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The Millennium Watch Book
Rolex - Extreme Faces of Depth

Rolex Extreme Faces of Depth

There is certainly more much “depth” than the face value of the Rolex Deepsea

The depth rating on the dial of the Rolex Deepsea 116660 clearly states: “12,800ft = 3,900m”, an imposing water-resistance specification that is more than a dozen times that of the current highest depth rating of 300 metres (1,000ft) for the Rolex Submariner. Moreover, the Deepsea’s voluminous body built for extreme sturdiness is heftier than the Submariner. For aficionados, such differences based on visual cues of the Submariner and the Deepsea may well be deemed shallow, pun intended, as it is simply stating the obvious.

History offers a better understanding of the key differences between the Deepsea, which is categorised under the current Sea-Dweller collection, and the Submariner. The “Deepsea” appellation is accorded to Sea-Dweller dive watches rated to 3,900m (12,800ft) whereas those with only the “Sea-Dweller” designation on the dials are certified water-resistant to 1,220m (4,000ft) or less for earlier models. The “face value” of such depth ratings is actually conservative or “undervalued” simply because there is an additional 25% safety margin for genuine dive watches.

The Rolex Submariner launched in 1953 was designed for scuba divers, whereas the Sea-Dweller unveiled in 1967 was developed with saturation divers in mind. As saturation diving became more widely adopted from the 1960s, the Rolex Sea-Dweller became the solution for divers who experienced issues because of trapped helium gas in their existing dive watches. When the helium build-up in the watchcase is unable to fully escape while divers are undergoing decompression, the higher pressure inside might cause a violent displacement of the crystal. 

The Rolex solution was a spring-loaded one-way valve allowing helium to be released when pressure within the watch was greater than ambient conditions, thereby achieving equilibrium. Patented by Rolex, its 1967 debut came in form of the Sea-Dweller 1665 — the world’s first dive watch equipped with the helium escape valve. 

Early versions have larger “Sea-Dweller” designation fonts printed above the “Submariner” inscription on the dials. It is understood that sometime around the early 1970s, limited numbers of modified Rolex Submariner 5513s and 5514s fitted with the helium escape valve were supplied to saturation divers from Comex (Compagnie Maritime d’Expertises). Technically speaking, all these allude to the Sea-Dweller as an evolution of the Submariner. As compared to Submariners, Rolex Sea-Dwellers have the helium escape valve as a standard feature to complement their higher depth rating.

Extreme Faces of Depth

Deepsea 116660 D-Blue James Cameron © Rolex

Three tons of pressure

In 2008, the Rolex Deepsea 116660 emerged, thus named as a tribute to the Deep Sea Special watch; in particular, the third Deep Sea Special experimental prototype that made a world record dive back in 1960 in the western Pacific Ocean. While strapped onto the manned Trieste submersible, this Deep Sea Special survived the descent down to 10,916 metres (35,814ft) in the Mariana Trench.

Just like its 1960 namesake, the Deepsea 116660 has a high 3,900-metre depth rating enabling it to withstand approximately three tonnes of force. On its flange at 12 o’clock is the inscription “Original Gas Escape Valve” indicating the incorporated helium escape valve while “Ring Lock System” is proudly proclaimed at 6 o’clock. This Ringlock system is the Rolex-patented three-piece body armour case architecture. It encompasses a nitrogen-alloyed stainless steel compression ring positioned inside the case and around the movement and it is this foundation that supports the crystal and caseback. The grade 5 titanium caseback is secured to the compression ring by a 904L stainless steel screw-down ring. The titanium’s flexibility strengthens the hermetic seal of the case because as depth increases, the water pressure exerts forces causing the components to fit more tightly together. 

The Deepsea’s 5mm domed sapphire crystal made from aluminium oxide protects the watch face. The Triplock screw-down winding crown has three seals to ensure watertight security, a feature Rolex likens to that of a submarine hatch. The Oyster bracelet of the Deepsea 116660 comes with a double extension system that folds out to fit over a diving suit up to 7mm thick.

There is no doubt that the Deepsea 116660 has lived up to its name as it has even served as the benchmark in the creation of the Deepsea Challenge, the most recent experimental watch. In March 2012, three Deepsea Challenge watches secured to the robotic arm and hull of the Deepsea Challenger submersible commanded by Canadian filmmaker James Cameron descended to the depth of 10,908m (35,787ft) in the Mariana Trench, the second such manned dive after 52 years; the first being the Trieste dive of 1960. What is significant is that the Deepsea Challenge adopted features found in the Deepsea 116660 such as the Ringlock system, the materials as well as the Calibre 3135 automatic movement (that also powers the Deepsea 116660). The Deepsea Challenge was moreover fitted with the Oyster bracelet with the Rolex Glidelock and Fliplock extension systems. In a nutshell, the Deepsea Challenge is an enhanced version of the Deepsea 116660.

Fittingly, Cameron’s Deepsea 116660 with the black dial witnessed the entire dive as it was strapped onto his wrist. In 2014, Rolex released a special version of the Deepsea with a D-blue dial 116660 to commemorate Cameron’s historic solo deep dive. The main highlight is the D-blue dial with its deep blue to black gradient signifying the Deepsea Challenger’s descent from the blue surface into the deep, dark depths. The “Deepsea” label above the “Sea-Dweller” inscription takes its colour from Cameron’s green submersible. Unsurprisingly, the Deepsea with the D-blue dial 116660 was nicknamed the Deepsea “James Cameron”.

Critics aren’t wrong to state that it is merely a dial change, as other technical specifications of the 2014 Deepsea “James Cameron” remain the same as the 2008 Deepsea 116660. However, as compared to its elder 116660 sibling, this D-blue dial serves as an important symbolic and historical reference to the Deepsea’s role in advancing the development of dive watches. The dial is a badge of honour, its uniquely pleasant colour an aesthetic bonus.

This year GMT Magazine and WorldTempus have embarked on the ambitious project of summarising the divers watch since 2000 in The Millennium Watch Book - Divers watch, a big, beautifully laid out coffee table book. This article is an extract. The Millennium Watch Book - Divers watch is available in both French and English here:

 

Lecture 1 Comment(s)

9 November 2022
Laurent DECOURT
J'apprécie beaucoup votre détail de la Deepsea, qui permet d'apprendre plus sur cette montre, merci.

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