The First Mass-Produced Dive Watch: the BUSHIPS watch

The First Mass-Produced Dive Watch: the BUSHIPS watch

WW2 was the first large-scale amphibious & naval war in history. This meant that more and more combat units had to have the ability to operate in harsh and unpredictable environments, including underwater and on beaches. For the US Navy - this new environment led to the creation of the UDTs (Underwater Demolition Teams). These teams were specialized in performing reconnaissance and obstacle clearing from beaches to prepare for amphibious landings.


To meet the requirements of these demanding missions, the USN BUSHIPS “canteen” watch was designed as an answer to the urgently growing need for reliable timekeeping in wet or even underwater conditions. Back then there was only one brand able to provide underwater timekeeping: Panerai with its Radiomir - but it did not have the capacity to mass-produce at the levels the US Navy required and was an Italian brand...

 Panerai-Radiomir 1940s dive watch

The US Navy’s Bureau of Ships (BUSHIPS) therefore put out a contract for a mass produced “dive” watch. Three brands answered the call: Hamilton, Bulova & Elgin - all three were already involved in A-11 production & its derivatives and this clearly reflects on the original BUSHIPS watch aesthetics.

 The main issue to solve for these three brands was how to provide water-resistance (up to an extent; estimated were from 3 to 5 ATM) fast & in a mass-produced watch. This led to some pretty smart ingenuity from all three. Based off the original A-11 cases they were producing back then, they soldered the shatterproof crystal directly to the case & added a screwdown “cap” to the crown. For the most part, this did the job - at the time the UDTs were not using SCUBA gear yet so underwater excursions were limited to free-diving.


Overall - the practicality of execution of this dive-watch is seriously under-rated. Featuring a black dial with big white indexes; visibility was top notch for reliable mission time-keeping in all conditions. Manufacturers were required to not paint their branding on the dial to avoid any distraction to time-keeping. Interestingly though, most got around this request by embossing black-on-black their brand name on the dial making it visible only in bright conditions. Beyond providing water-resistance, the over-sized crown cap allowed for manipulation with gloves and, reduced the overall glare potential. These watches also used copious amount of Radium Lume as UDTs frequently operated in pitch black conditions.


While not really bringing in any major innovations to the watch-world the BUSHIPS watch was probably the first ever mass-produced dive watch ever. It may lack the modern dive bezel or chronograph but it impressed with how literal in its design. The US Navy asked for a water-watch and manufacturers offered up the most straight-forward, rugged and simple version they could. Yet despite the simplicity, this watch quite clearly laid the foundation for the future of dive watches featuring high visibility/readability and, overall usability with gloves. 

USN BUSHIPS watches 

The USN BUSHIPS canteen watch was issued to UDT personnel during World War II and continued to be used by the Navy throughout the Korean War and into the Vietnam War. The watch was particularly popular among UDT personnel due to its durability and reliability, as well as its distinctive design. Its hinged lid and canteen-shaped crown made it a distinctive accessory that was easily recognizable as a symbol of the UDT.

 And now, we’re proud to bring this awesome piece to the modern age with the A-5 UDT. With a modern-day 20 ATM water resistance and a Sapphire Crystal, the A-5 meshes the history of the original BUSHIPS with contemporary specs & comfort. Featuring a reliable Swiss Automatic P024 movement, this watch is made to be rugged, dependable and usable in all conditions - just like the original.


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