Waterproof vs Water Resistant Timepieces

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Gentleman's Division

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When it comes to purchasing your new timepiece, there are dozens of preferences, variables, and options to consider. One feature which often causes confusion is the notion of a water resistant or a waterproof watch. We thought we’d take a look at the different definitions to help you understand the terminology before you ‘splash out’ (sorry!) on your new watch.

Waterproof vs Water Resistant

Let’s begin with the term ‘waterproof’, which is defined as when something is ‘impervious to water’. How does that compare to ‘water resistance’? The definition of this is when something is ‘able to resist the penetration of water to some degree but not entirely’. From a dictionary definition point of view, that’s extremely clear – so why do the differences cause confusion when it comes to describing watches?

Can a Watch Be Waterproof?

There are dozens of active threads on internet forums debating the pros and cons of waterproof vs water resistant timepieces, but what may come as a surprise is that, actually, there is no such thing as a waterproof watch. It is a misnomer to describe them as such, because no watch is truly waterproof. Some may say this is pedantry: for example, although Rolex’s Deep Sea watch is “water resistant” to an enormous depth (far deeper than a human could survive), the watch is not considered “water proof.” The term was taken out of use in the 1960s when the Federal Trade Commission investigated transparency of product labeling and advertising. The International Organisation of Standardisation issued a standard in 1990, now adopted by many countries, to define the level of water resistance and to prohibit the use of the term ‘waterproof’.

How to Choose Your Watch Based on its Water Resistance

Now we know we are only considering the level of water resistance makes things a lot easier when looking for a new watch. It means you don’t have to waste time trying to decide whether you want a waterproof or a water resistant watch. You merely need to consider how water resistant you need your watch to be, which is a far easier task.

‘Water resistant’ is a common stamp on the back of a watch to indicate how well it is sealed against water. It is often accompanied by a water depth in metres (or sometimes units of pressure like ‘bars’ or ‘atmospheres’) to indicate the static test pressure that particular model of watch has undergone.

There now exists water resistance classifications, formulated into tables like this one from Casio, which can indicate the depth of water resistance in metres, and atmospheric pressure. There is also a description of the suitability of a watch that has that level of resistance on this version of the table. Watches can range from 3atm/30m, suitable for everyday use, such as luxury fashion watches, all the way up to 300+m, for divers’ watches used in a helium rich environment. By using these tables, and considering the circumstances in which you’ll be  wearing your timepiece, you should be able to choose the level of water resistance for the watch that is right for you.

Image source: Tid Watches