With the recent launch of the fully-titanium Rolex Deepsea Challenge, I think it’s safe to say that titanium watches are having something of a moment. From Tudor to Rolex and even smaller enthusiast brands like Baltic, we’re seeing titanium used for more and more dive watches. Citizen has been doing this for decades, and this year they released their very competitive Challenge Diver and its easy-wearing proportions are matched by a featherweight wrist presence.
If you want to try out a titanium dive watch, it’s arguable that the available selection has never been more diverse, versatile, or packed full of value. Interestingly, and in stark contrast to the new big-boy Rolex, there is another element of this recent trend towards titanium, and that’s sizing. In the past, titanium was commonly used on larger dive watches as a way to mitigate some of the pitfalls of having a huge chunk of steel on your wrist. Titanium is some 40% lighter than steel, and though it’s a bit softer in terms of how easily the material scratches, it’s incredibly strong, resistant to corrosion and it’s hypoallergenic. With watches like the new Pelagos 39 or the Citizen Challenge Diver, you get those benefits in a more day-to-day size.
Thankfully, for those of us without the wallet or the wrist for a 50mm Rolex, the truth of the current context is that you don’t have to spend much to try some ti. While the Pelagos 39 all but defines the concept of a truly wearable luxury titanium dive watch, what if I told you that you could get a great and very toolish titanium dive watch for less than 1/10th the price of the Tudor? Heck, what if I said it was roughly 1/18th of the price? Talk about a Steal vs. Splurge in the making.
The Watch: Scurfa Dive One Titanium
Why It’s Cool: Scurfa is a small British brand founded by Paul Scurfield. Scurfield is a full-time commercial diver (the kind that actually needs a helium escape valve) and he founded Scurfa with the intent of making modern and affordable tool watches that could also be used for actual professional and commercial diving applications. Though Scurfa’s lineup has expanded over the past couple of years, the brand’s core product is the Diver One, which is available in steel or titanium.
Measuring 40mm wide, 14.4mm thick, and 47.7mm lug to lug, the Diver One Titanium is made of grade 2 titanium, has a sapphire crystal, a closed titanium caseback, 500 meters of water resistance, and a unidirectional rotating dive bezel with 120-click action and an aluminum bezel insert (with a luminous pip). Given the intent of the watch’s creator, the Diver One also features a heliox escape valve (HeV) on the left-side case flank. It’s an automatic valve and has been tested in use with mixed gasses and decompression up to 154 meters. How rad is that? I usually prefer my dive watches without an HeV, but here, I appreciate its inclusion given the connection to the founder’s intent.
The Diver One’s titanium case is fully brushed and has drilled lugs, a large screw-down crown, and crown guards. Available in everything from black to orange and a pair of blues, the Diver One Titanium has a bright and very legible time display with large and starkly modern hands, minimal dial text, and equally large luminous markers nestled into a surrounding minute track. Complete with plenty of blue-glowing BGW9 Super-LumiNova, it’s the sort of watch you can read from across the room, even if it’s only 40mm wide.
I had the chance to interview Scurfield for my podcast a while back and came away very impressed by not only his taste and passion for watches but also the specificity of what he wanted to do with Scurfa – make accessible dive watches that can actually stand up to his line of work. The brand has continued to flourish and it’s not at all uncommon to see models like the Diver One Titanium out of stock on their website (you need to be patient, or lucky).
For those who want something a bit more special, Scurfa does an annual limited edition of the Diver One Titanium via the M.S. series. The M.S. watches refer to a military specification and though they are close to identical to the standard line, the M.S. models have fully marked bezels and come with both a rubber strap and a NATO-style nylon strap.
The M.S.21 (for 2021) was done in matte blue coloring while the M.S.22 is matte black and limited to 500 units. I recently finished a hunt for an M.S.22. and I have been wearing it constantly and find it to be a thoroughly impressive and entirely wearable everyday dive watch. Compared to the standard Diver One Titanium, I adore the look of the fully marked bezel and the relatively small increase in cost (especially over the already very attractive starting price) was a small trade for a somewhat more specific iteration of the Diver One.
Why It’s Affordable: There are a few reasons. First, Scurfa has very little overhead and they sell only through their own website, which helps to keep costs down. The next element is that the Diver One Titanium uses a simple and inexpensive quartz movement. Lacking even a date complication, the Ronda 713SM is a basic and accurate movement that offers a battery life of up to five years (60 months) and has an end-of-life indicator so you know when it’s time to change the battery.
Finally, the Diver One does not have the ability to trade on prestige or reputation, which is the bread and butter of larger and more established brands. With the Diver One Titanium, you’re buying one diver’s idea of the sort of watch they would want to wear while working as a diver. While I’ve come to very much appreciate what Scurfield has created with Scurfa, a big piece of what you pay for with a given watch comes from the brand on the dial.
With this zero-fuss quartz Scurfa, you’re not paying a penny for anything other than a practical and nicely made dive watch with an excellent 120-click bezel, great lume, a solid rubber strap, and way better specs than you might expect at this price point. I paid the full list price of GBP 275 (about $325) for my M.S.22 and I’m already pumped to see the M.S.23 sometime next year.
The Watch: Tudor Pelagos 39
Why It’s Cool: I’ve said a lot about this watch, and I have even more to say coming soon (with video!). I love the Pelagos and feel as though the Pelagos 39 is the synthesis of so much of what Tudor has learned since the brand launched the Black Bay and the Pelagos line in 2012.
Downsized for a wider range of wrists, the P39 is also a bit down on specs compared to the standard Pelagos. Water resistance is a more-than-enough 200 meters (but that is less cool than the 500 meters of the standard Pelagos, and the Scurfa). Likewise, the all-matte finish has been traded for a deep black dial and a brushed ceramic insert for the bezel that is partially reflective and rather handsome in person. And, though the P39 includes both a full titanium bracelet (with T-Fit, it’s lovely) and a rubber strap with an extension for diving, this new smaller Pelagos lacks the HeV and trick self-adjusting clasp of its older sibling.
Nevertheless, I really like the new Pelagos 39 and have had a chance to spend the better part of two weeks with one as my daily wear. At 39 x 11.8 x 47mm, it’s a perfect size and weighs a hair over 100 grams on the bracelet. It feels intentional and specific, like a Pealgos should, but has been tuned for a wider audience that is less concerned with hardcore diving features, and as such, this new version is not replacing any of the existing Pelagos models.
It feels like Tudor has made a modern Sea-Dweller. It’s a Pelagos mixed with a Black Bay 58. In many ways, especially given the hour hand and the red Pelagos signature on the dial, it feels like a nod to Tudor Subs of the past, but in a manner that is modern, thoughtful, well made, and essentially without competition at its price point.
It’s easily one of my favorite watches of 2022 and one that I absolutely plan to own sometime in the future. For me, it’s a deeply cool evolution of a watch that I love, the Pelagos, which was never quite ideal for my wrist.
Why It’s Expensive: Despite having lesser specs than the Scurfa and being made of the same grade of titanium, the Pelagos 39 costs $4,400 vs the roughly $240 of the Diver One Titanium. Though there are some obvious elements that differentiate the two. The Pelagos 39 is better made, has finer finishing, and sports one of Tudor’s manufacture movements, the MT5400, which is automatic, COSC certified, has 70 hours of power reserve, and is backed by a five-year warranty. Furthermore, the Pelagos 39 includes its titanium bracelet (Scurfa offers a simple titanium bracelet for an additional ~$72).
But really, a lot of what you (or I) are paying for with a Tudor can’t be directly compared to something as pragmatic as the Diver One. With Tudor, you’re absolutely paying for the brand on the dial, and with it, all the emotion, history, and personal impressions that come with the brand. It’s a major element of a luxury good. One of these watches is one I would need to explain, the other is known by just about anyone who would care enough about watches to ask.
Luxury goods, especially watches, are often about a lot more than just specs, color, and even size. All of those elements have to be correct, but you’re buying into more than a simple product and if you’re into watches (I’m going to assume you are) then you have personal and very subjective feelings about many watch brands. When you buy into a brand about which you feel strongly positive, the product becomes more than the sum of its parts.
This is essentially the core of watch enthusiasm, and it doesn’t have to be Tudor, Rolex, or Omega. It can be any brand at almost any price. A perfectly accurate and easily-worn Casio is about $15, anything more and you’re not buying it just to satisfy your need to know the time.
How To Decide
From my perspective, this is easy. If you want to experience a great example of a titanium dive watch with a minimal outlay of cash, give the Scurfa a try. I’ve been into dive watches for well over a decade and I really like mine. I think Diver One is a great intro to the format and it’s one you can try with very little skin in the game.
Alternatively, if you’re already totally on board with the idea of a titanium dive watch around 40mm and you’re prepared to spend some cash for something excellent, the Pelagos is an easy recommendation. It wears beautifully, looks great, and does most things very well.
Finally, if you’re just a dive watch nerd who enjoys a great and easily worn watch with a modern aesthetic and a rakish charm, go ahead and get both if you can. And keep an eye out for the M.S.23 edition. That’s what I’d do.
Shop this story
Scurfa watches are available via the brand’s own site here, and you can read more about the Tudor Pelagos 39 here.