There’s more to the Rolex collection than just Submariners and Datejusts. The Rolex Sea-Dweller is certainly not as popular as some of the other models in Rolex’s collection. However, that certainly doesn’t mean that it’s any less special. You’d be surprised to know that the Sea-Dweller is actually the most advanced tool watch that Rolex makes.
Everything you need to know about the Rolex Sea-Dweller
Rolex Sea-Dweller for collectors
Since it’s considered one of the best diver’s watches ever made, collectors do tend to acquire Sea-Dwellers. The series is different from the GMTs and the Submariners because they come from an era of matte dials. There are some particularly rare models that tend to fetch great prices at auction. Given that they were primarily meant as tool watches, there can be a lot of history that can come attached to a preowned Rolex Sea-Dweller.
There can be dive logs and photographs detailing the epic adventures that the watch has been on underwater. A Sea-Dweller with a storied history is certainly going to fetch a lot more money that one without it.
How the Sea-Dweller came to be
Rolex’s Sea-Dweller got its start in the late 1960s. It hit the market after the Submariner had already established itself as the quintessential dive watch. What Rolex sought to achieve with this new watch was something else entirely. It wanted the Sea-Dweller to be more useful underwater than the Submariner, particularly for saturation divers.
Saturation diving presented a challenge for the Submariner. The watch’s crystal would often pop out in the decompression chamber after a dive. That’s because the breathing gas used for saturation diving is mixed with helium. Helium particles would thus accumulate in the case of the watch when it was in those conditions for a long time.
The pressure built up inside the watch would need to be released through the weakest point of the watch during decompression. That would cause the crystal to pop out as the helium gas forced its exit from the case.
Rolex came up with the idea of building a helium escape valve on the side of the Sea-Dweller’s case. This enabled the watch to go deeper underwater compared to the Submariner as it was possible to allow the helium particles to escape via the controlled mechanism. It was that problem that resulted in the birth of the Sea-Dweller.
Rolex came up with a genius way to solve the problem for saturation divers who wanted their watches to withstand their extended dives. Since then, Rolex has considerably improved the series with further improvements and even more extreme depth ratings.
The Double Red Sea-Dweller was the very first production model of this watch. It gets the nickname from the two red lines on the dial which is what set it apart from the prototypes that Rolex had created. A vintage Rolex Sea-Dweller from this series tends to be quite valuable whenever they become available for sale.
Rolex later followed it up with the Reference 1665 which was produced from 1977 to 1983. Models from the series are often referred to as Great White. The nickname is also due to the dial because the red lines from the previous series were painted in white. These models are also notable because they’re the very last Sea-Dwellers to have a plexiglass crystal.
The modern Sea-Dweller got its start with the 1978 to 1989 series that’s affectionately known as Triple Six. The models were the first to feature a sapphire crystal and were actually one of the first Rolex watches to come with it. This also allowed the company to increase its water resistance rating to 4,000 feet or 1,220 meters which was double that of any previous Sea-Dweller.
Rolex didn’t substantially change the Sea-Dweller until 2008 when it launched the Sea-Dweller Deepsea. The company revolutionized diver’s watches with this series. The water resistance rating was tripled to a whopping 12,800 feet or 3,990 meters. Rolex made considerable engineering improvements to achieve this.
For example, the 5mm thick sapphire crystal helps support the pressure underwater with an innovative Ringlock system. The watch also came with a Cerachrom bezel in its 44mm stainless steel case.
The company has since proved that it can stretch these limits even further. The D-Blue edition of the Sea-Dweller Deepsea was released in 2014 to commemorate the 2012 Mariana Trench expedition undertaken by James Cameron. The custom Deepsea Challenge he used had a 51mm case and was able to withstand a depth of 10,908 meters.
In order to bring the Sea-Dweller in line with the latest market trends, Rolex updated the model once again in 2014 with reference 116600. The bezel was upgraded to Cerachrom ceramic from aluminum which was used for the previous models. Rolex also reduced the case size to 40mm. Some design elements were also borrowed from vintage models in order to appeal to customers who appreciate the vintage models.
The Sea-Dweller got another update in 2017 with the launch of the reference 126600. One of the biggest changes was the addition of a cyclops over the date window. This made it the very first Sea-Dweller to come with a cyclops, making it instantly stand out from all of the previous models. However, Rolex also gave a nod to the very first prototype Sea-Dwellers by opting for a single red line on the dial.
The watch’s size was increased to 43mm to suit the needs of the modern customer and that was also to differentiate the model from the Submariner which has retained its 40mm case size. Rolex also replaced the caliber 3135 movements in this watch with the caliber 3235 that offers a higher magnetic resistance, longer power reserve, and more precision.
What the future holds for the Sea-Dweller
The Rolex Sea-Dweller may not be giving up its tool to watch roots anytime soon but it appears that the company now wants to make the watch more suited to industry trends. Rolex took a significant decision this year that could end up changing the way people perceive the Sea-Dweller series. It may also help popularize the Sea-Dweller among people who primarily buy diver’s watches for their sporty look and not their robust functionality.
Rolex took everyone by surprise when it launched the Sea-Dweller Reference 126603 earlier this year. It retains the design elements of the most recent refresh but opts for a 43mm case. This time the Sea-Dweller is being offered in a yellow Rolesor version. Rolesor means that it’s a mix of 18 CT yellow gold and Rolex’s proprietary Oystersteel. This new watch thus bring 18 CT yellow gold to the Sea-Dweller for the very first time.
The company has clearly made this decision so that the Sea-Dweller becomes more attractive to watch enthusiasts at large. Furthermore, it’s also a great alternative to those who are still pining for a Submariner but don’t really want to wait for one and would like another option that shakes things up a bit in the design department.
As it turns out, collectors have picked up the new model in droves. There’s already a waiting list, albeit shorter than it is for the Submariner, and the Rolesor model is already fetching a premium on the secondary market.