A new exhibition on Rolex’s quest for the deep explores the pioneering role of the watch company’s most successful divers’ timepieces
A new Rolex exhibition explores the company's most successful - and pioneering - divers' timepieces
WHICH WRISTWATCH WOULD you say holds the title of the most popular and iconic timepiece on the planet? For many, the Rolex Submariner wins, hands down. Introduced in 1953, the Oyster Perpetual Submariner reference 6204 was the first commercially available dive watch that had the capability of submerging to 100 metres.
Rolex was already a pioneer in waterproof watches with the development of the Oyster, but the advent of scuba diving in the early 1950s ushered in a new era for reliable tool watches that had the ability to function underwater – and the Rolex Submariner quickly became a cult favourite amongst professional divers.
Its popularity grew with the masses, too, largely helped by the robust image painted in the James Bond series; played by Sean Connery in 1962's Dr No, Bond is seen
chasing down the bad guys with a Submariner prominently strapped to his wrist. To this day, the Submariner remains the most successful timepiece to date – from any manufacture, from any era and in any country.
Soon after, the Submariner became the blueprint for more advanced releases: the Rolex Sea-Dweller and the Rolex Deepsea. The Sea-Dweller is rather niche and not as well-known as the Submariner, the Daytona or the Datejust, but it fulfi lled everything that the watchmaker stood for. The 1960s marked a second phase for the brand in its foray into diving. Rolex was keen to develop a new timepiece that pushed the boundaries of the depths scuba divers could reach – something that could dive deeper and last longer in the sea. We're not talking about casual dives here, either; we're talking saturation diving. For those, Rolex was running into a troubling phenomenon with the Submariner – popular as they were, the Plexiglas crystal would often pop out of the decompression chamber, much like a champagne cork, after a deep dive.
To solve this unfortunate problem, Rolex invented the helium valve – a one-way set valve that released helium trapped in the watch and allowed the watch to safely decompress. Not shying away from risky endeavours and with a new innovation in hand, the watchmaker put its experimental Rolex Deep Sea Special wristwatch on the bathyscaphe Trieste on an unprecedented dive to the bottom of the Mariana Trench in the Pacific Ocean, the deepest known point in the world's oceans. Watchmaking history was made on January 23, 1960 when the watch emerged unscathed, having survived a record depth of 10,916 metres.
The patented helium valve was then added to the Sea-Dweller in 1967, creating a new breed of ultra-resistant divers' watches that were waterproof to 610 metres. By 1978, the Sea-Dweller could reach depths of 1,220 metres, far deeper than any other wristwatch available in the market at the time.
Five decades later, Rolex hasn't stopped innovating on this beloved tool watch. In 2008, Rolex created the ultimate divers' watch, the Rolex Deepsea, a watch capable of reaching 3,900 metres below the surface – a depth at which water pressure could crush a nuclear submarine like a can of soda. The Deepsea is reinforced with the patented ringlock system, but at 44mm, remains completely wearable on the wrist.
To hype up an already superior watch, Rolex set about to recreate its 1960 diving stunt. The Rolex Deepsea Challenge, which Rolex announced in 2012, was an experimental divers' watch that was guaranteed waterproof to a depth of 12,000 metres, much like its predecessor 52 years ago. The watch garnered worldwide attention when it accompanied filmmaker James Cameron on his solo submersible dive to the bottom of the Mariana Trench on
March 26, 2012. The expedition's submersible descended 10,908 metres to the Challenger Deep, the ocean's deepest point, with the watch strapped on its robotic manipulator arm; it kept perfect time throughout and emerged undamaged. History repeated itself and Rolex's position as the leader in dive watches has once again been cemented in people's minds.
There's only so much we can tell you within these pages of the incredible relationship Rolex has with deep-sea diving. An upcoming exhibition by the brand and Dickson Watch & Jewellery aims to do greater justice to Rolex's deep-sea endeavours. The Quest for the Deep is perfect for those ready to dive into Rolex's most innovative tool watch, as well as those who want to explore the myriad ways in which the watchmaker continues to support scientists and explorers in their efforts to understand underwater life and marine preservation.
The Quest for the Deep runs until July 31 and is open to all at the Rolex store in Hong Kong International Airport's Terminal 1.
Clockwise from top: The Rolex Deepsea; the Rolex Deepsea Special and the cockpit of the bathyscaphe; the Rolex Sea-Dweller