Truly Madly Deeply

In­tro­duced 50 years ago, the Rolex Sea-dweller was the world’s first deep dive watch, and its lat­est in­car­na­tion harks back to the most fa­bled chap­ter in its glo­ri­ous his­tory, writes Ce­line Yap

Singapore Tatler - - STYLE WATCHES -

t is hard to think of a more un­der­rated sports watch than the Rolex Sea-dweller. When it comes to Rolex div­ing watches, the Sub­mariner gets most of, if not all, the love. Granted, the Sea-dweller be­gan as an off­shoot of the Sub­mariner, so it is per­haps fair the lat­ter gets more recog­ni­tion. It does, over­whelm­ingly so, and this is prob­a­bly a bless­ing in dis­guise for watch con­nois­seurs who ac­tu­ally favour the Sea-dweller. Not as com­monly en­coun­tered, the Sea-dweller ap­peals to a se­lect group of Rolex col­lec­tors for whom ex­treme per­for­mance is the holy grail. But its niche ap­peal is set to widen as the watch cel­e­brates its 50th an­niver­sary this year with a new ref­er­ence that has made it to the top of ev­ery savvy watch col­lec­tor’s hit list. As with all the most cov­eted Rolex watches, the wait­ing list for the new Sea-dweller Ref 126600 is long with a cap­i­tal L. It is said that this trib­ute piece checks all the right boxes for an ul­tra­col­lect able Rolex—a re­cap of the watch’s his­tory that tells the full story. Tri­este. The chal­lenge was for Rolex to cre­ate a watch that could ac­com­pany the sub­mersible on its dives. The brand de­liv­ered spec­tac­u­larly, cre­at­ing an ex­per­i­men­tal Oys­ter it called the Deep Sea Spe­cial, de­signed to re­sist the pres­sures of the deep. In 1960, a re­vamped Deep Sea Spe­cial ac­com­pa­nied the Tri­este on its mis­sion to the bot­tom of the Mar­i­ana Trench, at a record depth of 10,916m. When it sur­faced, it was found to have kept per­fect time. This was proof of Rolex’s ex­per­tise in div­ing watches, and the be­gin­ning of the Sea-dweller le­gacy. By the early 1960s, Rolex had al­ready been pro­duc­ing the Sub­mariner for a good few years. Dur­ing this same pe­riod, it crossed paths with en­gi­neer­ing and deep div­ing op­er­a­tions firm named Com­pag­nie Mar­itime d’ex­per­tises (Comex). Comex is a pi­o­neer in deep sat­u­ra­tion div­ing and its divers were in need of a util­i­tar­ian tool watch that could be trusted to pro­vide ac­cu­rate bot­tom time read­ings leg­i­bly and at all times. While the Deep Sea Spe­cial could make it to the bot­tom of the ocean just fine, it had also been de­signed for a bathy­scaphe, not a hu­man. Again, Rolex rose to the chal­lenge and by 1967, had come up with a sem­i­nal time­piece known as

it does not have a date mag­ni­fier. That all Sea-dwellers, with the ex­cep­tion of the 2017 Ref 126600, come with­out this fea­ture is an at­tribute that many col­lec­tors cher­ish deeply, so when Rolex be­stowed the 50th-an­niver­sary model with the Cy­clops date, some col­lec­tors were un­der­stand­ably riled. In­deed, tra­di­tion­ally there has never been a date mag­ni­fier on the Sea-dweller’s crys­tal and the rea­son for that is a prac­ti­cal one: it in­tro­duces weak points on the crys­tal. The Sea-dweller’s rai­son d’etre as a pro­fes­sional diver’s watch didn’t al­low Rolex to do anything that might com­pro­mise its util­i­tar­ian nature. With the Ref 126600, how­ever, the man­u­fac­ture has man­aged to pro­duce a sap­phire crys­tal that has the mag­ni­fier and that doesn’t weaken the in­tegrity of the ma­te­rial, although in typ­i­cal Rolex fash­ion, it re­mains cagey about the tech­ni­cal de­tails.

Rolex worked con­tin­u­ally to im­prove the Sea-dweller and push­ing the lim­its of deep dive time­keep­ing. In 1978, it in­tro­duced the Ref 16660, also known as the Triple Six, which came with a sap­phire crys­tal (as op­posed to Plex­i­glas in the ear­lier mod­els), a big­ger helium es­cape valve, and in­creased depth rat­ing to 1,220m. Con­sid­ered a tran­si­tional model, its move­ment had also been up­graded from the Cal­i­bre 1570 to the Cal­i­bre 3035 with a higher op­er­a­tional fre­quency of 28,800vph. The model that came next is the Ref 16600, which boasted the then-new Cal­i­bre 3135 that prof­fered longer power re­serve and bet­ter shock re­sis­tance. This is the most widely ob­tain­able Sea-dweller as Rolex pro­duced it for 20 years (1988–2008) be­fore it was fi­nally dis­con­tin­ued and re­placed by the Sea-dweller Deepsea Ref 116660 in 2008. This ver­sion boasted the great­est depth rat­ing

in the col­lec­tion yet: 3,900m. Its su­per­sized 44mm case with a thick­ness of 17.7mm is milled from top qual­ity 904L steel and paired with a ti­ta­nium case­back to off­set its heft. Mod­ern up­grades such as the scratch-re­sis­tant Cer­achrom bezel, Chro­ma­light dis­play, Parachrom hair­spring, the Oys­ter­lock safety clasp with Glide­lock ex­ten­sion sys­tem, and the Fli­plock ex­ten­sion link are all part of the pack­age. To test for water tight­ness, Rolex used a pres­sure cham­ber de­vel­oped by Comex ex­pressly for this time­piece. Yet, Rolex couldn’t keep the clas­sic Sea-dweller away from col­lec­tors for long. In 2014, it reis­sued the Sea-dweller 4000 Ref 116600, which is es­sen­tially a mod­ern re­make of the Ref 16600 plus the lat­est up­grades that are de rigueur in all Rolex watches. Its pared down 40mm di­men­sions and bal­anced bracelet pro­por­tions were well-re­ceived, es­pe­cially by tra­di­tion­al­ists who were be­gin­ning to lament the heft of the Deepsea. such. Leg­end has it that Rolex had cre­ated a hand­ful of Sea-dweller pro­to­types rated to 500m. Th­ese pieces did not fea­ture the “Sub­mariner 2000” in red like the Dou­ble Reds, but rather, only “Sea-dweller” was printed in red—all other word­ings were white. Th­ese watches had case­backs en­graved with the words “Patent Pend­ing”. Vin­tage Sin­gle Reds are among the most valu­able of all Sea-dwellers, fetch­ing over $100,000 at auc­tions to­day. The Ref 126600 may not be the first Sin­gle Red Sea-dweller, but it is the first mod­ern throw­back and the first one to of­fer a Cy­clops mag­ni­fier. Re­sized to 43mm, it strad­dles the mid­dle ground be­tween the 40mm Ref 16600 and the ul­tra-ro­bust 44mm Deepsea Ref 116660. Rolex has also up­graded this model with Cal­i­bre 3235, a new-gen­er­a­tion cal­i­bre fea­tur­ing 14 patents in­clud­ing the new Chronergy es­cape­ment, which com­bines high en­ergy ef­fi­ciency with op­ti­mal de­pend­abil­ity and mag­netic re­sis­tance. Pay­ing trib­ute is as much about the past as it is about the fu­ture. The Ref 126600 con­tains a bit of ev­ery­thing as it bridges the fa­mil­iar with the new. Rolex may have cre­ated the Sea-dweller for pro­fes­sional deep-sea divers 50 years ago, but over the years the watch has drawn a whole new pool of ad­mir­ers—afi­ciona­dos who recog­nise it not just as a util­ity tool but an icon in it­self.

GAME FACE ON The 2017 Rolex Sea-dweller is the clos­est in de­sign codes to the orig­i­nal ver­sion

NO BALLOONS HERE Helium gas mol­e­cules are small and volatile enough to pen­e­trate the watch case through the gas­kets. This patent (be­low) was filed for Rolex’s one-way gas es­cape valve, which al­lows the helium gas to be re­leased dur­ing de­com­pres­sion...

DEEP UN­KNOWN In 1960, Rolex’s Deep Sea Spe­cial ac­com­pa­nied the bathy­scaphe Tri­este on a so­journ to the deep­est point of the world’s oceans—the bot­tom of the Mar­i­ana Trench. The watch kept per­fect time, even at a depth of 10,916m

CAPTAIN CAMERON In 2012, film-maker James Cameron made a solo dive to Chal­lenger Deep, the bot­tom­most point of the Mar­i­ana Trench, wear­ing the Rolex SeaDweller Deepsea Chal­lenge. Dur­ing tests, the watch was put un­der pres­sure that could crush a nu­clear...

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