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Rolex Sea-Dweller 126600
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it—or so the adage goes. That’s more or less Rolex’s approach when releasing new models. The brand avoids drastic revisions to its watches, because it can be a dangerous game to meddle with a winning formula—and the collectors’ favourite Sea-Dweller is most definitely that. So the changes to the new Oyster Perpetual Date Sea-Dweller 126600, released at this year’s Baselworld, though seemingly subtle to the untrained eye, are a pretty big deal to Rolex aficionados.
But the Sea-Dweller can afford to be controversial. When it comes to Rolex’s deepest diver, change isn’t necessarily a bad thing—it even makes sense. After all, the watch’s genesis was the result of innovation and evolution of technology. With the invention of the aqualung in 1943 by naval officer Jacques-Yves Cousteau and engineer Émile Gagnan, diving suddenly became safer, cheaper and much more accessible. What followed was a vacuum for a reliable deep sea watch, and Omega and Rolex—as would happen so many times in the brands’ intertwined histories—were locked in a rivalry to be the first to make that watch.
Rolex’s strategy was to partner with COMEX, a French deep-sea diving specialist. The watchmaker provided COMEX with its already successful diving watch, the Submariner, at no extra cost, in exchange for deep-sea expertise. The result was the helium escape valve. The feature was vital for saturation divers, who worked at great depths for long periods of time. These divers required watches that could withstand the process of decompression, during which helium that had built up in the watch during the dive could be safely released without dislodging the crystal as both diver and watch returned to normal pressure.
The Rolex Oyster Perpetual Sea-Dweller Submariner 2000 was officially released in 1967, with a thicker crystal and a larger case to withstand the increased pressures of its mighty water resistance rating of 610m. It meant business—but Rolex didn’t stop there in its quest for ever-deeper depths. In 1978, along came the Sea-Dweller 16660, boasting a new movement, larger escape valve and an even more boundary-breaking water resistance of 1,220m. This was updated with the 16600 in 1992 and again with the Deepsea 116660 in 2008—the last big upgrade to the Sea-Dweller. This incarnation boasted a depth rating of a whopping 3,900m, which was the deepest for any mechanical watch at the time of its release.
It should come as no surprise, then, that for its most recent Sea-Dweller—released for the model's 50th anniversary—Rolex has added some never-before-seen innovations. Let’s start with the most obvious: this model is something of a sea monster. Its case measures a controversial 43mm (a whole 3mm more than the 16600 and 1mm less than the 116660)—but the size doesn’t come at a cost to comfort. The watch is weighty—as the Sea-Dweller, a heavy duty diving tool, always has been—and the caseback sits off the wrist, but the bracelet, with its Glidelock extension, does a good job of keeping it firmly in place.
The second most noticeable thing is the new cyclops lens in the crystal, sitting over the date. Although a common sight on other Rolex models (think the Submariner or Explorer II), the cyclops lens was originally omitted from the Sea-Dweller’s design because of the thick, domed crystal of the original watch, needed to compensate for the massive depths (and pressures) it could dive to. Modern crystal technology means it can now finally be incorporated, the magnified effect a benefit to date visibility.
Powering the watch is Rolex’s calibre 3235, billed by the brand as a ‘new generation’ of movement. It features Rolex’s newly developed and highly efficient ‘Chronergy escapement’, crafted from a nickel-phosphorus alloy for anti-magnetism and featuring a blue Parachrom hairspring—ten times more precise than its traditional counterpart. A high-capacity barrel has also upped the watch’s power reserve to three days.
Despite the changes, Rolex has been careful to tie the 126600 to its origins, to appease the die-hard fans of the Sea-Dweller (of which there are many).The crisp, black dial bears one line of red text—a deliberate homage to the exceedingly rare, 'single red' Tektite Sea-Dweller prototype of the 1960s, of which only a handful survive to this day.
The new Oyster Perpetual Date Sea-Dweller 126600 replaces the 116600, which has now been discontinued (collectors, take note—with its limited production run, it could very well be a future collectible). While no one could describe the previous incarnation of the Sea-Dweller as ‘broke’, the updates to the model are definitely welcome—and a fitting tribute to a watch that has always been a champion of pushing the boundaries.
Watch Spec | Rolex Oyster Perpetual Date Sea-Dweller 126600
Case: Steel Dimensions: 43mm Crystal: Synthetic sapphire Water Resistance: 1,220m Movement: Automatic, Rolex calibre 3235 Frequency: 28,800 vph Power Reserve: 70 hours Strap: Oyster, steel Functions: Time, date