When I first started looking into watches, I knew I wanted a dive watch in my collection, which is rather ironic. I’m not much of an adrenaline junkie, but I try to make it a point to experience everything at least once in my life; thus far I’ve managed to clear water sports and skiing off the list amongst other activities. The idea of diving however, puts me off. The thought of being stuck underwater gasping for air in a freak accident sends a slight shiver down my spine.
Nonetheless, my fascination for dive watches is shared by many who will never even go near the water. Perhaps it’s their portrayal in mass media, or their rugged looks that convey a spirit of venturing into the unknown. There are also those for whom practicality reigns, where a no-nonsense tool watch is their go-to wrist companion.
When it comes to the budget price range for dive watches, there are two brands that have stood out over the years, namely Orient with its Mako and Kamasu range, and Seiko with its numerous models (including the legendary SKX007, which has since been discontinued, shame). These typically cost between $200-400, and are widely recognised as great value for money; but can we do better?
Well turns out if you don’t really care much about brands, you can: meet the Ratio Free Diver Professional 500M Sapphire Automatic. That was a mouthful.
The Case & Specifications
The watch comes in with a case size of 42mm (45mm including crown), a lug to lug of roughly 46mm, and a lug width of 20mm. Case thickness is approximately 13mm, and the watch sits higher on my wrist as a result, in comparison to my other pieces. Unlike some other larger dive watches however, this one is well proportioned and will sit comfortably on most wrists, with rounded lugs helping to enhance the fit.
The case (and I assume bezel as well) is made of stainless steel, with a screw down crown located at 4 o’clock with accompanying crown guards.
There is a certain heft to the watch; it’s a watch that you definitely feel on your wrist as you go about your daily activities. Personally, I take heavier to mean better quality materials – possibly due to the steel case. But if you’re looking for something lighter, you might want to look elsewhere, maybe for a titanium piece instead.
The case adopts a brushed finish throughout; nothing fancy, which is what you’d expect out of a tool watch anyway. The screw down case back offers a bit of decoration, featuring an image of a free diver.
The watch offers a staggering water resistance of 500m, which is probably more than you and I will ever need. I don’t think it’s ISO certified, and I’m not entirely sure I would bring this with me to the deepest depths of the ocean, but I’m sure its built to survive a swim or two.
One of my favourite parts of this watch is the steel bezel; it gives the watch a sense of “ruggedness” and “rawness”. A plus is that the markers are embossed and not applied. The unidirectional bezel rotates smoothly with a most satisfying series of “clicks” – note however, that its a 60 click bezel.
Sapphire has been chosen as the crystal of choice, offering great protection against scratches. I particularly enjoy how the watch looks under sunlight.
“Keep it simple” is evidently the theme of the dial; it comes in a plain black, with round indices acting as the hour markers, and trapezium shaped indices marking the 12, 6, and 9 o’ clock positions. A date window is located at the 3 o’clock position.
The watch is highly legible, using large arrow hands to make reading the time easier. The minute hand is also highlighted in orange, giving the dial a touch of contrast and colour. The second hand comes in a lollipop style, ending off with a sharp arrow tip that reaches to the edge of the minute markers.
An important feature of a dive watch is the lume, after all, divers needed a way to read the time down in the depths of pitch dark waters. It is also one of the things that budget watches skip out on. The Ratio Free Diver however, does not disappoint.
Generous amounts of lume have been applied to the hour markers and hands, along with a lume pip on the bezel. The lume lasts for quite a fair bit throughout the night, and it was nice to know that the company hadn’t skived on this bit.
The Free Diver is powered by a Miyota 8215 movement, which isn’t anything spectacular but a decent workhorse found in lower cost watches across multiple brands. I would have preferred a bi-directional winding movement (just like in the Seiko 5), but we can’t all have our cake and eat it. Accuracy is rated at -20 ~ +40 seconds a day, with a power reserve of 40 hours.
The 8215 is particularly known for a “stuttering” second hand, whereby the second hand seems to pause at times, or the movement does not follow a smooth sweep. It’s a result of the design of the movement, and does not affect its accuracy. You can check this out for a detailed explanation. I myself have not experienced this, nor does it bother me.
If there’s something to complain about this watch, it’s definitely the strap. The stock strap is a dive styled rubber strap, much like those you often see on other dive watches. It is however, rather stiff and not exactly the most comfortable of straps.
The strap is also rather long, which I assume is to accommodate for the extra length you need if you actually do go diving and need to strap this on a wet suit. If you’re not anywhere near the water however, there’s going to be an ugly tail of excess strap sticking out unless your wrists are on the larger side.
The design of the strap also makes it difficult to access the spring bars, which made me reluctant to change out the strap. Eventually, I switched it to a bracelet and have never looked back since. If you ask me, I’d very much rather have it on a bracelet.
Here’s where the watch gets incredibly sexy. For less than $200, you get a decent automatic movement, a sapphire crystal, excellent lume and (apparently) 500m of water resistance. On a sale, you can even get it for cheaper. Move over Seiko – how’s that for a good deal?
Here’s the Ratio Free Diver on the stock strap, steel bracelet, and a red/black nato. My personal favourite’s the steel.
With the Ratio Free Diver, you’re getting a LOT of bang for buck; other brands would be charging way more for these specifications. To be honest, I myself felt that something had to be wrong somewhere. I initially thought it was a homage, but couldn’t find any watch that looked exactly like this. There were some brands out there offering similar pieces but with a different logo, albeit at much higher prices. An intelligent guess would be that a common OEM manufacturer is handling production for all these companies, which would reasonably explain how costs can be kept low.
So what exactly are you trading off here? Well the answer is the brand. I’m pretty sure none of you have ever heard about this watch before; I myself hadn’t too until I chanced upon it by accident. It doesn’t have the heritage or the equity that other longtime watchmakers possess. In fact, the brand acknowledges itself as a no frills, alternative to mainstream brands. The company seems to be based in Singapore, and personally I’m a sucker for local brands. If branding is important for you however, it’s probably best to pick up another piece.
Otherwise, the Ratio Free Diver is a fantastic piece in my opinion, and it’s no wonder that it worked its way into being my favourite (for now).
I suppose diving through paper work justifies wearing a dive watch?