The First Waterproof Sports Watches (english version)

Water-resistance, a major technical challenge for wristwatches

Once the watch leaves the pocket and ends up on its owner's wrist, technical solutions to protect the watch movement emerge. Objective: to protect the crown, push-buttons, glass and its gasket as well as the case back from humidity. The resistance of the watches was improved by two innovations: automatic winding, which prevents the case and the crown winding stem from being weakened, and waterproof cases, which gradually became truly water-resistant. The self-winding wristwatch was made by an English watchmaker from the Isle of Man, John Harwood. He filed a patent in 1923, but in 1931 Rolex developed and improved this 360° automatic winding rotor housed in an independent case-back housing. The water-resistant, or at least waterproof, cases predate this major innovation.

The François Borgel waterproof case

Records of the first water-resistant cases date back to the end of the 19th century. Aaron Dennison, in 1872, then Ezra Fitch, in 1879 and 1881, laid the foundations for this technical revolution by filing various patents. These inspired the Alcide Droz & Fils manufacture to create a water-resistant case. This was the origin of the first screw-down water-resistant case, patented in 1891 by the Geneva manufacturer François Borgel, which had a major impact on the development of water-resistant watches.

The first water-resistant wristwatches

The founder of Rolex, Hans Wildorf started using François Borgel's water-resistant case. In 1926, the Rolex Oyster became the first waterproof wristwatch. Proof of the remarkable efficiency of its hermetically sealed case and screw-down crown was demonstrated to the world through the feat of a British swimmer, Mercedes Gleitze. In 1927, she crossed the English Channel for over 15 hours with the Oyster on her wrist. In 1953, the Rolex Submariner became the first water-resistant "diver" and turned the prestigious watchmaker into the world leader in this field. In the meantime, in the early 1940s, Taubert & Fils, which took over the house of François Borgel, developed a water-resistant case with a screw-down back. This decagonal case became a key element in the manufacture of water-resistant chronographs. These complex watches feature an independent timing mechanism, triggered and reset by pushers, all precision elements that require optimal protection. Taubert & Fils becomes the preferred supplier of water-resistant cases for big names in watchmaking, such as Mido, Movado and Patek Philippe.

Image from © David Boettcher

Patek Philippe reference 1463, first chronograph water resistant in the world

The Patek Philippe reference 1463 was created in 1940. It is the first dust and weather resistant wristwatch with chronograph. Still in production until 1965, it is distinguished by its decagonal screw-down case back design supplied by Borgel/Taubert and by its "sunshine" push buttons. A design that can be found on other François Borgel chronographs of the era, such as the Mido MCC (Multi Center Chronograph). The 1463 Patek Philippe reference watch revolutionized waterproof sports watches while imposing its unique style in the world of vintage chronographs.

Patek Philippe Ref. 1463 with decagonal caseback
Image from © David Boettcher

The finest vintage water-resistant sports watches of all time.

At auctions at Phillips or Christie's, water-resistant sports watches are testimony to the historical innovations behind the efficiency of our contemporary watches and often cost huge sums of money. Below are some of the most sought-after water-resistant sports watches for collectors:

  • Patek Philippe reference 1463 (1940-1965), considered historically as the first waterresistant chronograph in history and the most-wanted among collectors, a kind of Holy Grail in collector's watches. Its "pump" push-pieces with "sun" decoration make it a highly appreciated watch with many desirable features.
  • Omega Seamaster (1948), a diver's watch which accompanied James Bond in various opus.
  • Rolex Submariner (1953), the first water-resistant watch at a depth of 100 meters.
  • Blancpain Fifthy Fathoms (1953), a military diver's watch adopted by Cousteau and water-resistant to a depth of "50 fathoms", i.e. almost 100 meters (91.45 m).
  • Breitling Superocean (1957),a diver's watch created for the military and professional divers.
  • Jaeger-LeCoultre Memovox Deep Sea (1959), the first diver's watch with alarm.
  • Vulcain Cricket Nautical (1961), a watch that is water-resistant to 300 metres and remains audible in all circumstances.

" Tasti Tondi " Ref. 1011-A

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