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Water resistant vs waterproof watch: What these categorizations actually mean

The differences between waterproof and water resistant watches

Omega Seamaster Diver 300M
Omega

In the world of men’s watches, the terms “waterproof” and “water-resistant” often get intertwined, yet they signify distinct characteristics crucial for choosing the right timepiece. Let’s delve into the nuances of a water-resistant vs waterproof watch and how they might impact your selection process.

Omega Seamaster Diver 300M
Omega

Water resistant vs waterproof: What is the difference?

In the realm of horology, the differences between a water-resistant and waterproof watch often elude enthusiasts. While colloquially used interchangeably, these terms unveil distinct characteristics in watch durability.

What does water resistance mean?

Water-resistant watches: These timepieces boast a degree of resistance against water, indicating their capability to withstand moisture to a certain extent. Every watch, irrespective of brand or model, features varying levels of water resistance, typically ranging from 1 ATM (10 meters) to 30 ATM (300 meters) and sometimes even surpassing these thresholds.

What does waterproof mean?

Waterproof watches: On the other hand, a waterproof watch signifies a higher echelon of water resistance, epitomizing a timepiece’s imperviousness to water penetration. It suggests that under no circumstance should water get into the watch case and infiltrate its internal mechanisms. However, it’s important to acknowledge that even the most impeccable watches undergo gradual permeation over time due to natural aging processes and prolonged exposure to extreme environmental conditions.

In a nutshell, a waterproof watch can be used by James Bond when he dives to the bottom of the ocean looking for a suitcase full of money off the coast of Puerto Rico, whereas a water-resistant watch can be worn by the average Joe on his commute to the office, even when it’s raining heavily and he forgot his umbrella.

Maintaining integrity: The role of seals

The integrity of a waterproof or water-resistant watch heavily relies on the efficacy of its seals, typically composed of rubber or plastic. These seals are instrumental in fortifying the watch’s construction, preventing water from invading its delicate components. Nonetheless, prolonged exposure to extreme temperatures can expedite seal degradation, making it necessary to have periodic servicing—ideally every two years—to ensure optimal functionality.

Omega Seamaster on model
Omega

Deciphering water resistance ratings

While modern timepieces prominently display water resistance ratings on their casebacks, interpreting these metrics isn’t always straightforward. Contrary to popular belief, the indicated water resistance doesn’t equate to a watch’s safe operational depth in aquatic environments. For instance, a watch boasting a 100m water resistance might not sustain prolonged exposure to such depths without risking damage.

Terms like “atmosphere” (ATM) and “bar” serve as vital metrics, telling you about a watch’s resilience against external pressures. ATM, shorthand for atmosphere, represents the atmospheric pressure at sea level. Conversely, a bar signifies a unit of pressure equivalent to one atmosphere. 1 ATM roughly corresponds to 10 meters or approximately 30 feet of water pressure.

Regulatory framework: ISO standards

To streamline water resistance standards within the watchmaking industry, regulatory bodies like the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) have instituted comprehensive guidelines. ISO 2281, established in 1990, delineates rigorous testing protocols encompassing condensation tests, air resistance assessments, and water pressure evaluations, among others. This standard also prohibits the use of the term “waterproof” to describe timepieces.

Building upon ISO 2281, the ISO 6425 standard, introduced in 1996, sets forth stringent criteria for watches capable of withstanding depths exceeding 100 meters. These criteria encompass an array of tests, including reliability assessments, saltwater resistance evaluations, and protocols for mixed-gas diving functions—a testament to the standard’s encompassing nature and commitment to ensuring timepiece reliability in demanding ocean settings.

Omega Seamaster Co-Axial Chronometer dial
Omega

Frequently asked questions

Can I swim with a water-resistant watch?

Yes, you can swim with a water-resistant watch, but the level of water resistance determines its suitability for aquatic activities. Watches with higher water resistance ratings, typically measured in bars (BAR), atmospheres (ATM), or meters (m), are designed to withstand immersion in water without damage.

Check the water resistance rating: Ensure your watch is rated for swimming by checking its water resistance specifications. A rating of at least 10 BAR or 100 meters is generally considered suitable for swimming.

Consider water activities: While some water-resistant watches are suitable for swimming, others may be specifically designed for diving or high-impact water sports. Understand the intended use of your watch to ensure it meets your needs.

Regular maintenance: Even with a water-resistant watch, it is essential to preserve its water-resistance capabilities. Ensure seals are intact and the watch undergoes periodic servicing to maintain its waterproofing.

Is waterproof better than water-resistant?

While the terms “waterproof” and “water-resistant” are often used interchangeably, there exists a distinct difference between the two when it comes to watches. “Waterproof” suggests a higher level of protection against water infiltration compared to “water-resistant.” A waterproof watch is designed to withstand submersion in water for an extended period without sustaining damage, making it suitable for activities like diving or swimming in deep waters. On the other hand, a water-resistant watch can resist water to a certain degree but may not be entirely protected against moisture, making it more suitable for everyday wear or light water exposure. This means in terms of water protection, a waterproof watch offers superior performance and reliability in wet environments compared to a water-resistant one.

What does a 50m water-resistant watch mean?

A watch labeled as “50m water resistant” indicates that it can withstand water pressure equivalent to a depth of 50 meters. However, this does not mean that the watch is suitable for activities such as diving or high-speed water sports. Instead, it suggests that the watch is generally safe for swimming and showering, as well as other everyday activities involving exposure to water. Therefore, while a 50m water-resistant watch can handle swimming and light water exposure, it’s advisable to avoid exposing it to significant water pressure or sudden temperature changes if you want it to last you a while.

Can you shower with a 50m water-resistant watch?

Showering with a 50m water-resistant watch may seem plausible given its designation, but it’s generally not recommended. While the watch can withstand light splashes and brief exposure to water, such as washing hands, its water resistance doesn’t guarantee protection against the sustained water pressure and temperature fluctuations experienced during a shower. Despite the 50m rating suggesting some level of water resilience, it’s important to exercise caution and avoid submerging the watch underwater during activities like showering. Consistent exposure to water, soap, and steam in a shower environment can potentially compromise the watch’s integrity over time, leading to damage to its internal components.

Seiko Prospex SSC813
Seiko

A waterproof vs. resistant watch

Understanding the distinction between waterproof and water-resistant watches is crucial for ensuring the longevity and functionality of timepieces in various environments. While the term “waterproof” implies complete impermeability to water, it’s essential to recognize that no watch is entirely waterproof. Instead, watches are typically labeled as water resistant, indicating their ability to withstand exposure to water to varying degrees. This distinction is significant, as water resistance levels determine the watch’s suitability for different activities involving water, such as swimming, showering, or diving.

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Sarah Veldman
Freelance Writer
Sarah has been a freelance writer for over 7 years now, having started while she was living out of a suitcase and traveling…
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