The story behind the Rolex Sea-Dweller

Sea-Dweller : a part of the Rolex Oyster Perpetual Date family.

The Rolex Sea-Dweller is part of the Oyster Perpetual Date family. As you know, Oyster is the water resistant serie of Rolex since the 30s. During the Roaring Twenties (and Thirties), watch producers wanted to be dirt and rain-proof but none of them were thinking about being water-resistant. Rolex, which has always been a marketing-genius company, had first understood that the time of diving, snorkeling and sea-swimming was coming !  They decided to produce a watch that was so resistant that you could swim with : the Oyster. 

To announce it to the world, Rolex became the sponsor of a famous race : the first race to cross the Channel. Rolex offered an Oyster to a charming young lady swimmer called Mercedes. The first waterproof luxury watch was born ! The lovely Mercedes Gleitze was part of the legendary Rolex story ! 

"Perpetual" means that the watch is automatic. In 1932, Rolex used a heavy rotor to reload the watch automatically when its user was moving. 

In this Oyster Perpetual Date family, we also find the best-selling Rolex Submariner. By the way, the Sea-Dweller seems to be considered by Rolex as a professional Submariner (the notice inside the Sea-Dweller box is a Submariner notice). Let's see how the Sea-Dweller is born. 

The History of the Rolex Sea-Dweller

A Rolex Sea-Dweller 116660


Rolex Sea-Dweller 1665

The History of the Sea-Dweller is interesting and not so well-known, several "Rolex experts" are still arguing on some details of its origin, including some people who are working for the Rolex Company. Let's try to reassume it anyway. If we believe what Rolex is writing, the Sea-Dweller was conceived for deep diving for a team of professional divers from the COMEX : the Compagnie Maritime d'Expertise (in French). This French company based in Marseille still exist today : Comex. Comex asked Rolex to design a watch able to support the pressure of deep diving in saturated atmosphere. This detail was important because Rolex had to add a helium valve on the watch. The first answer of Rolex was a Submariner 5513 (which is a very nice Submariner 20 ATM) modified to withstand that level of pressure. As the prototype was working, Rolex decided to industrialize that watch and created in 1971 the first Rolex Sea-Dweller, the reference 1665. There is a debate on the date as Rolex says the first Sea-Dweller was produced in 1967. They may consider their modified 5513 prototype as the first Sea-Dweller. Anyway, the first watch with "Sea-Dweller Submariner 2000" written in red on its dial was produced in 1971. It was 2000 feet water-resistant and had an acrylic "verre bombé", a Trip-lock crown and a bidirectional bezel. The red writing disappeared in 1973 with some modifications on the Sea-Dweller 1665. It had a caliber 1570 with 16 rubis inside. 


Rolex Sea-Dweller 16600

Around 1980, the Sea-Dweller was strongly modified to integrate a saphir glass, a second-stop mechanism, a fast-changing date, a new helium date and a unidirectional bezel. Its water-resistance was led to 4000 feet/1220m then and were now named reference 16600. This extreme 122 ATM is key as it gives to the Sea-Dweller the ability to be used by professional divers. It gives legitimity to the Rolex legend. 

You can find some interesting pre-owned Rolex Sea-Dweller in our Rolex page

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