The Rolex Sea-Dweller reference 126600 was announced at Baselworld 2017, in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the model (launched in 1967). The Sea-Dweller is one of Rolex’s most important, though arguably least commercial products a true tool watch catering to true professionals. This latest incarnation is very much a Sea-Dweller, but there are many updates, including some that are technically minor but emotionally significant departures from models that came before. In this A Week On The Wrist review, I’ll examine those and try to unpack just what they mean. Also, we’ll talk about what this watch is meant to do, and what it’s not meant to do.
Rolex And The Pursuit of Waterproofness
In my detailed look at Rolex from 2015, I talk about founder Hans Wildorf’s pursuit of three different properties that would come to define Rolex watches: precision timekeeping, an automatic movement, and finally, resistance to water. Why was this so important to Wilsdorf? Because prior to the introduction of the Oyster in 1926, watches (then mostly of the pocket variety) were often seen at sporting events, but always on the sidelines.
However, Wilsdorf believed there was a real market for watches that could be worn during active sports by participants themselves. The early Oyster cases featured the first fluted bezels used by Rolex, so that watchmakers could screw them in tighter to the case middle. Of course, the screw-down Oyster crown was an important innovation from the Rolex family that further allowed wearers of these watches to go deeper than ever before.
In 1953, Rolex and Blancpain both showed professional dive watches (which came first is debatable and therefore frequently debated) and the category that many of us love so much was born. While the Fifty Fathoms was discontinued decades ago before being reintroduced by the modern incarnation of Blancpain, the Submariner has remained a constant force in the watch world for over 60 years. When it was first shown, complete with its screw-down crown, luminous radium dial, and rotating bezel, one could expect water resistance up to an impressive (for that time) 100 meters.
Indeed, reference 6204 and the original “big crown” reference 6200 offered divers remarkably robust tool watches. The later 6205, 6536, and 6538 followed suit, as the did the later Submariners that we all know today.
Before that though, Rolex produced what was arguably the ne plus ultra of pre-1950s dive watches as well, they just didn’t have the Rolex name on the dial. Yes, some of the original Panerais during this period created predominantly for Italian military divers were made completely by Rolex, and feature Rolex cases and movements. It should be noted not all of the early Panerai wristwatches used Rolex movements and cases, but several of the earliest did and they remain very collectible one such example is the tropical dial piece owned by John Goldberger and seen in his episode of Talking Watches.
Did You Know?
The “Submariner” wasn’t always intended to be the Submariner, and just as Rolex experimented with names for the Daytona and other now well-known models, there was a time when the Rolex diver could have been called “Sub-Acqua.” A few early examples with this name have surfaced over the years such as this one at Antiquorum in 2013.
Rolex continued to produce the Submariner in a host of variants without interruption, and as you all know, continues to produce it today. In the first couple of decades of consumer and professional dive watch production, there were certainly other serious dive watches out there, but many of them though impressive technically were not widely distributed, and few reached the level of commercial or professional success of the Sub. Omega’s Seamaster line is truly the Submariner’s only contender in the 1960s for a readily available dive watch, and they should not be over looked though the story of the Seamaster has far more tangents than that of the Submariner. But this story isn’t about the Submariner, is it? Let’s move on to the introduction of the otherRolex dive watch, which came about 14 years later.
The Introduction Of The OTHER Rolex Dive Watch
In many ways, the Sea-Dweller is the best expression of Rolex as a brand. From its very beginning, the model showed a preoccupation on Rolex’s part with extensive over-engineering, and performance above all else. Remember, Rolex already had a more than capable dive watch in the 5512 and 5513 Submariners, and yet it wanted to build something even tougher a watch meant for those who not only worked, but in some cases, actually lived underwater.
The Sea-Dweller was born in an era when the next great stage of exploration of extreme environments never before visited was just beginning. Man had not yet been to the moon. It was just a decade before that Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay scaled Everest for the first time; a few short years later, in 1960, the bathyscaphe Trieste successfully descended to the deepest point in the ocean. It was also during this time that the first permanent research stations were established in Antarctica, and that Nautilus, the first nuclear submarine, traveled under the Polar ice cap to the North Pole.
This was an era of scientific discovery, and the world was captivated by these feats of perseverance and determination to the point where the dive into the Marianas Trench landed Bob Walsh andJacques Piccard on the cover of Life Magazine, arguably the magazine of record for most Americans at the time. These years of prosperity led to some of mankind’s greatest explorations, and it was these feats by the greatest generation that captured the minds and hearts of the baby boomers. There was simply nothing more exciting than exploration in the late 1950s and early 1960s, whether of outer space or the deepest oceans, and this is why it makes perfect sense that during this period, Rolex developed the Sea-Dweller.
Two Experimental Rolex Dive Watches, 52 Years Apart
It should be noted that the Sea-Dweller did come after the Deep-Sea Special, the watch clamped to the outside of the Triestewhen it descended to the bottom of the Challenger Deep. But that watch was enormous completely unwearable and of course, it wasn’t even really designed to be worn in the first place. The same can be said for another experimental watch made by Rolex in 2012, the Deepsea Challenge, a monster 51mm mega-dive watch that James Cameron strapped to the outside of his vessel when he recreated the historic 1960 dive. The Sea-Dweller wasn’t devised as a one-time use tool, or a prototype from which other technology could be taken it was made for the most serious divers in the world, and meant to be worn daily, over a long period of time.
Listen To Scott Carpenter Talk About SEALAB In His Own Words
Jake Ehrlich from RolexMagazine.com has a wonderful history of Scott Carpenter’s time wearing a Rolex both as an astronaut and an aquanaut. He even interviewed Carpenter himself in a 2008 podcast, which you can listen to here.
As mentioned, the connection between outer space and “inner space,” (a term that was coined by the Eisenhower administration after the successful dives of Trieste) was a real one. In fact, one of NASA’s most famous names played a part in both. Scott Carpenter, one of the original seven Mercury astronauts and the pilot of the second manned orbital flight by an American, in Aurora 7, took leave from NASA in 1965 to participate in the U.S. Navy’s “Man-in-the-Sea” Project called SEALAB. (Because hey, isn’t that what most of us would do if given a leave of absence from NASA?) As a team leader for SEALAB II off the coast of La Jolla, California in the summer of 1965, Carpenter and his team members spent 30 days living and working on the ocean floor conducting studies from a seafloor habitat at 205 feet underwater.
With Carpenter was Bob Barth,who was the only man to participate in the three different SEALAB missions. His Submariner reference 5512 was offered for sale a few years back though the seller made no mention of how important this Submariner and its owner were for the development of the Sea-Dweller.
In an interview conducted by Jason Heaton back in 2012, Barth tells of how he and his fellow crew members, while undergoing decompression in a decompression chamber, would sometimes hear a quick “pop” only to find that the crystal of someone’s watch Submariners, Blancpains, and Tudors, mostly had come off. The basic problem was the helium in the breathing gasses used in SEALAB. Helium forms very small molecules, which can over time penetrate the seals of a dive watch and build up in the case. Divers would spend several days in a decompression chamber, where air pressure would gradually be lowered from that at working depth, to air pressure at sea level. The helium would not be able to leak back out of the watch case quickly enough and the result was increasingly greater pressure inside the watch case often, enough to pop the crystal off. It was the SEALAB missions that first called for a helium escape valve, which was introduced within the Rolex range on the Sea-Dweller and remains a staple of this model to this day.
The Exceptions To The Rule
There are a small batch of early Sea-Dwellers that have only one line of red text on the dial. These “Single Red” Sea-Dwellers are exceedingly rare, feature a depth range of 500m instead of 600m, and often times do not have a helium escape valve. These are prototypes and generally fetch hundreds of thousands of dollars at auction, such as this one did in 2013.
The Sea-Dweller reference 1665 was introduced in 1967 as Rolex’s biggest, baddest, most capable dive watch. It was water resistant to 610 meters, roughly double what a 5513 was rated to at the time, and featured two lines of red text reading “Sea-Dweller / Submariner 2000”. The crown was a Trip-Lock; the watch featured a date (useful to saturation divers who could spend days in a decompression chamber) and it was the first time a Rolex diver would feature the complication, predating the 1680 Submariner ever so briefly.
The crystal was domed and cyclops-less. The bracelet had an extension clasp that allowed the owner to quickly open up the bracelet to allow it to fit on the outside of a diving suit. This is how the Sea-Dweller was born and how it remained for some time (we would lose the red lettering in the mid 70s around the same time the 1680 lost its red from the dial) and over the years we would see continual improvements to water resistant engineering in Rolex’s most professional line. That is, of course, until Rolex killed the Sea-Dweller as we know it.
The Semi-Sea-Dweller-Less Years
Now, Rolex is nothing if not consistent. And to think that one of the mighty five Rolex sports watches introduced in the 195os and 60s could be effectively killed off is hard to believe. But it happened, sort of. From 2009 to 2014, there was no Sea-Dweller in the Rolex catalog. Okay, so there was the 44mm Sea-Dweller Deep-Sea, which took the concept of a pro tool diver even further, with its downright silly 3,900 meter depth rating. But along with it came an oversized 44mm case, and then in 2014, the gradient blue to black dial of the “D-Blue” edition.
It was the first time in recent years that Rolex creating a special dial for one of its existing sports watches, and it did not sit well with everyone. Still, the D-Blue was one of the hottest watches in the world when it was announced, and the traditional black dial 44mm, titanium caseback Sea-Dweller Deep-Sea is very much a Rolex it’s just that many yearned for a serious diver in a traditional 40mm size.
At Baselworld 2014, that’s what we got with the Sea-Dweller 4000. Reference 116600 was 40mm in diameter, featured a cyclops-less crystal and ceramic bezel, and was rated to 4000 feet, or 1,220 meters. This may not have been a super exciting reference, but it filled a void that had been vacant for half a decade and all was well with the world of Rolex divers. And then came Baselworld 2017.
A Week On The Wrist With The Rolex Sea-Dweller Reference 126600
Rolex at Baselworld 2017 was a little anti-climactic for some, at least relative to 2016. There wasn’t an A-list mega introduction like there was last year with the Daytona. Instead there was an update to the least well-known and certainly least understood tool watch made by Rolex.
The new Sea-Dweller came as a surprise in some ways but not others. Of course, 2017 marks the 50th anniversary of the introduction of the first Sea-Dweller 1665. But also it’s important to note that we got a whole new Sea-Dweller in 2014 that’s a heck of a short run for a Rolex reference when you remember that the first Sea-Dweller was made from 1967 all the way up until the 1980s. The 5513 ran from the early ’60s through the late ’80s.
This is Rolex, dammit, and things shouldn’t change too quickly but they did. Though the 116600 Sea-Dweller 4000 was a great watch, with its cyclops-less crystal, 40mm case, and ceramic bezel, Rolex replaced it just three years after it was introduced.
The new 126600 is very much a Sea-Dweller though, don’t be confused about that. It has a helium escape valve just as it should and it’s water resistant to 1,300 feet deeper than the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building, is high. The thing is incredible, undoubtedly. However we gained three millimeters in diameter from 2014 to 2017, and that means it’s no longer the same case size as the original. Further we have a cyclops window on the crystal, which if you’re a Sea-Dweller guy, could be seen as something of a tragedy. Let’s go through the reference 126600 in detail, now that I’ve had a chance to spend a week wearing it.
Forty three millimeters isn’t huge. But it’s not small either. It’s a full 3mm larger in diameter than the previous generation Sea-Dweller, and well, all Sea-Dwellers that came before it. It remains 15mm thick (as measured by myself; case thickness is not a number Rolex shares), and while my first reaction to this upsizing of a historical tool watch is, “gah, Rolex, why did you do that!?” let’s consider the following.
The Sea-Dweller started at 40mm and stayed there at its original size for approximately half a century. The same can not be said for the Daytona, which went from 37mm to 40mm in the late 1980s, the Explorer II, which went from 40mm to 42mm in 2011, and the Explorer I, which upsized to 39mm in 2010. Even the Milgaus, when it was brought back to life, appeared in a larger size.
The GMT-Master and Submariner were both born small (37mm) and quickly upsized to 40mm in the 1960s where they remain, more or less today. But if we have a Submariner at 40mm, doesn’t it make sense that the more rugged and deeper rated Sea-Dweller is a little bigger? As much as it might frustrate many of us, it does seem to compute.
Now that’s not to say I like it. But one thing I’ve learned about the watch business is that there is always something for everyone, and I knowthat thousands of people out there are thrilled that the new SD is 43mm. In fact, in our introducing post from BaselWorld this year, there was a shocking amount of support within the 187 comments about the larger size. With the new size comes a larger lug width 20mm to 22mm though the new dimensions don’t make the piece that outlandish on the wrist.
Naturally, the build quality and finish of this solid block of 904L stainless steel is truly excellent, and you can see the sharp lines and intense polishing in the picture above. The helium escape valve is flush against the case side, and notice how crisp the brushing is on the ridges of the bezel. Of course, we have a Trip-Lock crown as well.
Now, about the depth rating. The Sea-Dweller is water resistant to 4,000 feet, or 1,220 meters. That is very, very deep. But it is the exact same depth that the previous generation SD was rated to, and that was three millimeters smaller.
Four thousand feet is fantastically deep, but it has been brought up by some that if this new reference is larger and “new and improved,” why would the depth rating remain the same from a previous generation? It’s a fair question perhaps, especially considering the fact that all Rolex watches go through a proprietary “Oyster” test using pressurized machines (borrowed from, you guessed it, COMEX) to ensure the watches are in fact rated to 10% deeper than what is printed on the dial.
But what makes things even more curious is that Rolex actually tests their dive watches to a good 25% beyond what is printed on the dial. This means that Rolex could, in fact, have made the new reference 126600 rated to 5,000 feet without having to change much on the watch at all, and that might have put down some of the complaints about the larger case size the new reference wouldn’t have only been larger, but it would’ve been likely perceived as a more capable dive tool which is tough to argue with. (Of course all this is kind of abstract anyway; only six people have ever dived deeper than 300 meters, but we all know dive watch fans love overkill.)
What’s interesting here is that the Rolex Deepsea Sea-Dweller, which clocks in at just one millimeter larger than the new Sea-Dweller, is rated to an astonishing 12,800 feet using the Rolex Ring Lock system. Granted, the watch is not only 1mm larger than the Sea-Dweller, but also considerably thicker (though it uses a neat titanium caseback to save some weight not found on the Sea-Dweller, new or old) however one would think if a patron was interested in a 43mm super diver, he’d simply take the next step and have the Deepsea in exchange for a little extra heft.
Now, the dial here is something that few can complain about. For the first time since the 1970s, we have a Sea-Dweller with red on it. And it’s not two lines of red text as we all imagined it might be, but instead, just a single line saying “Sea-Dweller.” As we’ve said, the earliest known examples of the reference 1665 Sea-Dweller featured only a single line of text in red on the dial; very few outside the deep dark world of vintage Rolex collecting know this.
Every now and then we’ll get a signal from the Crown that says, “Yes, guys, we know you’re out there and we ARE paying attention.” This single line of red text is one of those signals.
The “Double-Red” is a well-discussed and often mentioned vintage watch, the Single Red is not. It has been said there are as few as six known single red Sea-Dwellers, though a few more have been discovered as recently as March of this year. Now many collectors of old Rolex watches like to complain that the company that they love so much doesn’t care about them and in fact Rolex didn’t become Rolex by selling to vintage collectors, but rather by selling new watches to the average person you meet on the street (all of them). Still, every now and then we’ll get a signal from the crown that says “Yes, guys, we know you’re out there and we are paying attention.” This single line of red text is one of those signals.
The other not-so-noticeable difference between the dial of the new 126600 and the outgoing 116600 is that the old black dial had a satin finish and this new one is a little glossy. And with the upsizing of the case comes a slight upsizing of the Chromalight and white gold hour markers, and hands, to keep things in proportion. Again, this being Rolex, their Chromalight technology actually glows up to eight hours, which is twice as long as traditional SuperLuminova. Oh, and it glows blue.
Finally, on the front of the watch, you can see that the date window has a cyclops magnifier over it. This was the single most controversial change to the Sea-Dweller, even more so than the 43mm case, though perhaps some of the criticism is a little over the top. Not that I don’t give credence to purists that complain over nuances I’m usually one of them. But in this case, when asked about adding a cyclops to the crystal of the Sea-Dweller, a gentleman from Rolex simply stated, “This watch is about functionality. A cyclops makes it easier for divers to see the date above and under water. Simple as that.” Fair enough, really.
However the other side of the coin is this: how many people really use the Sea-Dweller as it’s intended to be used, anyway? And if the little things matter so much to people and the Submariner already has the cyclops date window, why not just leave the Sea-Dweller alone? I see that side too, and if it were up to me, I’d say the Sea-Dweller should feature a no-cyclops crystal because that’s how it was designed in the 1960s. That said, the same source told me that Rolex would’ve liked to use a cyclops on the Sea-Dweller all along but its crystal would not accept it it was too thick and too domed for the cyclops to work properly. So in some way, the 126600 rights a wrong that has quietly nagged at Rolex since 1967. And of course, the Deepsea at one millimeter larger is still cyclops-less if it really bugs you.
Still, this response from Rolex is a little bit like Ferrari citing performance for its use of Formula 1-style transmissions over a three-pedal manual yes, it’s faster, but there a significant percentage of the sports car buying public that thinks we reached “fast enough” years ago and would trade .03 off their car’s 0-60mph time if they could enjoy the feel of rowing their own gears.
If Rolex really wanted to make the most accurate watch in the same way Ferrari wants to make the most high performing car, wouldn’t the Sea-Dweller be quartz? Here in lies the great irony of Swiss watchmaking they want to push performance and efficiency as far as possible, but not so far that they begin to play in a field where they are no longer the experts basically until they begin sacrifice of any of their own traditions. If Ferrari, for example, was based in Geneva instead of Maranello, perhaps we’d see the new 812 Superfast with a six speed transmission and carburetors because “that’s how a real car should be made.”
But that’s another story for another day. The new Sea-Dweller has a cyclops window, like it or not.
Ah, the bracelet, the one piece of any Rolex watch that is practically impervious to critique from anyone.What’s there to say, really? The thing is a modern marvel. Rolex has long been at the forefront of bracelet engineering and indeed, they have a full team of dedicated engineers, scientists and craftsman in Geneva that ensure what they produce is the bar by which all other bracelets are measured. And yes, if you didn’t know this already, Gay Freres, the maker of those incredible vintage bracelets you see not only on Rolex watches but also many others (including vintage Pateks) was acquired by Rolex some years back.
Further Reading… On Bracelets
Because this is HODINKEE, you can be sure that if you want to know more about the origins and variations of the Rolex Oyster bracelet, we have a story on it. Enter at your own risk.
The particulars of this new Sea-Dweller bracelet are this: it’s 904L stainless steel (like the case) and made of solid links together with a taper at the buckle. These are flat brushed links, no center polishing (as you’ll see on, say, the new Daytona). This bracelet has an “Oysterlock” clasp Rolex’s term for a fold-over clasp, and something the Sea-Dweller has had since its inception. As for the bracelet itself, it is all about functionality and comfort, though I will admit to some slight disappointment in the wear of the bracelet after a short period of time I’ll get to that shortly. First, the let’s talk about special features of the bracelet. And this is Rolex after all so you have not one but two clever little tricks to make sure this bracelet works in any circumstance.
The first is a system called Rolex Glidelock. This allows the wearer to adjust the bracelet from the clasp, at 2mm intervals, all the way up to 20mm. The second system, which is particular to Rolex dive watches, is called a Fliplock link, and this quickly extends the whole length of the bracelet by 27mm! Don’t quite understand how this works? Fear not, we’ve created a gif for you.
Both of these systems operate just as you see above without the use of a single tool. The Fliplock extension link is perhaps a little unsightly with its large, flat surface, but if you are trying to put this watch on over a dive suit at all, you likely don’t care at all. This link attaches to the very last Oyster link before the bracelet hits the clasp.
These two systems make the Sea-Dweller bracelet tough to argue with from a functionality stand point. And the Oysters are notoriously comfortable to wear around daily. But something I’ve noticed on both my modern Rolex watches (Daytona and GMT-Master) and now this Sea-Dweller, is that the Oysterlock clasp can feel a little tinny at times, and when open, can rub against the bracelet links.
This Sea-Dweller is a press unit, but it hasn’t seen much action at all. The brushing work on the clasp itself is incredible. Look at it just looking cool and crisp and awesome on my wrist.
But, when you turn the watch a little further to see the link just above the folding clasp, you notice that there are some scuffs that are, well, just a little surprising. Now this isn’t anything really offensive, and metal-on-metal wear is practically unavoidable, but still, seeing these marks on a brand new Oyster bracelet with little daily wear was not something I anticipated.
A few scuffs aside, the Rolex Oyster bracelet is still the best damn bracelet you can buy there are other “finer” bracelets out there, no doubt, but few can match the comfort and quality seen here. When you add in these tool-less adjustments, you have something even better than before. Further proof that Rolex really doesn’t leave good enough alone.
Now this is the least mentioned but arguably most important change to the Rolex Sea-Dweller for 2017. The caliber 3235 is Rolex’s latest and greatest movement, featuring 14 new patents not seen on the 3135 used in the 2014 model year Sea-Dweller. The updates are noticeable and significant that is, of course, if you actually care about watchmaking. Admittedly, most buyers of the Sea-Dweller do not, but I’m going to cover the updates anyway. The 3235 is based on an existing caliber 3255, which was introduced in 2015 in the Rolex Day-Date 40. (The Day-Date is the flagship model for Rolex and it gets the new hotness first, almost without fail.)
This new caliber has lots to offer at the center of the advancements is the Chronergy escapement, a stream-lined version of the traditional Swiss lever escapement. The escape wheel is skeletonized to reduce inertia, and Rolex claims it is far more efficient this way. We also have components made of a nickel-phosphorus alloy, which make the movement significantly more resistant to magnetism than a traditional caliber, and of course, we have the in-house Rolex Parachrom balance spring (also amagnetic). The result is a power reserve of 70 hours (up from 40) and a movement that is rated to not only COSC standards but also to “Superlative Chronometer” standards of -2/+2 seconds per day, or roughly twice as precise as COSC. (The COSC also tests only movements whereas the Superlative Chronometer rating is for the entire watch). The Sea-Dweller is the very first sports watch to receive a caliber with these updates, and because this is Rolex, there is absolutely zero way you’d know it by looking at the watch because it’s all hidden behind a hermetically sealed caseback. Lovely, isn’t it?
Again, most Sea-Dweller buyers likely care little for anti-magnetism, improved escapement geometry, and nickel-phosphorus alloys, but if you’re buying a Rolex, you do care about efficiency and toughness, and the caliber 3235 has that in spades. Then again, so does the Day-Date 40mm, which you can read about here thanks to my colleague Jack Forster.
Other watches that could be seen as competition for the new Sea-Dweller fall into two categories for two very different types of users: the first is watches for those men and women who simply want a big, cool, sporty dive watch from a major brand. The second is for someone who actually will use the Sea-Dweller as it’s intended, under water (and in a decompression chamber) for great lengths of time.
In the first category, there are dozens of options from major brands. Think Blancpain Fifty Fathoms, Omega Seamaster 300, maybe something from JLC or AP, even. The list goes on and on. These are all great watches, though I would say few have the permanence of the Sea-Dweller. Then again, I would venture to say that is the very appeal of all Rolex watches you just know that in 30 years, your Rolex will be just as cool as it was the day you bought it. With the others, things come and go, but with Rolex, you’re buying into a legacy. And sure, that red line of text might not last forever same with the cyclops window or the 43mm case size but you know the Sea-Dweller will always be around, and that’s worth something to the type of person who is sentimental enough to believe that spending thousands of dollars on a mechanical watch is a good idea in the first place.
The other (far, far smaller) set of possible users, are people who are actual professional saturation divers and want a technical dive watch as a backup. For this crowd the competition comes from the likes of the IWC Aquatimer 2000and the Omega PloProf both great watches from major brands rated to the same depth or even deeper than the Sea-Dweller. Again, neither feel like they have the permanence of the Sea-Dweller, but they might be a little more funky and retro, and bright colors and rubber straps abound. A case could be made for any number of Doxas, as well, which have their own underwater history, and in some cases again are rated to even deeper than the Sea-Dweller. But, as Captain Barth told Jason Heaton in 2012, “Most divers prefer to wear Rolex because they seem(ed) to be a little sturdier than anything else.”
And that’s just it. The most severe competition for the new Rolex Sea-Dweller is from Rolex. It’s the outgoing 40mm reference 116600 and the one millimeter larger, but even deeper rated, Deepsea. It’s the Submariner! Rolex has such a strong offering of dive watches it’s hard to think that if someone were slightly turned off by a feature or two of the Sea-Dweller, that they wouldn’t just turn to another Rolex diver with slightly different specs. I’ve even heard that there is a run on the outgoing 116600 because people think that will be a collectible the last 40mm, cyclops-less Sea-Dweller. It’s possible, but I also know that the current Sea-Dweller 126600 is also a very hot watch at the moment, which is saying a lot for a professional tool watch with relatively limited commercial appeal. Here’s a quick guide on how the new Sea-Dweller stacks up against its brethren.
Personal Thoughts On The New Sea-Dweller
When HODINKEE Managing Editor Stephen Pulvirent told me we’d be getting the new Sea-Dweller in for review and asked me if I wanted to give it a shot, I was a little on the fence about the whole thing. Obviously I have a thing for old Rolexes, but the Sea-Dweller has never resonated with me. In fact, I’ve owned one of every other well-known Rolex at point or another (except the Milgauss) but never a Sea-Dweller. I’ve had my Subs, and I still have my first Sub (matte dial 5512 wassup!) which for me can’t be improved upon. And yet that is what the Sea-Dweller sought to do from the very beginning. My first thought was: I’m not a diver, so why deal with the extra metal on the wrist?
How do I feel after writing this admittedly too long story on the new Sea-Dweller? Well, exactly the same. This is not a watch for me. And I say that as someone who has grown to love modern Rolex as much as vintage and in fact the next watch I buy might in fact be another modern Rolex (unless I finally get that #SpeedyTuesday call I’ve been waiting for). But it won’t be the Sea-Dweller.
Now more than ever I know that the Sea-Dweller is just too big for me. 43mm isn’t the issue, and in fact I happen to think that much as the Datograph got better when it upsized to the Up/Down, because the thickness was balanced out by the increased diameter, this watch might even work better as a 43mm than it did as a 40mm watch. It doesn’t feel so hockey-puck-ish any more.
In fact, I grew to be okay with the watch on my little girly-man wrist, which more often than not is adorned with lightweight 38mm cases and hollow-link bracelets. But here’s where I differ from the Rolex advertisement above from 1964. It reads: “Professor Picard clamped the Submariner to the outside of his Bathyscaph and took it seven miles down to the ocean floor… what is it doing at the conference table?” To me, this watch doesn’t belong at the conference table. It belongs on the wrists of people like Professor Picard, or Scott Carpenter, or Bob Barth. Or hell, maybe our own Jason Heaton(AKA the only dive watch reviewer who actually dives).But not on me it’s overkill on me. A Submariner with a jacket and tie is one thing the damn watch is part of our cultural DNA at this point but the Sea-Dweller is actually a tool. It’s something built to serve a very distinct purpose during a particular part of our history that was purposeful.
I have no issues with others wearing Sea-Dwellers daily (obviously) and I can tell you that should I ever be tapped to participate in SeaLab IX, it’ll be the first thing I buy. But until then, the Sea-Dweller will remain in my eyes just how I described it in the very beginning of this story: intellectually one of Rolex’s more important products, though commercially one of its least. It’s a true tool watch catering to true dive professionals which I am not.
The new Rolex 126600 is in stores now and you can read more about it right here.