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Rolex Sea-Dweller

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Going Deep with the Rolex Sea-Dweller

The Sea-Dweller is Rolex's professional diving watch. It can reach depths to 1,000 m (3,280 ft) and has a helium escape valve to equalize pressure. However, this extremely robust watch is also a great everyday watch for use on land.

Highlights

  • Sea-Dweller 4000: waterproof to 1,220 m (4,000 ft)
  • Sea-Dweller Deepsea: waterproof to 3,900 m (12,800 ft)
  • In-house caliber 3135
  • Paramagnetic balance spring
  • Helium escape valve and ceramic bezel

An Extreme Diving Watch

The Sea-Dweller collection consists of two watches: the larger Deepsea (44 mm) and the somewhat smaller Sea-Dweller 4000 (40 mm). Both are relatively new models, and both are successors of the Sea-Dweller, though they came out in different years. The first Sea-Dweller, on the other hand, was the result of improvements to the Submariner from 1953. Rolex had already begun their pioneering work in waterproof watches with the Oyster in the 1920s.
The watches in the Sea-Dweller collection are classic diving watches with unidirectional rotating bezels and luminous hands. The maximal diving depth of the Sea-Dweller 4000 is 1,220 m (4,000 ft), and the Deepsea can go to 3,900 m (12,800 ft). Both watches have cases made of 904L stainless steel, which has a much higher nickel and molybdenum content than other types of steel. The 904L stainless steel is beloved due to its resistance to corrosion and robustness.

Buying Tips

If you decide on a Sea-Dweller, you won't be testing the limits of your watch's capabilities even if you're a professional diver: Rolex designed these watches to go to depths that only special submarines can reach. However, you can go snorkeling, waterskiing, or swimming with the Sea-Dweller without a problem. Furthermore, the watch has the beloved and often replicated design of the Submariner. Those watches are considered indestructible, as they can reach depths deeper than 1,000 m (3,280 ft or 100 bar). The production and material thickness are accordingly solid.
There are only a few diving watches that can compete with the Sea-Dweller 4000 and the Deepsea in terms of water resistance and depth. One is the Omega Seamaster Ploprof, which can go down to 1,200 m, but has an angular design. The 500 Fathoms, a variant of Blancpain's Fifty Fathoms, can be taken to 1,000 m (3,280 ft). The Breitling Avenger II Seawolf can go even deeper to 3,000 m (9,850 ft).
With the exception of the Breitling, all of these watches easily cost more than 5,000 euros, some even in the five-figure range. A new Deepsea costs around 11,000 euros, while a Sea-Dweller 4000 costs around 9,500 euros. For rare and highly sought-after vintage models of the earlier Sea-Dweller (reference number 1665), you should be prepared to spend 20,000 euros or more.
If you want to stay under this price range, watches from Sinn are a good option. The Sinn U2, powered by the reliable ETA 2893-2 caliber, is waterproof to 200 bar (2,000 m or 6,560 ft).

Other Deep Diving Watches

  • Breitling Avenger II Seawolf, 3,000 m (9,850 ft), new for 4,000 euros
  • IWC Aquatimer Automatic 2000, 2,000 m (6,560 ft), new for less than 8,000 euros
  • Omega Seamaster Ploprof, 1,200 m (3,940 ft), new for 6,500 euros
  • Sinn U2, 2,000 m (6,560 ft), new for less than 2,500 euros

Blue Chromalight

All Sea-Dweller models feature a date display at three o'clock. The standard versions have a stainless steel bracelet, a unidirectional rotating bezel with white markings, and a black dial with fluorescent white dot and line indices. The white hands are also fluorescent. The hour hand is a so-called Mercedes hand, a traditional Rolex characteristic informally named for the three-pointed star shortly before the end of the hand. In the dark, the hands glow blue, as they're filled with Chromalight. Similar to the 904L stainless steel, Rolex is unique in their use of Chromalight; most other diving watches use the green-glowing Superluminova.

Withstanding 390 Bars of Pressure

In 2008, the Deepsea replaced the original Sea-Dweller. However, the old inscription remained in addition to the new Deepsea inscription, as consistency is one of the most important principles in Rolex's philosophy. Size is the first thing you notice about the Deepsea, as it's an impressive 44 mm in diameter. Until the Deepsea was introduced, the largest Sea-Dweller was only 40 mm. The Deepsea can also go to impressive depths: It's waterproof to 390 bar, and can therefore go down 3,900 m (12,800 ft) beneath the ocean's surface. In comparison, most watches for recreational divers are only waterproof to 200 m (650 ft).
Intricate construction is required for a watch to function and be waterproof at 3,900 m. The Deepsea features a Triplock screw-down crown, and its sapphire glass is 5 mm thick. The titanium alloy case back is screwed onto the Monobloc middle case.

Helium Escape Valve for Longer Dives

The Deepsea offers a special technical extra that's necessary for long dives underwater: a helium escape valve. When divers stay for days or weeks in diving chambers, they must breathe special air saturated with helium. Tiny helium molecules find their way into the watch, and later, as the diver rises to the surface, the molecules cannot escape fast enough. This creates excess pressure in the watch and can cause the glass to pop out. To prevent this, Rolex invented the helium escape valve, which equalizes pressure. In the Deepsea and Sea-Dweller 4000, it operates automatically, while in some other diving watches, such as the Seamaster Planet Ocean from Omega, it must be operated by hand.

COSC-Certified Automatic Movement

The automatic, in-house caliber 3135 powers the Deepsea. It has an instantaneous date with rapid setting. The central second hand can be stopped in order to set the watch to an exact reference time. The movement is COSC-certified, proving its precision.
The caliber 3135 has ticked away in the Sea-Dweller 4000 since 2014. The watch is a bit smaller at 40 mm and therefore well-suited for thinner wrists, but its design is similar to the Deepsea. Both watches have unidirectional, rotating ceramic bezels. Since the bezel is unidirectional, the dive time cannot be accidentally lengthened, only shortened. The markings and numerals on the bezel are coated in platinum.
The second part of the Sea-Dweller 4000's name comes from the maximum depth it can reach - 4,000 feet, or 1,220 meters. The watch is perfect for ocean depths that are normally only reached by professional divers. The first Sea-Dweller was designed with this group in mind when it premiered in the 1960s.

The Submariner as Inspiration

The origins of this watch are closely connected to the Compagnie maritime d'expertises (COMEX), a French undersea engineering company. The development of offshore oil fields created new jobs for divers, who were needed to construct offshore drilling platforms and pipelines. This job required the divers, as well as their watches, to dive deeper and deeper. COMEX has specialized in these sorts of underwater tasks since 1961. Rolex provided COMEX with a Submariner (reference number 5513), the first watch to feature a helium escape valve. This Submariner can be recognized by the inscription on its dial. These watches sell for over 50,000 euros. Be prepared to pay six figures for rare Sea-Dweller models without helium escape valves that were developed for depths of 1,500 m (4,900 ft); US marines wore these watches.
Rolex introduced the Sea-Dweller in 1967. The watch premiered with three distinctive features: a helium escape valve, waterproofness to 610 m (2,000 ft), and availability on the normal market. This was a new combination; however, the production run was still small. The watch can be identified by reference number 1665. The model designation on the dial was red for the first few years, and is an important detail for collectors. The one or two-line red inscription was a feature until 1977. These watches earned a fitting nickname: "Single Red" and "Double Red."

1978: An Important Year for Innovation

Nineteen seventy-eight was a year that brought changes far beyond the red inscription on the dial becoming white. The caliber 3035 replaced the 1575 caliber. The number of alternations increased with the new movement, going from 19,800 to 28,800 A/h, which also improved precision. The watch's waterproofness improved too, raising from 610 to 1,220 m (4,000 ft). The next big change was in 2008, when the Deepsea replaced the Sea-Dweller. Six years later, the Sea-Dweller had its comeback as the Sea-Dweller 4000.
The Deepsea, as well as the Sea-Dweller 4000, are successors to the Submariner, which premiered in 1953. Newer versions of the Submariner are waterproof to 30 bar (300 m, 980 ft), and can therefore be used during most underwater activities. Thus, the Submariner is an alternative to these two watches if you're looking for something different, but still want a Rolex. The Sea-Dweller 4000 and the Submariner both have 40-mm cases and look similar at first glance. There is an important distinguishing feature, though: The Submariner, powered by the 3135 caliber, features a Cyclops lens in order to magnify the date display.

Deepsea Challenge

Rolex offers a special Deepsea model with a two-color gradient blue and black dial, the so-called D-Blue dial. The watch is a celebration of filmmaker James Cameron's (Titanic) journey down to the Challenger Deep on March 26th, 2012. The Challenger Deep is 10,908 m under the ocean's surface in the Mariana Trench. Cameron took along a special Rolex Deepsea Challenge, which was fixed to the outside of the submarine.