The history of using watches underwater and making watches that are water resistant goes back to perhaps the 17th century. In the 19th century water and dust resistant watches were usually custom made for a particular customer and described as "Explorer's Watches". Early in the 20th century such watches were industrially produced for military and commercial distribution. Like their predecessors early 20th century dive watches were developed in response to meet the needs of several different but related groups: explorers, navies, and professional divers.
In 1926, Rolex bought the patent for the “Oyster” watch case, featuring a hermetic (air tight) seal. In 1927 an English swimmer, Mercedes Gleitze attempted to cross the English Channel with a new Rolex Oyster hanging round her neck by a ribbon on this swim. After more than 10 hours in the chilly water the watch remained sealed and kept good time.
Omega is credited as the creator of the world's first industrially produced diving watch intended for commercial distribution, the rectangular Omega "Marine" with a patented double sliding and removable case, introduced in 1932. After a series of trials undertaken by the Swiss Laboratory for Horology in Neuchâtel in May 1937, the watch was certified as being able to withstand a pressure of 1.37 MPa (13.5 atm), equivalent to a depth of 135 m (443 ft), without any water intake whatsoever.
Following a request made by the Royal Italian Navy, in September 1935, for a luminous underwater watch for divers, Panerai offered "Radiomir" underwater timepieces in 1936. These watches were made by Rolex for Panerai.
In 1953, Lip-Blancpain's Fifty Fathoms waterproof watch came on the market in France. Various models were issued by Blancpain in small quantities to the military in several countries, including US and French Navy combat diver teams.
Diver watches and water resistant watches are now some of the most sought after wristwatches in the market and loved and owned by land and sea adventurers alike!