Rolex has built a reputation for its advancements in the field of dive watches since the debut of the Submariner in 1953. Over the years, they’ve worked to enhance their dive watch offerings, first with the Sea-Dweller in 1967. Today, Rolex continues to pioneer the latest dive technology for their collections. In 2008, they launched their most robust dive watch yet, the DEEPSEA. Our Rolex Sea-Dweller and Rolex DEEPSEA reviews assess the history of the models, their functionality, and design. Learn about the Rolex Sea-Dweller and DEEPSEA from Crown & Caliber.
By the 1960s, the sport of scuba diving was gaining momentum. Professional divers were exploring new depths of the sea, and there were growing numbers of amateur divers. As a result, there was a growing demand for more robust diving equipment and technology. Rolex’s Submariner served as an admirable tool throughout the 1950s and for divers that are more casual. However, Rolex knew they needed to develop a more intricate and capable dive watch offering to keep up with the times. Soon, they did just that with the help of engineers from an industrial, deep-sea diving company, Compagnie Maritime d’Expertises (COMEX). COMEX helped Rolex transform one of their existing Submariner models into their best dive watch yet. They added features like a one-way escape valve, thicker crystal, and reinforced case. Together, this more than doubled the watch’s depth rating, boasting water resistance over 600 meters. They called this new collection the Sea-Dweller.
Since its initial release in 1967, Rolex has continued to refine the Sea-Dweller. By 1978, they had once again more than doubled the model’s depth rating to 1220 meters. Like other models before it, this variation received a nickname, “Triple Six” after its reference number, 16660. In addition to the impressive upgrade in depth rating, the Triple Six marked the era of the modern Sea-Dweller in its design. A decade later, Rolex retired the Triple Six and introduced the Reference 16600. Most notably, this iteration boasted an upgraded movement with a longer power reserve. It went on to have a remarkable twenty-year run, making it the longest running Sea-Dweller variation.
The Rolex Sea-Dweller remained a successful dive watch for Rolex through the remainder of the century and into the new millennium. However, things changed in 2008 with the launch of the DEEPSEA. The Sea-Dweller briefly disappeared from the Rolex lineup from 2009 to 2014. Since its return, the Sea-Dweller is a permanent fixture of the brand’s catalog alongside the Submariner and DEEPSEA.
The DEEPSEA illustrates Rolex’s decades of research and development in the field of professional diving and the brand’s longstanding relationship with COMEX. Like COMEX helped Rolex enhance the Submariner to create the Sea-Dweller, the DEEPSEA builds on the Sea-Dweller. The Sea-Dweller and the DEEPSEA share a number of similarities. They both feature Rolex’s patented helium escape valve (HEV). They both come equipped with a unidirectional, rotating bezel with 60-minute graduations. In addition, the DEEPSEA notable lacks a Cyclops magnifier above the date window, just like the original Sea-Dweller.
However, the DEEPSEA boasts a number of technical advancements thanks to testing in special tanks developed by COMEX. Here, they were able to refine and assess Rolex’s Ringlock System. This patented mechanism consists of three key elements that help the watch to withstand extreme pressure at great depths. The combination features a 5mm domed sapphire crystal, a central ring made of nitrogen-alloyed steel, and a grade 5 titanium caseback. The result is water resistance up to a whopping 3,900 meters. In addition, Rolex introduced a new proprietary material in the DEEPSEA called Chromalight. This unique luminescent material emits a blue glow that lasts more than double the time of Superluminova.
The DEEPSEA gets its name from an expedition back in 1960. That year, a crew led by oceanographer Jacques Piccard boarded a deep-sea vessel named the Trieste. Together, they carried out the first manned exploration of the Mariana Trench – the deepest known point of the Earth’s seabed. Attached to the hull of the Trieste was an experimental Rolex model. The watch was ultimately able to withstand the decent to Challenger Deep, a depth of 10,916 meters.
Around the time of the Jacques Piccard’s successful dive to Challenger Deep, a young Canadian boy named James Cameron was becoming obsessed with deep-sea exploration. He would grow up to become one of the most renowned directors in Hollywood, helming blockbusters like Titanic and Avatar. Still, he never lost his fascination for the ocean. Fast forward to 2012. In conjunction with the National Geographic Society, Cameron plotted the first solo descent through the Mariana Trench to Challenger Deep. He intended to pilot a submersible he designed himself, named the Deepsea Challenger.
With its prestigious history of underwater exploration, Rolex was a natural partner for the project. The designers at the Rolex headquarters in Switzerland faced a substantial engineering task. At a depth of almost 11,000 meters, the pressure on the watch would be immense. Success depended on achieving precise dimensions for every component and ensuring the case was completely water resistant to protect the movement. Taking the Rolex Sea-Dweller Deepsea as their blueprint, a select team of specialists went to work. The design process was necessarily rapid, yet extremely detailed. They made adjustments to the watch dimensions that might have seemed minor to the casual observer. However, they were vital in ensuring the watch would remain robust and watertight. Exhaustive functional and chronometric tests followed. It was a nerve-wracking period even for a watch company experienced in complex and secretive tasks. In just over four weeks, the Rolex Deepsea Challenge passed every test. Incredibly, the team had managed to design, engineer, and test a completely unique, experimental mode. However, the mission was only half-complete. The ultimate test was about to begin.
In March 2012, the Deepsea Challenger left port in Guam, and Cameron announced he was ready to begin his descent. He attached the Rolex Deepsea Challenge to the vessel’s robotic arm. Just two hours later, Cameron successfully reached Challenger Deep. While several experimental technologies on the vessel failed at such an extreme depth, the Rolex Deepsea functioned perfectly throughout.
In commemoration of the Rolex Deepsea Challenge Rolex released a special edition version in 2014: Deepsea D-Blue. Most notably, the Deepsea D-Blue’s features a gradient two-tone dial, which sets the watch apart from the original. The watch is large on the wrist, with a 44mm stainless steel case. Inside, it houses a perpetual Caliber 3135 movement, precision-engineered to cope with shocks and variations in temperature. In addition, a Glidelock system on the bracelet ensures the wearer can easily slip the watch over a wetsuit.