As watch collectors, finding ourselves drawn to some kind of story behind our timepieces is practically inevitable. It doesn’t matter how hard I fight it. Sometimes I’m just a sucker for a watch with compelling history, and a tale that speaks louder than the typical marketing fluff. I suppose this would explain my attraction to military watches. The brands operating in this niche of collecting can’t really fake it and if they do, they’ll get sniffed out pretty quick. For a watch like the CWC 1980 Royal Navy Diver re-issue, the real story is there—it’s an actual entry in CWC’s history of supplying military watches to the United Kingdom’s Royal Navy divers. Ever since this reissue came out in 2017, I’ve been eager to get one in the collection and it’s finally here.

CWC 1980 Royal Navy Diver Specs

Case Size41mm x 47mm x 12.7mm
Water Resistance300m
MovementETA 2824-2, CWC-engraved
Power Reserve38 hours
Manual WindingYes
Lug Width20mm
Price Range£2,083

I’ve been pretty vocal about my love of CWC watches on the site and our podcast before. In fact, some of you might even be sick of it by now. In many ways, this diver looks a lot like the CWC 1983 Quartz Royal Navy Diver re-issue I reviewed back in 2020. That’s because in CWC’s timeline, this re-issue represents a watch that was produced just before—in 1980 and 1981. Famously, it’s known as the watch that replaced the Rolex Mil-Sub. It’s almost as if they just … started making it again. And while these have been around for a bit, from what I understand, this example is part of the last batch of 1980 RN Dive Watch re-issues CWC plans to release for the foreseeable future.

The Case

There’s always been a bit of magic behind these CWC cases. Even though the watch measures 42mm in diameter, I always felt as if RN Divers wore more like a ’90s Rolex Submariner. Like many of CWC’s popular models (and the original), the case is entirely polished. And, as required by military specification, the watch is fitted with fixed spring bars that can only be worn with pass-through or open-ended straps. If you’re into military pieces, this shouldn’t shock you. Also, if you measure it with the beefy crown guards and screw-down crown, the watch’s diameter stretches to 45mm. My wrist is on the smaller side and I’ve always been fine with these dimensions.

Although it won’t matter to most, water resistance is 300m—so it has you covered. Again, like the 1983 re-issue I used to have, this watch appears to use the same 60-click bezel with a fully graduated glossy acrylic insert. The bezel operation is positive, with just a little bit of wobble. However, I’m not sure I’d have it any other way. The color matching between the bezel markings and what you get on the dial is also incredibly well done. I’ve spent way too much time looking at pictures of old CWCs and I have to say, this is as close as you’re going to get to one of those old-school bezels.

The Dial

If you look at the MOD DEF STAN 66-4 [Part 1] Issue 3 spec sheet, CWC followed its guidelines for “an acceptable form of dial” as closely as they possibly could. Like the 1980 original, the dial is marked only with what collectors call the “small CWC logo” and a tiny circle-T just above 6 o’clock. While that would’ve indicated the use of tritium in 1980, this modern watch uses light vintage colored Super-LumiNova. It’s also worth noting that this latest series of 1980 reissues can only be ordered with this lume color, while the 2017 and 2018 runs offered dark vintage and modern-colored lume options. Personally, I think the light vintage tone pictured here was always the way to go. The modern option looked too sterile for a vintage re-issue and the dark vintage was too much of a deep, burnt pumpkin tone.

Thankfully, this modern version comes with a sapphire crystal and the AR treatment is solid. I’ve rarely had any issue with glare on these crystals from CWC. The large, trapezoidal hour markers are complemented by a chunky set of sword hands (with a ton of lume) and Arabic numerals at the 3, 6, and 9 regions. The dial is as legible as what you’d get out of a huge pilot’s watch, but in a smaller everyday dive watch. My favorite part has to be just how simple the CWC text is. Super minimal and unobtrusive.

The Strap

When ordered, the CWC 1980 Royal Navy Diver re-issue ships with what the brand calls their Cabot Military Watch Strap. It’s a durable modern reinterpretation of the Phoenix military watch straps that were often issued with CWC watches in the past. I have no complaints about that strap and it’s actually one of my favorite modern nylon mil-spec straps. However, like I mentioned in my previous CWC review, there’s nothing like wearing a CWC Royal Navy Diver on a Phoenix strap.

During my time with the CWC 1980 Royal Navy Diver re-issue so far, I’ve worn it on this black/grey Bond combo and the experience is just perfect. I do, however, sometimes find myself swapping the stock strap back in the mix. It’s a tough, durable nylon strap and an excellent shade of admiralty grey. I’m thinking that my next move will be experimenting with something a little more outside the box like a MoD approved watch strap from Zulu Alpha Strap Company.

The Movement

While the 1980 original was fitted with an ETA 2783, this modern re-issue runs the ETA 2824-2 engraved by CWC. Initially, when I received the watch the movement was running a bit slower than I would have liked. I have to applaud CWC for quickly responding when I wrote in about my concerns. They sent me a label and the watch went back to HQ for another look. I was informed that CWC regulates their movements to a standard greater than what the movement manufacturer claims. In less than two weeks, the watch was back in my possession and the movement seems to have settled at around +/-3 to 5 seconds per day. I’m honestly just glad that it’s a basic ETA and that anyone can service it. I’m getting closer to swearing off in-house movements the deeper I get into this hobby.

Final Thoughts

That’s it … this is my “mil-sub.” After years of messing with homages, finding CWC, and experiencing some great models—this is the one. While a little pricey, I’ve been enjoying it way too much to worry about that. I think the execution of the watch is faithful to the original and I’m curious to see how much longer this remaining batch will last. It’s an incredibly nerdy watch and perhaps not too many people are into these. But if you’re deep into this lane of collecting, I’d consider getting your hands on one. And, at a lower price bracket, I think the 1983 Quartz re-issue is also just as enjoyable. My hope for 2024 is that CWC continues expanding their offerings while consistently re-stocking, exploring their history, and bringing us some great releases across several price points.


4 thoughts on “CWC 1980 Royal Navy Diver Re-Issue: A Tough Watch With Real Military Heritage”

  1. Very nice watch, and it’s tie-in historically is also fantastic. Not sure if I would purchase at this price, maybe, but it would be a toss-up between some other similar types that might be a little less $$


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