Time & Tide: Models for aqua men and women to sail accurately into the sunset

By Neil Dolby
May 20, 2024

Sailing is one of the most intense outdoor pursuits and watches designed to cope with the rigours of the highly competitive sport need, at the very least, to be hardwearing and waterproof. Better still, they should possess ultimate accuracy, countdown timers for the start of each race, and tools to indicate tide level. An essential compass, a barometer showing air-pressure variation and multiple time zones are also worthy attributes.

Rolex’s association with the world of sailing stretches back to the 1950s, and its Oyster Perpetual Yacht-Master series is considered essential regatta gear by many. The timepieces have a range of features tailored to the demands of sporting life on the ocean wave. For instance, the bidirectional 60-minute graduated bezel, hewed from either gold or platinum or fitted with Cerachrom insert in matt black ceramic, is marked by polished graduations and numerals which are raised to enable the wearer to read time intervals, for instance between two buoys, accurately.

The sailing watches come with either a paramagnetic escape wheel (calibre 2236) or a Chronergy escapement (calibre 3235) movement. The latter has strong anti-magnetic properties and is known for its high energy efficiency. Crucially for sailing, its Parachrom hairspring made of a paramagnetic alloy not only strengthens resistance to shocks but also enhances stability under variable temperature conditions. This stability is ably supported by high-performance Paraflex shock absorbers.

The dials feature large hour markers and broad hands filled with luminescent material that boosts legibility under all sailing conditions by emitting a glow lasting longer than traditional phosphorescent materials. The scratchproof sapphire crystal features a Cyclops lens at 3 o’clock for the ultimate in visual enhancement. Bracelets are equipped with patented Oysterlock safety clasps to prevent accidental opening, which could be critical in a racing environment.

Omega’s 45.5 mm Seamaster Planet Ocean chronograph watch pays homage to the turquoise colours of Emirates Team New Zealand, which will compete at the America’s Cup in Barcelona in August. Contrasting the deep black that dresses the rest of this large model, the aqua hue appears on the indicator hand, subdial ring, minute track, number 12 and seconds, brushed black ceramic pushers, helium escape valve and Omega logo on the crown. A countdown indicator with a flagged start appears at 3 o’clock.

More than 200 years ago, Abraham-Louis Breguet invented the tourbillon to counteract the effects of gravity seen in standard vertically held timepieces of the era. The excellence of his chronometers at sea was lauded by the French navy. Joining Breguet’s seafaring line, the Marine Tourbillon 5577 pays tribute to the early invention of the manufacture with an ultra-thin tourbillon positioned at 5 o’clock and rotating in 60 seconds – the traditional concept that acts to cancel out gravitational errors. Water resistant to 100 metres and constructed of materials that provide resistance to corrosion and wear, plus gravitational fields, the self-winding movement with peripheral oscillating weight is visible through a sapphire caseback.

The spirit of exploration and designing watches that can withstand the most challenging and inhospitable of environments lies behind the Montblanc 1858 Geosphere Collection. The latest addition to the line – Montblanc 1858 Geosphere 0 Oxygen South Pole Exploration – features a sfumato iced-blue glacier-patterned dial created using a special layered technique called gratté boisé that involves more than 30 steps. Here it creates the impression of staring at the oxygen-free blue-toned Antarctic ice. In a reaction to this harsh environment for which the watch was designed, the titanium case is devoid of oxygen internally, preventing oxidisation and fogging. The components are thus rendered far more durable to foster long-lasting precision.

Another interesting attribute is a complication of turning Northern and Southern hemisphere globes at 12 o’clock and 6 o’clock with a 24-hour scale and day and night indication, meaning it is possible to see the time anywhere across the globe quickly and easily.

Chopard’s Happy Ocean is a chic water-sports model with a steel and 18-carat rose gold case. Aided by a rose gold screw-down crown, it offers water resistance all the way down to 300 metres, where visibility is assisted by applied gilded hour-markers enhanced with Super-LumiNova. As expected of this watch line, its galvanic-treated wave-pattered blue dial features five dancing diamonds.

Ulysse Nardin has had a long association with marine chronometers and continues to craft timepieces suitable for the ardours of the ocean. Two recent additions, Diver Net Azure and Diver X Skeleton Azure, offer increased durability and increased usage of recycled materials to nurture the health of the ocean by reducing plastic waste. The former’s central case, bezel, caseback and movement mount are manufactured from 95% recycled steel, while its side case and caseback ring meld 60% Nylo recycled fishing nets and 40% Carbonium upcycled carbon fibre from the aeronautics industry.

New red gold or grade 23 titanium watches bring lustre to the Blancpain 42 mm Fifty Fathoms Automatique diving line. The red gold version has undoubted aesthetic appeal, while grade 23 titanium provides a sporty look; it is also lightweight yet robust with anti-scratch and anti-corrosion qualities.

Timepieces from Harry Winston’s Ocean Collection are specifically designed to facilitate adventurous activity. Some come with cases hewed from zalium, a zirconium-aluminium alloy developed by the house which is ultra-lightweight and possesses anti-corrosion and anti-scratch properties. The dials of the 36mm models feature ocean-sourced mother of pearl. Water resistant to 100 metres, their Swiss-made movements display functions to track the time with the utmost precision.

The IWC Schaffhausen Aquatimer Perpetual Calendar Digital Date-Month comes in two versions, boasting either red or blue luminescence on the dial and hands. Water resistant to 10 bars, they feature a Ceratanium case and caseback ring, black dial, black hands and black rubber strap with Ceratanium pin buckle. Based on a special titanium alloy, this material is forged to IWC’s specifications and offers enhanced hardness and scratch resistance, making it suitably desirable for rigorous outdoor activities on the water.