Today, watches of varying styles and functions exist to accommodate the demands of people’s different lifestyles. There’s a balance between fashion and functionality. However, certain watches lean more to one of both sides on this scale. One debate among watch collectors is knowing which is better – chronographs or dive watches. Both tell time yet both offer a unique advantage that caters to a specific need. 

What’s the difference between the two?

Popularized in the 20th century, the chronograph is known for its stopwatch function. This watch has buttons that allow its wearer to start, stop, and reset the timer without interfering with its time-telling function. This watch records from 30 minutes up to 12 hours and reflects the recorded time (in elapsed seconds, minutes, or hours) through the subdials of the watch. There are different chronograph scales or bezels, each tailored for a specific purpose. 

Tachymeters are the most common bezel for chronographs that measure average speed over a measured distance. Utilizing this watch function may need a bit of studying beforehand so users often opt to use their phones as an easier way to measure speed. In fact, most chronograph owners have this watch not for its precision but for the vintage nostalgic charm offered by its traditional bezels. Telemeters are used by timing the difference between seeing an event and hearing it, allowing the watch owner to know how far off an audible event is. There are so many more chronographs that cater to even more specific tasks. This includes production-counting chronograph (number of outputs produced per hour); memo chronographs (reminds you of your appointments); the tide/regatta chronograph (measures elapsed time towards the start of a Regatta); and the direction-finding chronograph (has a compass).

The dive watch, on the other hand, is well-known for its water-resistant function. It is made for people who are more likely exposed to wet or very active environments, such as explorers and soldiers for World War II. The features of a dive watch is made so that it is safe to use in wet environments. Its band and bezel are made of corrosion-resistant metals so that the watch does not rust when in constant contact with water. The bezel rotates counter-clockwise, and is able to show how long the diver has been under. The hour markers of the watch are Hindu-Arabic numbers, with the face of the watch enclosed in sapphire or mineral glass. This makes the watch easy to read despite being under water. Alongside these features, dive watches still provide a slick and sophisticated look, making it a suitable watch for casual, business casual, or business formal events. 

Given these unique features, how exactly do chronographs and dive watches differ?

Chronographs are more precise in telling time 

Chronographs have subdials, whereas dive watches do not. Chronographs can have up to three subdials – one each to show the elapsed hours, minutes, and hours. However, most chronographs opt to have only two subdials (for elapsed minutes and seconds) for a cleaner look. Dive watches do not have any subdials so elapsed time cannot be measured unless one uses its bezel. This bezel accounts for one hour and can only measure elapsed minutes since dives typically take less than an hour. 

As a result, chronographs are more precise in telling time because you can see the elapsed time in multiple units (i.e. you can read elapsed time in seconds, minutes, and hours) rather than just reading elapsed time in minutes. But the question of practicality comes in. The precision of a chronograph can be handy, depending on its use. For everyday tasks, there is no need to measure elapsed time to the second. Measuring the minutes passed is enough – a function that both the chronograph and dive watch can do very well.

Dive watches are simpler and more versatile

With chronographs having multiple subdials and dive watches having just one bezel, the latter are seen as simpler watches. However, there is a purpose for its simplicity. The dive watches’ aforementioned bezels are unidirectional. It only moves counter-clockwise. This is so that the bezel cannot be dislodged from its current position, which is important because this tells how much time is left in a dive. In contrast, chronographs have a more complex mechanism. Due to its extra subdials, chronographs have more moving parts that can easily malfunction when dropped or exposed to an active environment. This relative sensitivity makes chronographs much less fault-resistant than dive watches.

Dive watches are also more versatile. While chronographs do offer multiple subdials, the absence of a certain dial is absolute. In other words, if a chronograph only has subdial for elapsed minutes. This dial cannot be used to measure elapsed hours or seconds. Dive watches, however, has this function. Its unidirectional bezel is used to measure elapsed minutes but it can also be used to know elapsed hours as well. One example is when one is on a flight and wants to to know how long he’s been in the air. The bezel just has to be set with respect to the hour hand rather than the minute hand. Elapsed time can be measured up to 12 hours.

So, which one is better?

All in all, each watch offers a unique advantage. Chronographs are more precise, but dive watches are simpler and more versatile. Dive watches may be the more practical of the two watches but the chronographs’ precision offer a vintage charm that is more appealing to watch aficionados. The question of which watch is better becomes a matter of preference. If one prefers a cleaner look that is more legible in telling time, the dive watch may work best for that. Its simplicity is more suited for timing everyday tasks. However, if one is seeking for an even more precise time telling to the second and a collector’s item, chronographs become a must. 


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