not easily available until the 1950s when several Swiss brands started dive watch production. In the case of the British Army, its Military of Defence (MOD) was one of the first to adopt these pieces when they were just starting out.

That Sealed Look

The first ever military dive watch partnership originated from Rolex and its third Submariner iteration, Ref. 6538, which featured a handsome “explorer” dial. This timepiece had been requested by the MOD for its Royal Navy for its divers, during the post-war era. The Crown’s dive watch went through minor modifications for a period of time, including a larger bezel with pronounced grooves for better handling and utilisation of a different alloy of nickel silver instead of plated brass for better durability. The first British military diver served the Royal Navy until 1967 when they opted for Omega’s altered Seamaster 300 for four years.

(Earliest example of the British Military – a 6538) (Photo Credit: Pinterest)

The modifications done on the short-lived Mil-Spec Seamaster 300 sealed the deal of what would become an icon of its own for many years. Since 1971, this particular iteration has maintained its position as the most recognized and coveted military diver in the watch industry. As the military watch for the Royal Navy during that time, the Seamaster differs from the civilian ones in a few distinct ways:

  1. The inclusion of a Pheon (arrow shape) on the case-back
  2. Features fixed bars instead of conventional spring bars
  3. Encircled “T” on the dial indicating the use of tritium luminance
  4. A mil-spec broad sword-shaped hour hand
(Not your typical Seamaster 300) (Photo Credit: Pinterest)

These four elements conform strictly to the military purpose and are complemented by several other features on this watch namely the inclusion of its arrow-tip second hand and the use of an unconventional 60-minute marking bezel which sealed its iconic Mil-spec dive watch look for many years. This phenomenon is akin to the way the “Dirty Dozen” W.W.W. conformed to the Army Trade Pattern design and were delivered to the British Military in 1945.

(The bunch with the Army Trade Pattern) (Photo Credit: Pinterest)

There is no other watch that better encapsulates a classic dive watch design than the “Submariner” look does. From 1971 to 1979, the MOD re-partnered with Rolex and commissioned the current Submariner Ref. 5513 which, of course, did not go without a couple of timely tweaks and improvements that resulted in a whole new army model, the Ref. 5517. The 5517 had not just gotten a sturdier case and wider bezel, it also, for the first time in classic dive watchmaking history, incorporated the above four elements from Omega Seamaster.

The Elite Pedigree

One could imagine, given the popularity of vintage Submariners, original 5517’s is highly sought after, ultra-rare grails within the group.

Zach Weiss, Wornandwound 2012
(The most iconic one – A Rolex Milsub) (Photo Credit: Pinterest)

The 5517 Rolex MilSub were commissioned to the Special Boat Service (SBS), an elite sub-unit of the Royal Marines that spanned over six decades, from the Army commando units of World War II to the UK Special Forces of today. At the top of the military hierarchy, these units were trained for war with challenging amphibious operations. Additionally, post-war operations include counter-terrorism and assisting other nations in rescue missions.

(The S.B.S. Elite within the Royal Marines) (Photo Credit: Pinterest)

During the 70s period, the MilSub had to go through rigorous missions and withstand any simulated underwater attacks on the wrists of these elite units. It is no wonder that these timepieces have become the epitome of military dive watches around the world with its value and price increasing over time. With only about 180 pieces left, these ground-breaking watches are still highly sought after even with a six figure price tag.

(And it’s not publicly for sale… Yet) (Photo Credit: Horobox)

With well-defined military specs, the iconic aesthetic of the MilSub has been subsequently carried on by other brands, namely Cabot Watch Company’s Royal Navy diver which emulates the MilSub and the Omega Seamaster Diver 300M 007 Edition based on the original Mil-Spec Seamaster 300, released recently to celebrate the 50th anniversary of her Majesty’s secret service. The magnificent Mil-Specs showcases the purest look and build of these splendid historical models.

(Latest 2020 iteration for the majesty’s army) (Photo Credit: Pinterest)
(The CWC’s Royal Navy diver that subs the MilSub) (Photo Credit: Hodinkee)

A Hybrid Design

The origins and rare nature of these military dive watches have been widely researched and explored, but we seldom see beyond the historical roots of the watch. Furthermore, I assert that the aesthetics of this timepiece alone has the capacity to gain the recognition of watch enthusiasts with its timeless design.

On the surface, the use of an uncommon bezel with full markings is a refreshing update from its typical 15/20 minute markings. The enhancements brought about with the usage of a fixed bar may not be as apparent as that of the bezel which features ergonomic grooves and dimensions that increases sturdiness on the wrist.

(The duo that bears the hybrid design)

Upon examination of the dial execution, one can see that the additional “T’ indication located at 6 o’clock avoids a cluttered dial design while still maintaining symmetry with the brand’s logo placed at 12 o’clock. This balanced look is further accentuated by the dive watch’s hour plots and minute markers that stretch to connect with the 60-minute lines on its bezel.

Furthermore, the broadsword or “gladiator” sword hour hand and arrow-tip second hand applied on these dive watches as specified by the MOD were definitely not by accident. In fact, I believe that this idea came from the military experience of the British gathered over the years. This is because it seems that the design team agreed to use the most legible handset ever created, applied on pilot timepieces, on the most readable dials protected by extremely durable watch cases.

(A legible dial with it’s iconic “gladiator” sword hour hand)

Hence, this nascent execution is established. With a legible Flieger-type handset on a no-frills dive watch dial, it featured a handsome combination of a sword-shaped and arrow-tip handset complemented by oversized hour markers. This ingenious yet legible incorporation allows the watch to have an unfettered dial display that graces it with a timeless, unfading aesthetic. In my opinion, this design also allows for better readability than most conventional diver handsets such as the ubiquitous three-pointed star hour hand with a lollipop second hand.

“Go Fill Out A G10”

Since those mil-spec watches are built with fixed bars to hold the watchband, the MOD offered a non-metallic strap which allows for excellent wearability while still operating well with the bars. This G10 NATO strap, which stands for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, is made out of nylon material and comes in a single dark grey colour tone, also known as admiralty grey, deeming it the perfect band for the battlefield back in 1973. Soldiers have to fill up a requisition form known as “G1098” which is where its proper military moniker originated from. As purposeful as the military watches themselves, the nylon strap measures 20mm and is both reliable as well as waterproof which allows it to withstand the harsh climates of Britain, Scotland and Ireland. This simple and inexpensive fabrication wears as comfortably like a cloth strap while bestowing the divers with an entirely new look and feel.

(Filling out the NATOs on both)

Upon hindsight, these unique strap pairings specified by and curated for the British Army have created a whole new stylistic genre based on the unique appeal of this unprecedented look, thereby re-writing the classic aesthetic of a dive watch. The following two examples I will delve into exemplify the compelling allure of this design.

Carrying The Baton

The Swiss brands Steinhart and Squale may not be household names but with some research, their prominence in the watch industry can easily be uncovered. They are independent brands that are popular in the watch community for their accurate Swiss-made timepieces that mainly comprise prized tool watches. Both brands have different backgrounds and use varying approaches in watchmaking.

(Born from the Swiss watchmaker with dive watch designs in it’s blood)

First, let’s take a look at Squale, a brand that has been one of the pioneers in dive-watchmaking since 1948. This Swiss watchmaker manufactures dive watch cases with several classic designs that accommodate reliable Swiss movements as seen on the handsome Ref. 2002 1000m barrel-case-shaped diver and the widely popular Ref.1545 20/25/30 Atmos divers. Within its rich history of producing reliable watches, Squale has also had its fair share of military connections, one of which was a collaborative effort with Gnomon Watches back in 2014 when Squale decided to revive the “British Royal Navy” hybrid design into its classic Ref. 1545 known as the 20 Atmos Militare.

(Manufactured from Jura Valle, Switzerland, designed by Gunther from Augsburg, Germany)

Next, onto the German watch brand, Steinhart. Established in 2001 by Gunther Steinhart, its headquarters was set up in Germany with production and manufacturing done in Jura Valley, Switzerland. This brand took a novel watchmaking approach and released nostalgic tool watches that pay tribute to icons like the Mil-Spec British timepieces. These watches stand out with their clearly defined design aesthetic that is highly sought after by collectors but often impossible to afford, while still providing the reliability of any modern mechanical tool watches at a fraction of the price. All these features led to the  of one of their most phenomenal models, the Ocean Vintage Military. In 2017, Gnomon Watches partnered with Steinhart to build an exclusive timepiece from this collection by downsizing the O.V.M. from 42mm to 39mm to be produced in limited quantities annually.

Aesthetics Overview

Now, let’s get into the specifications and features of the two re-issues:

Based on the non-commercial Mil-spec British dive watches, both the 20 Atmos Militare and O.V.M. 39 are almost identical and still retain the charming appeal of Steinhart timepieces despite being executed differently that cater to the diverse watch collectors’ market of today.

Case Making In Its Blood

(OVM 39 VS. Militare)

A revived Squale model, the Ref.1545 20 Atmos shows off a classic dive watch design which retains the late 50s and 60s aesthetic except for several elements that have been improved over the years to stay relevant in the modern watch industry which places increasingly more emphasis on refinement and durability.

(Impeccable case finishings)

The Squale 20 Atmos Militare got the “Royal Navy” treatment in 2014 and while the case dimension remained consistent throughout its lifetime, upgrades such as an enhanced bezel finishing and fit were seen on the newer generations released in July 2018. These improvements include an improved case design, well defined smooth curves on the lugs and seamless satin finishing on its top surface angled towards its bracelet. Furthermore, its mirror-polished sides accentuate its sleek corners that do not bear any bevelling. This timepiece also features a 120-click unidirectional bezel with intricate full-polished grooves and its spacious width, broader than its mid-case, allows for easy operation.

(Squale’s signature at the bottom)

As with the 20 Atmos, Squale went with an upgraded bezel material, switching from the conventional aluminium to a ceramic insert in 2018. With engraved markings filled with shiny silver paint, complemented by a luminous pip within the engraved inverted triangle at 12 o’clock, the modern touches on this bezel bestows the watch with a robust feel.

Moreover, the screw-down 6mm “big crown” and decagon case back allowed for a water resistance of 200m. This timepiece is also built with a larger crown featuring satin grooves protected with pointed “beak” crown guards as well as a polished cap with the “Von Buren” sigma for easy operation. Flaunting a mixture of matte and polish finishing on its case back, this watch has a centralised “shark” logo which is flanged with essential information.

(Beautiful side-profile of the Squale)
(Upgraded ceramic bezel with engraved markings)

All in all, the 20 Atmos showcases unique traits in its exquisite execution while still retaining all the classic design cues of its collection which is testament to this watch case-maker’s 70 years of horological prowess.

In The “Case” Of Steinhart

Of the plethora of models Steinhart makes, the Ocean Vintage Military really stands out as a unique offering.

Zach Weiss, Wornandwound 2012

While the Ocean Vintage Military 39 was launched relatively later than 20 Atmos Militare, its origins date three years before the release of the 2014 Squale timepiece. Designed in Germany and manufactured in Switzerland, the Ocean Vintage Military 39 was Steinhart’s very first take on the “Royal Navy” aesthetic. During its launch in early 2011, this model fulfils the specifications of the MOD in the past built within Steinhart’s signature dive watch case.

(Brothers in arm)

The O.V.M. debuted with a 42mm case and a straight lugs design that graces it with a sportier look than timepieces from brands such as Squale, Sinn or Dievas. Hence, what makes this timepiece stand out is its ingenious combination of Steinhart’s classic ethos with unique Teutonic influences.

This watch shows off a more angular profile and boasts stunning straight brushings from the bezel to the tips of the pointed lugs instead of the typical angled satin-brush finishing on its top surface. This design allows for the lateral flow of these satin strokes which results in a sleek and functional tool watch look. Additionally, an angled satin finish is seen underneath the lugs and is contrasted by the full mirror polish on the sides of the watch case.

(OVM first launched with a 42mm wide case)

The bezel follows the satin-finish of the watch case which is complemented by deep grooves that elevate its overall athletic aesthetic. Its screw-down case back is also finished in the same satin-brush with a “Trojan” emblem debossed in its middle, flanked by its essential specifications. In line with its vintage theme, this timepiece is fitted with an aluminium insert that features the mil-spec 60-minute markings and a luminous pip with metal trims at 12 o’clock.

(Steinhart kept the 60-minute bezel with period-correct insert material)

The 39mm Ocean Vintage Militare released in 2017 embodied an intriguing vintage modernity. This model was also one of the first to sport a sized-down case while still maintaining the same polishing as the 42mm O.V.M., which allowed the overall finishing to be remarkably more intricate and refined. The bezel shows off softer grooves with a polish finish, akin to those found on the 20 Atmos Militare.

(Refined bezel and case finishing on the 39mm variant)
(The vertical satin brushed strokes on the case lugs)

Despite its smaller size, the O.V.M. still maintains its 300m water resistance and its screw-down crown which originally measured 6mm in width, akin to Squale’s esteemed “Big Crown”, had its tip expertly trimmed down to 4mm, resulting in a sleek stepped look. Hence, with its dial and crown sized appropriately, this timepiece boasts a seamless build with the substitution of the usual “Trident” figure on its case back with an engraved serial number, a first for Steinhart to feature on an ongoing production model.

(Trimmed down crown with blocky crown guards)

The 39mm Ocean Vintage military dive watch is the epitome of versatility and offers a more delicate feel on the wrist than the 42mm O.V.M. that elevates the premium status of this timepiece with these timely enhancements.

(Engraved serial case-back)

Distinct Dial Traits

Both the Squale 20 Atmos Militare and Steinhart O.V.M. 39 are reminiscent of the “Royal Navy” Mil-divers and measure 39/40mm. This section outlines the features in execution that distinguish each model.

Firstly, the domed sapphire crystals on both watches are installed differently. On the O.V.M. 39, the crystal protrudes slightly from its bezel which can be seen from its sides that creates a captivating depth between the crystal and dial. In contrast, the crystal that protects the Militare Ceramica is flush with its ceramic bezel insert which results in a satisfyingly symmetrical look.

(Difference in crystal settings, the Squale has a flushed crystal (bottom), whereas Steinhart has slightly protruding one (top)

Moreover, their varying bezel choices reveal what makes each brand’s unique take on the Mil-divers stand out. While Squale incorporates a more modern ceramic material for better durability and wearing, the Steinhart O.V.M. 39 retains its use of a vintage aluminium insert.

(Although it’s vintage theme, Squale gets a modern ceramic bezel)

Furthermore, Squale caters its Militare for wearers seeking divers with a modern built complemented by its nostalgic theme on its sober matte black dial featuring “maxi” lume plots and a clear non-framed date display at 3 o’clock.

Additionally, its broadsword handset flaunts glossy black paint on top of the exposed silver metal areas, allowing the handset to blend in with the dial that graces the watch with a professional tactical look without compromising legibility under poor lighting conditions. What’s more, the replacement of the “T” circle with Squale’s signature shark logo balances the dial aesthetic flawlessly, preserving its classic diver quirk.

(A date-display with the “shark” replacing the “T” circle)

However, Steinhart emulates the fundamental traits of the 70s Royal Navy dive watches as the O.V.M. 39 exudes a sense of familiarity especially seen on its matte black dial which looks slightly more charcoal grey than the Squale variant. Featuring a similar “maxi” lume plot that is a bit larger than the Militare, this timepiece boasts a significant Neo-vintage presence.

(Maintaining the 70s Royal Navy look)

Steinhart has maintained the original position of the text by cleverly adapting the “T” circle at the bottom of the dial, replacing it with “1” which alludes to the Ocean One series. In addition, its metal handset has a polish finish and its dateless dial is symmetrical which matches its overall design.

Comparable Finishing With Different Wearing Experience

The finishing on both models are almost identical yet distinctive in their own ways seen from the bezel grooves on the Squale Militare which are more compact and intricate than the sized-down Steinhart Ocean diver.

Another difference is seen on their crown guards. The top and bottom surfaces of the Militare’s crown guards each show off an elegantly sharp arch that transitions smoothly from a satin finish to a shiny mirror polish on its sides. In contrast, the O.V.M. 39 presents full satin flat crown guards that bestow the watch with an intoxicating robusity.

(Comparison in crown guards finishing)

Upon comparison, the case of the 20 Atmos Militare Ceramica flaunts a greater lustre than the O.V.M. 39, revealing the luxurious charm of the Squale timepiece and an elegant Teutonic allure of the Steinhart model.

(A Teutonic case-form from the German brand)

One interesting thing to note is that the Squale model wears slightly thicker and larger than the O.V.M. 39 even though it is 0.5mm thinner in height. This is due to the thicker mid-case profile of the Militare and its bulkier lugs. Measuring 5mm in thickness, the Militare has a slab side profile and curved lugs tip while the O.V.M. 39 has a 4.6mm angled side profile and lug ends. These differences result in a “slimmer” feel on the wrist for the O.V.M. 39 and a greater wrist presence for the Militare.

(Different execution in case profiles)

The Infallible Sports Bracelet

Defying the conventional “fixed bar” design, both timepieces came on sleek sports bracelets with a popular brick bond design that maintains the sturdy look characteristic of the “Royal Navy” dive watches. However, for wearers who prefer the fixed-bar strap styling, both watches allow for the removal of bracelets. This facilitates quick strap changes from an action-ready military NATO to a sporty tropic rubber strap or a vintage whip-stitched leather strap.

(Steinhart 16mm tapered bracelet with a slimmer clasp)
(Both comes with metal bands and solid end links)

Both the O.V.M. 39 and the Militare have solid end-links (the part holding the bracelet links, connecting with the case) that still remain sturdy even after a long time. One difference between their solid end-links is that the ones fitted on the Militare are manufactured in one piece whereas the ones on the O.V.M. 39 are built with a half centre link portion which needs another link to be connected to the remaining bracelet. As such, the Squale bracelet feels more modern but not as flexible as that on the Steinhart timepiece.

(Squale’s signed clasp (top) with extension (bottom)

Robustly fabricated, these solid links are screw-type to allow for sizing adjustments if needed. Both bracelets are finished with a sleek vertical brushing at the top surface contrasted with mirror-polished sides that matched the finishing on the watch cases marvellously. In line with Steinhart’s Neo-vintage theme, its bracelet is tapered from 20mm to 16mm as compared to that of Squale which is tapered from 20mm to18mm, gracing the Militare with a contemporary feel on the wrist. The Squale bracelet also boasts a signed clasp with a bi-folding diver’s extension that allows it to be worn over a wetsuit (or a sweater) which has yet to make its debut on the Steinhart bracelet.

“Fauxtina” Combo Seals The Deal

“Fauxtina” is a portmanteau of ”faux” and “patina”, a term that has gained traction over the years and is indeed worthy of its own segment. It refers to the application of luminous or non-luminous paint onto markers and handset that bestow it with a beautiful “aged” look. Ranging from a light beige tone to a burnt orange accent, the paint resembles the aged tritium or radium luminance on conditioned vintage watches. With a captivating vintage charm, these patina watches are prized over their “non-aged” lumed contemporaries.

(Fauxtina at best)

This retro-styled paints date back to the early 2000s and popularised by pieces like the Jaeger-LeCoultre Memovox Tribute To Polaris in 2008. Both Squale and Steinhart emulated this style ever since its early days and although these hues are considered vintage, they are made using a modern luminance material known as SuperLuminova which is physically sturdier than tritium and radium materials.

(Same goes for Squale)

The heated debate regarding the usage of these vintage-styled markers and handsets on modern timepieces might not be relevant to these two Mil-spec dive watches as their primary goal is to recreate a specific, almost 60 year old aesthetic. The undeniable retro vibes that the burnt orange accents give off fit flawlessly with the Royal Navy style as compared to pure white hues.

Always-Dependable Movements

Nearly a decade after the release of these two models, Steinhart and Squale fitted them with the most proven and reliable Swiss mechanical movements in the industry, the ETA 2824-2 or SW200-1.

(The SW200-1 within the OVM39)

Since 1982, the ETA 2824-2 has been a top industrial-styled, all-rounder mechanical movement whose production included Sellita back then. A 25 jewel self-winding movement with a date display function and a hacking system that allows wearers to set the time with great precision, the ETA 2824-2 operates at 28,800 bph (4 Hertz) and has a power reserve of approximately 40 hours. It also has Incabloc Novodiac shock protection along with a proprietary ETACHRON regulator system. Hence, both Steinhart and Squale incorporated this elaborated grade level calibre into their timepieces. Additionally, this movement is regulated in three positions that allow for an average accuracy rate of +/-7 seconds, with a maximum daily variation of +/-20 seconds.

(While the Militare Ceramica with a ETA 2824-2)

With the current scarcity of E.T.A. movements, the primary alternative comes from the equally reliable movement maker Sellita with its superb SW200-1 calibre which has been proven to be on par with the ETA 2824-2. Robustly built with an additional jewel, the SW200-1 movement offers excellent reliability and exceptional value that caters to wearers seeking reliable mechanical Swiss watches. Known for their incredible reliability and accuracy, this movement serves both watch brands and consumers meticulously and is considered to be one of the best workhorses throughout history.

Appetite For Nostalgia

Classic dive watches featuring unique design reinterpretations and historical military roots, the 20 Atmos and O.V.M. 39 are arguably two of the most exceptional and integral military dive models of all time.

(Exceptional military dive watch designs)

Drawing inspiration from the grand Royal Navy dive watch design which embodies nostalgia and passion, both models show off the flair in design seen on their 60s Mil-Sub and Mil-Seamaster 300 predecessors. The Militare and the O.V.M. 39 reveal the perfect synergy between the professional specifications established by one of the world’s most significant armed forces and the classic workmanship of the renowned watchmakers.

Both divers fall between the Neo-vintage genre and the luxurious premium category that often have such stratospheric prices that one is unable to bear the thought of wearing them on a daily basis. Hence, the O.V.M. 39 and 20 Atmos Militare present the watch community with nostalgic yet high quality timepieces that can withstand the wear and tear of everyday use at an affordable price.

(Perfect daily-beaters)

Both brands offer impressive builds and continue to hone their expertise in execution and finishing till date. Daily divers with versatility and poise that match any outfit from casual beach wear to formal attire. Craving a novel horological experience? Strap each diver on an admiralty grey NATO strap to recreate the way they were worn by the Royal Navies.

Individual Thoughts

With an authentic design specified by the British Army that required a proper aging process, the Royal Navy dive watches had proven to be the most attractive pieces amongst the multitude of vintage divers that set the standard for this genre even until today. Each exquisite diver showcases “tropical” hour markers, a broadsword hour hand done in a matching caramel hue and a second hand designed with an arrow tip. It is worthy to note that the classic, proven case structure of these timepieces which had been popularised over the past 60 years is still a big hit today.

(A coveted design, and packed with values)

Despite the scarcity and exorbitant prices of vintage dive watches, watch enthusiasts like us never wavered in our search for attainable vintage variants. As such, upon hearing our hopes for affordable vintage pieces, Steinhart and Squale released their unique reinterpretations of the Royal Navy design, offering well-executed everyday watches capped at reasonable prices.

Despite the difficulty to recreate the iconic style of the Royal Navy dive watches, both models are reminiscent of coveted vintage divers. Thus, they allow us to experience the feel of a Royal Navy diver on the wrist with minor upgrades such as the ceramic bezel and blackout handset on the Squale as well as the angled case design, characteristic of Steinhart Ocean dive watches. Ever since their debut almost a decade ago, these timepieces were deemed to be proper everyday watches that stood out from the rest with high quality while not being overly complicated. Not only do these military dive watches have substantial value for money, they also show off captivating designs that fuel the passion of watch enthusiasts

(One a classic modern interpretation with a classic case-form; another with the Teutonic appeal with vintage charm)

Overall, upon comparison, the Squale 20 Atmos showcases a contemporary take of a classic dive watch while the Steinhart O.V.M. 39 stays true to exact mil-spec cues and retains the Teutonic case form, presenting a vintage dive watch reinterpretation. Regardless of their differences, it is heartening to see the two esteemed watchmakers reviving a popular diver design of the past.


Today, many dive watches incorporate vintage design elements, be it through a change in typical case form, svelte sizing, materials or the inclusion of “fauxtina” markers. Upon hindsight, the immense influence of the British military dive watches, in particular the first few Mil-Sub pieces and the Seamaster 300, on the watch industry is evident. Today, the old-school British Military specifications establish the standards of a classic dive watch and constitute the main appeal of these gorgeous timepieces.

(A watch theme that stood through time, and will continue to do so)

Expertly designed and finished flawlessly, both the Squale 20 Atmos Militare Ceramica and Steinhart Ocean Vintage Military 39 are crafted with a reliable Swiss mechanical movement that allows wearers to enjoy these vintage novelties anywhere and anytime. With a reasonable price of $499USD to $570USD, both timepieces are worthy and attainable additions to any watch collection.

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