Home Featured Article In-Depth: Why No Watch Is ‘Waterproof’

In-Depth: Why No Watch Is ‘Waterproof’

by Jack Forster

One of many (many) pet peeves of the self-described watch fanatic is the quantity of verbiage on fashionable watches, though this isn’t significantly a function of solely fashionable watches – I suppose within the days when computerized winding techniques had been pretty novel, having that function referred to as out on the dial of a watch would assist it stand out from the group in a jeweler’s show case. Descriptive verbiage appears to very a lot be a phenomenon related to wristwatches slightly than pocket watches, which as a rule carried little or no such info on their dials or instances. However as wristwatches progressively displaced pocket watches and commenced to dramatically diversify in performance and function, phrases crept progressively onto watch dials, and as nicely, watch instances, with larger and larger frequency. 


One phrase which used to seem very often is “waterproof,” and naturally, the time period appeared in commercials as nicely – and why not? Who would not desire a watch that is waterproof, in spite of everything? Water is the only best enemy of watchmaking. If water will get right into a watch case, it’s going to, to start with, take its personal candy time about getting out, and as many mission-critical components are made from supplies which is able to rapidly and cheerfully corrode if moistened, protecting water out, to the extent that it’s attainable, is definitely a helpful function and one nicely value promoting besides. Not solely that, however aitch two oh can even play hob with the end of watch dials, and lots of an older watch bears upon its face the blemishes wrought not simply by time, however by the Common Solvent as nicely.

Commercial for the Depollier waterproof watch, initially revealed in Aerial Age journal, March 1920.

Waltham Depollier “waterproof” wristlet watch, circa 1920. Marketed as waterproof, dustproof, and insulated in opposition to temperature shock, a Depollier watch was worn by pilot Roland Rohlf when he set a world altitude file of 34,610 ft, in 1919.

Now, in case you start to spend a lot time round watches and classic watches, sooner or later, you might be apt to note that the phrase “waterproof” is current on some watches however not on others, and it could happen to you to surprise why it’s that some watches boast of waterproofness, whereas others extra circumspectly merely say “water-proof” – usually with the latter certified when it comes to the meters or ft of immersion to which the watch could be anticipated to stay unhurt. The entire historical past of waterproof and water-proof watches, by the way in which, is an extended and most fascinating one, and it goes again quite a bit additional than many people may suspect – water having been regarded with enmity by watchmakers and watch homeowners for most likely so long as there have been watches (and clocks; many early verge clocks had iron actions, and the centuries have carried out their harmful work in fairly a couple of instances; there are a number of fascinating accounts on-line of the event of early waterproof watches, including this one).

Claims of “proofness,” after all, usually are not absolute – otherwise you would suppose they’d be understood to not be, however one ought to by no means underestimate the power of the Common Public to misread, nor the will of watch advertisers to aim to create an aura of invulnerability for his or her merchandise. Water proof, in spite of everything, is just not strictly talking a time period that permits for any exceptions – it simply implies that the watch is, nicely, proof in opposition to water, and with no additional {qualifications}, the reader of an commercial boasting of waterproofness, and seeing the time period on a case or dial, could be apt to probably overestimate the water resistance of a watch, with doubtlessly critical penalties. Watch producers and sellers nonetheless cheerfully used the time period with impunity till, in the USA, the Federal Commerce Fee acquired concerned, in 1960 (it could have been even earlier, however the oldest archived FTC pointers for the watch {industry} I’ve been capable of finding date from that year)

The FTC’s motion to attempt to at the least put some guardrails in place when it comes to reality in promoting was meant to make clear to the typically probably literal-minded readers of advertisements that what they had been advised they had been getting, was not essentially what they could have thought they had been getting. Particularly, the FTC was responding to said ensures in watch promoting which provided “assured” waterproofness, in addition to shock proofness, proofness in opposition to magnetism, and so forth. 

The rules had been relevant, naturally, solely to the U.S. market. Nevertheless, the purpose appears to have been taken by the watch {industry} as an entire, and the time period “waterproof” progressively started to fall out of favor within the 1960s, to get replaced with the time period “water-proof,” and infrequently with a press release of the particular depth to which static testing had indicated that resistance might be relied on. As we speak, each watch fanatic most likely is aware of the designations for the requirements by coronary heart: ISO 2281, for “water-proof” watches, and the accompanying, extra rigorous ISO 6425, for diver’s watches. The industry-wide adoption of those requirements so totally substituted for the time period “waterproof” that it merely grew to become extinct, which is why you’ll search in useless at the moment for an commercial boast {that a} watch is waterproof. 

Water resistance testing at Rolex (picture courtesy Rolex).

Or will you? The FTC issued a decision in 1999, rescinding the watch pointers as not related, citing the worldwide requirements and the widespread, certainly just about common, adherence to them. Absent any pointers from the FTC, nevertheless, the time period appears to be creeping again, at least in some quarters. Oddly sufficient, the time period as utilized to watches has seen one thing of a resurrection within the client electronics press – thanks partly to the event of smartwatches just like the Apple Watch and health trackers, which deliver the query of water resistance of a wristwatch to an entire technology of shoppers who may by no means have thought to surprise about it earlier than. The time period nonetheless appears to withstand being reborn within the area of mechanical watches, nevertheless, and this even though water proofness, because of many many years of technical enhancements, might be claimed now for a mechanical watch (particularly a dive watch) extra plausibly than ever earlier than. Maybe it’s going to make a comeback there as nicely, nevertheless – the appeal of promised perfection could show too nice to disregard.

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