The Watches of Jacques Cousteau
Arguably no single individual has had a greater impact on the world of SCUBA diving and oceanography as Jacques–Yves Cousteau (June 11, 1910 – June 25, 1997). During his life, Cousteau was an explorer, French naval officer, scientist, filmmaker, inventor, conservationist, author, and photographer. However, regardless of his stage of life or the role he was occupying, the ocean was an inextricable part of the life of Jacques Cousteau. For Jacques Cousteau, a water resistant watch was a necessary piece of equipment, and he wore one, both in and out of the water, for the majority of his adult life. Consequently, Cousteau was one of the very earliest adopters of the dive watch during the early 1950s, and throughout his life, wore a number of different timepieces from some of the industry’s most prominent and highly-regarded dive watch manufacturers.
In the 1956 film, Silent World, Cousteau can be seen wearing a Rolex Submariner. At the time that the documentary was filmed, Rolex had already released three different Submariner references; however it is highly likely that Cousteau’s watch was a reference 6205, since it had pencil-style hands and the “Submariner” name on its dial. While Cousteau wore a Rolex, his chief diver and engineer, André Laban, favored a first series Blancpain Fifty Fathoms, which can be seen on his wrist in a number of scenes during the film.
In addition to offerings from Rolex and Blancpain, Cousteau and his divers wore a number of different dive watches throughout the late 1950s and 1960s. Cousteau and his team were at the forefront of ocean exploration, and were the perfect candidates to test out the various dive-specific timepieces that were being produced by the watch industry’s leading manufacturers.
As the two brands (along with Zodiac) that first pioneered the dive watch genre in 1953, Rolex and Blancpain were obvious options for Cousteau and his crew. However, the Omega Seamaster 300, Aquastar Deepstar, and Doxa Sub 300, were also popular choices among Cousteau’s divers, as well as some less well-known and somewhat obscure dive watches, such as the Nivada Depthomatic, ZRC Grands Fonds, and Lip Nautic-Ski – the latter of which used an electromechanical movement and a “Super Compressor” case.
Throughout the 1970s, Cousteau and his divers tended to gravitate towards watches from Rolex, Omega, and Doxa. Early on, Rolex had proven itself as a manufacturer of reliable dive watches, and Cousteau’s team continued to use their products throughout the 1960s and 1970s, with reference 5512 and reference 5513 Submariners, in addition to the reference 1665 Sea-Dweller with its helium gas escape valve.
Another watch worn by Cousteau and his team to feature a helium escape valve was the Doxa Sub 300T Conquistador. Rolex and Doxa co-developed the technology behind the helium gas escape valve, and although Rolex was the first to fit it to prototype watches, it was Doxa who was the first to manufacture a dive watch with a helium escape valve for the general public. The Doxa Sub (in all of its variations) was a favorite among Cousteau’s divers due to its affordable price point and highly functional design, and many pictures can be found of Cousteau with a Doxa Sub (and depth gauge) on his left wrist.
Omega had built a strong relationship with Cousteau during the Conshelf II experiments in 1963. However, during the very end of the 1960s and early 1970s, Omega consulted with Cousteau and French deep-sea diving company, COMEX, to develop the Seamaster 1000m and Ploprof 600. Both watches used massive, single-piece, stainless steel cases, with ultra thick mineral crystals, oversized minute hands, and mesh bracelets. Although these watches are the true antithesis of “dress divers,” they are purpose-built timepieces that were at the forefront of deep-sea dive watch technology during the early 1970s.
As one of the very few people on this planet that has pushed a dive watch to its limits, Jacques Cousteau wore a number of the world’s most iconic and capable dive-oriented timepieces throughout his years as a diver and oceanographer. He was not a “watch guy” in the traditional sense of the term; however due to the important role that watches played in his everyday life and ocean-based career, Cousteau owned and wore a number of timepieces that are now highly regarded by vintage collectors.