The Rolex Sea-Dweller 126600 watch hands-on
Every year, in late March, at Baselworld, Rolex unleashes the enthusiasm of journalists and fans alike. The moment when the shutters of the windows of the Rolex’s stand finally go up is like a a ritual for adepts, a sort of rite in which all the hypotheses and theories on the new collections that the international press have made melt like snow in the sun and leave the word to evidence.
It is in this rite that you can see the extent of waiting and expectations that the Geneva based brand is able to generate among the crowds, and it happens only once a year for this brand, there will be no other occasions.
The first wristwatch ever to be equipped with a helium escape valve
Last year marked fifty years since the most famous diver’s watch ever was created. Not the first professional diver's watch that has been sold because that record belongs to the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms, but certainly the most celebrated one.
It was 1967 when the Rolex Sea-Dweller, the faithful companion to the Comex expeditions, appeared for the first time and introduced a novelty: it was the first watch equipped with a small valve on one side of the case to expel the helium trapped inside the case itself that had entered during the decompression phase of a saturation diving session.
The Rolex Sea-Dweller wasn’t therefore the first diver’s watch in history but it was the timepiece that pioneered the modern concept of professional instrument and introduced the very first major innovation that many brands then adopted at a later stage.
It pioneered the diver's watches industry as much as Japanese diver's watches are pioneering it today (no helium escape valve needed anymore).
It pays tribute to the original Sea-Dweller
The Rolex Sea-Dweller 126600 pays tribute to the first timepiece, the original one baring the applied red inscription Sea-Dweller on the dial, for the delight of collectors and lovers of the brand alike. Leaving aside this marketing-driven aesthetic and historical quirk, what is the real value of the largest Sea-Dweller in history?
The Submariner for professional divers, as I used to call it, has taken a different path, increasing the size of the case up to 43mm; a move with which Rolex seems it wanted to start and divide its hyper professional Oyster from its classic diver’s watches (the Submariner). It is also a logical move if seen within a strategy of clear division of collections and missions but it loses a bit of its coherence and meaning when you realize that the sapphire crystal has been equipped with a Cyclops lens for the first time; a bizarre rather than a questionable choice, that finds its explanation in the transformation process from a Submariner to a Deepsea.
The Rolex Sea-Dweller 126600 has been re-positioned
I have always liked the Rolex Sea-Dweller 126600 for its elegant tool-watch personality and its perfectly flat glass, but it is also true that, at the time of the photo shoot last year, I wasn’t there in person and wasn’t therefore able to touch and see the new Sea-Dweller from close.
The result looks like a professional and enlarged Submariner, thicker than usual, that preserves the Cyclops lens. Rolex has changed the diameter to integrate the new Sea-Dweller within the category of professional diver’s watches and detach it in size (at this point, I also assume there was a likely product overlap) from the Submariners, while still leaving an aesthetic link with the Submariner and representing nearly a transitional model between the two collections.
Externally, if we exclude the increase in the case diameter, which makes it as a real alternative to the DeepSea (one mm larger and even thicker), all the features that have characterized the Rolex production since 2008 have not changed at all: the graduated uni-directional bezel sports a Cerachrom-made insert with a graduation that is coated with a thin platinum layer through a PVD-process, just to name one. The teeth on the rotating bezel are bigger than on a Submariner so as to help divers easily rotate it when diving.
A new caliber, featuring the Chronergy escapement
The real revolution lies inside, because the 3135 caliber has been replaced by the new 3235 caliber which already equips many of the Rolex watches. A particularly advanced caliber, actually completely redesigned; Rolex engineers have revamped more than 90% of its components, they have increased its power-reserve up to 70 hours, they have introduced the Chronergy escapement, which greatly improves the efficiency of the energy conversion process going from the barrel to the regulating organ.
As it always happens with Rolex movements, effects are visible when used over a long period of time (reliability is top notch) rather than in the finishing lines that are not (and never will) be visible to the naked eye; an aspect which makes them particularly attractive and interesting for those who repair watches and those experts, who enjoy un-assembling them and then highlighting all the differences between the brand’s old and new calibers. The finishes on the caliber have never been a priority for the Geneva based brand that has always focused on performance rather than on decorations.
It is now certified as a Superlative Chronometer
The Rolex Sea-Dweller 126600, like all the new Rolex timepieces, ticks all the boxes to be crowned a Superlative Chronometer, whose precision is no longer certified by the COSC (an obsolete standard) but rather by an internally-led and certified verification process through a procedure that has become “in-house” today; it goes from forging the billets to craft the 904L cases (a steel that is so nice once polished as easy to be scratched in comparison to AISI316L) in Rolex’s metallurgy department all the way to the production of all the components of a caliber, including the Parachrom Blue balance spring (antimagnetic).
The Rolex Sea-Dweller 126600 retails at a price that exceeds the 10,000-euro-threshold (10,550 euro to be more precise). The retails price that the brand established as a psychological threshold for its steel Oyster watches is a distant memory, but the considerations on the value of a Rolex go beyond the canonical association between the price and the product itself, despite this threshold being recognized on the market. The features go far beyond the technical features that many of our readers are familiar with and that many would find boring to read about.
Rolex Sea-Dweller 126600: final thoughts
When you buy a Rolex Sea-Dweller 126600 or, I would rather say, a Rolex Sea-Dweller Oystersteel, according to the new terminology in place at Rolex, you are not only buying an excellently built diver’s watch, but you also buy a piece of history and it is an experience that goes beyond the mere product, it also includes factors such as the brand’s appeal and the way the product is presented. The latter aspect is not secondary, despite many brands overlooking it, and it includes the elegant and premium communication model of Rolex, whether it is the official site rather than the theme-based installation available at the booth in Basel, last year. This is, to be honest, not my Oystersteel's cup of tea, as I'd rather opt for a Rolex Yacht-Master 40mm 116621 Two Tone Everose Steel Chocolate Dial, that I find more versatile than a Rolex Sea-Dweller Oystersteel, has a more attractive price (the Rolex Sea-Dweller Oystersteel retails at a price that is 3000 euro over its suggested retail price), and is, finally, a Rolesor.
(Photo credit: Horbiter®'s proprietary photo-shooting)
Gaetano C @Horbiter®