In-Depth: Why No Watch Is ‘Waterproof’

By Jack Forster

One of the (many) pet peeves of the self-described watch enthusiast is the amount of verbiage on modern watches, although this is not particularly a feature of only modern watches – I suppose in the days when automatic winding systems were fairly novel, having that feature called out on the dial of a watch would help it stand out from the crowd in a jeweler’s display case. Descriptive verbiage seems to very much be a phenomenon associated with wristwatches rather than pocket watches, which as a rule carried little or no such information on their dials or cases. But as wristwatches gradually displaced pocket watches and began to dramatically diversify in functionality and purpose, words crept gradually onto watch dials, and as well, watch cases, with greater and greater frequency.

“Water resistant”

One word which used to appear quite often is “waterproof,” and naturally, the term appeared in advertisements as well – and why not? Who wouldn’t want a watch that’s waterproof, after all? Water is the single greatest enemy of watchmaking. If water gets into a watch case, it will, first of all, take its own sweet time about getting out, and as many mission-critical parts are made of materials which will quickly and cheerfully corrode if moistened, keeping water out, to the extent that it is possible, is surely a useful feature and one well worth advertising to boot. Not only that, but aitch two oh will also play hob with the finish of watch dials, and many an older watch bears upon its face the blemishes wrought not just by time, but by the Universal Solvent as well.

Advertisement for the Depollier waterproof watch, originally published in Aerial Age magazine, March 1920.

Waltham Depollier “waterproof” wristlet watch, circa 1920. Advertised as waterproof, dustproof, and insulated against temperature shock, a Depollier watch was worn by pilot Roland Rohlf when he set a world altitude record of 34,610 feet, in 1919.

Now, if you begin to spend much time around watches and vintage watches, at some point, you are apt to notice that the word “waterproof” is present on some watches but not on others, and it may occur to you to wonder why it is that some watches boast of waterproofness, while others more circumspectly simply say “water resistant” – often with the latter qualified in terms of the meters or feet …read more      

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