What does water resistance actually mean and do we really need it?

I live in London: a city choked by congestion, red buses, black taxis, and the occasional hooray Henry in a multicoloured blazer. Yet despite that, every other car on the road is a 4x4, or, in modern marketing speak, a ‘sports utility vehicle’.

These cars are certainly not sporty and in no way useful: the closest you come to urban off-roading is the ‘up’ ramp in a multi-storey car park. And yet Land Rovers are not only ubiquitous in the capital and its suburbs, but also objects of coveted desire.

It’s easy to understand why. The rugged off-road capability of such vehicles makes even the most ordinary of urban commuters feel like an adventurer. But these would-be explorers are going nowhere perilous: with the possible exception of the Boxing Day sales.

It’s the same with water resistant watches. The aesthetic appeal is undeniable, but for most people, their sportiness and utility are wasted. Instead, these pieces of metal are totems of an aspirational lifestyle. And that’s the sheer joy of them: rugged cars and watches have the incredible power to transform our lives into something a little more intrepid and thrilling than they would be otherwise.

But it’s not all just smoke and mirrors. Splash resistance is a useful feature, especially these days when we’re all enjoined to wash our hands every two minutes. And in case you want to wear your watch in the shower (or simply forget that you have it on) proper water resistance is handy too: especially if you’re planning on doing some sea swimming or even a bit of snorkelling.

Nodus Sector Field

The Nodus Sector Field - Image credit WatchGecko.

But how many of us have ever ventured below even 10 metres? Despite the fact that I own four dive watches, I’d be absolutely terrified. Leaving my own personal cowardice aside, I could imagine that an apparent 30 metres of water resistance (as offered by most watches) might be useful. But who – other than an aspiring Jacques Cousteau – might conceivably need the 300 metres of water resistance featured by the Rolex Submariner? Or especially the 3900 metres that characterises the Deep Sea version? Not that it stops you wanting them of course. The more the resistance, the greater the attraction (there’s a moral in there somewhere).

Of course, before taking a view, it’s important to understand what water resistance actually means. When you see ’30 metres’ of water resistance on a dial, this isn’t guaranteeing that your watch will be fine when submerged 30 metres below sea level. Instead, it means that it should in theory withstand the pressure exerted by 30 metres of depth. In reality, it’s best to treat these watches as splash proof: for any serious swimming or snorkelling (or even showering) you really want to see at least ‘100 metres’ on the specification. When it comes to actual diving, you need a watch that’s marked to ISO 6425 standard (or described specifically as a dive watch, because some manufacturers prefer to do their own tests).

So perhaps the biggest argument ‘against’ water resistance is that it doesn’t even actually exist. At least not in the way that most people imagine…