Dive watches make us feel invincible. While most of us sit at desks, divers quietly cling to our wrists and whisper to us that we are ready for anything, that we are risk-takers and explorers. With the right tool watch with credibility, that whisper amplifies to a loud motivational speech encouraging us to be thrill-seekers. However, earning that level of underwater credibility is difficult for watch companies. Not only are mechanical dive watches really not necessary to time a dive anymore, but every watch brand has at least one in its collection. Many of these brands have no history with real scuba diving, so how do they convince consumers that they’re selling true timekeeping instruments instead of watches with a high water resistance rating and unidirectional rotating bezels?
Oris does it through, yes, endorsements (Carlos Coste) but also unique, undeniably tool-like aesthetics and innovation. Some Oris divers have cases with curves reminiscent of submarines and boast 46mm sizes–there’s really no mistaking these for anything other than scuba diving watches. At Baselworld in 2013, Oris swept the diving category with its Aquis Depth Gauge model. We reviewed the Oris Aquis before, and the Depth Gauge combines the refined tool diver look that we love about the original Aquis with a crystal design that enables divers to see how deep underwater they are at any given moment. Sure, modern dive computers provide this information to the diver, but the complication represents added security to the wearer as it can be used as a backup depth gauge.
The Aquis dial, now with more depth gauge
At first glance, there doesn’t seem to be much different about this model from the Aquis. The matte black dial, applied luminous hour markers and bold hands from the Aquis Date are present. On closer inspection, however, you’ll notice its pressure resistance rating is upped to 500m and red text above the date aperture at 6 o’clock reads “DEPTH GAUGE.”
A domed anti-reflective sapphire crystal protects the dial just the same as in the Aquis Date, but it’s 50% thicker than that of the Aquis Date and you’ll notice a semicircular cut in the crystal at the 12 o’clock position, which is an opening to a channel that runs around the dial between the crystal and the case until about 1 o’clock, or 100m. This is where the depth gauge begins.
Here’s how it works: As you descend, the surrounding water pressure causes the air in this channel to compress, allowing water to enter. Boyle’s Law, an experimental gas law, is the fundamental principle behind this novel measurement system. The law essentially stipulates that the pressure of a gas tends to increase as the volume of a gas decreases. More water in the channel means there is less gas in the channel, which means the pressure, or depth, is increasing. As water enters through the 12 o’clock position and pressure increases, water will continue to push its way counterclockwise through the channel, darkening it. You can read the depth level using the yellow scale around the outside of the dial on the underside of the crystal. Where the water, or darker line, stops is how deep underwater you are.
What I love about the implementation of this gauge is that, like any great tool, it’s there when you need it and gone when you don’t. In fact, one could miss the depth gauge on first glance, and that’s great thing because so many alternatives, from those by Citizen to Jaeger LeCoultre, rely so much aesthetically on the presence of these gauges that it’s almost silly to wear them outside of the water. Oris is one of the few brands out there that can manufacture a serious tool watch like this that still looks good on the wrist even if you don’t know how to swim.
Behold a wearable 46mm case
I have a rule of thumb about Oris divers: take the case width specs and subtract 2mm; that’s how the watch wears on the wrist. While the Depth Gauge clocks in at 46mm, it wears like a 44mm watch. But it feels like 46mm watch. It’s heavy. Even if you wear 44mm watches regularly, this is going to be heftier than most of them, so you need not only a 7″ or bigger wrist to pull this off but also an appetite for a weighty piece. If you enjoy Oris and divers in general, this won’t be an issue for you. Surprisingly, it’s 15mm thick, which isn’t bad for a 46mm watch and that only helps make this even more wearable than you would expect.
Aside from the sizing, the general design of the case remains unchanged. The back of the case maintains a larger diameter than the front, contributing to its wearability. A black textured ceramic bezel protrudes just slightly from the sides of the case making it easy to grip and operate underwater or on land. The notched, polished and signed crown is large, measuring about 5mm in width, and is extremely easy to turn. Just like with the Aquis Date, the sides of the case are brushed while the top of the short, angular lugs are mirror polished.
The case back on the Depth Gauge is solid steel instead of transparent sapphire, so you’re not going to be able to see the red rotor, but you’re getting added water resistance in the tradeoff. In place of the view of the movement, there’s a lightly etched recreation of the depth gauge with the words “Patent Pending” nearby. Inside the case is the Selitta SW-200, same as in the regular Aquis. It’s a proven reliable and rugged movement that gets the job done.
Full kit included
The Depth Gauge comes on a steel bracelet with polished outer links and brushed inner links. Instead of a diver’s helmet shaped box, this one comes in a water resistant Pelican-style case with a rubber strap and springbar tool. I’m a big fan of Oris bracelets and straps. The steel bracelet is perfect for desk divers who enjoy the rugged appearance but want to feel like they’re wearing a nice watch. The Italian rubber strap is also great for everyday wear; however, it has one advantage over the bracelet which is its clasp.
I wish the steel bracelet used the same deployant buckle as the rubber strap. We wrote about this in our Aquis review, but the buckle on the rubber strap has a great on-the-fly adjustment system that, of course, works well for slipping the watch over a wet suit but also makes for easy everyday adjustments in response to weather or weight changes. Oris divers do have integrated lug and bracelet systems, so aftermarket straps are out of the question, but I honestly don’t think they’re necessary. Oris gets the details right when it comes to their straps and bracelets, as they tend to be well made and comfortable.
The Final Word
Oris’s Depth Gauge model retails for $3,500, which is an extraordinary deal when you consider both what comes in the kit and your alternatives. Watches with mechanical depth gauges are expensive. Watches like the Jaeger LeCoultre Master Compressor Pro Diving Geographic and the Favre Leuba Bathy will set you back over $20,000. In order to find something priced more sensibly, you’d need to go the quartz route with, say, a Citizen Aqualand or a Tissot Sea-Touch, which will run you $500-1,000.
Oris is one of few brands that can produce watches that can effortlessly cross over into civilian and professional territory, and perhaps the only brand that can do it this well for such affordable prices. If the average dive watch can give me a boost of confidence, then a luxurious diving instrument like this is likely to make me feel untouchable–and get me into trouble. For that reason, I’m thankful my wrist isn’t equipped to handle its monstrous case.