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Professional under water: The Rolex Sea-Dweller

Walking 1,000 metres takes a little more than ten minutes at a leisurely pace. A dive to a depth of 1,000 metres, on the other hand, is much more time-consuming and cannot be done without professional equipment. Only a diving bell makes it possible to reach this depth. For timepieces, professional divers rely on dive computers, and for more than 50 years on the Rolex Sea-Dweller. Half a century has passed since the most professional of all diving watches was launched by Rolex, and the latest model with the reference 126600 was only presented at Baselworld 2017 and is already coveted. What is new is the return to the red "Sea-Dweller" lettering, and for the first time in the history of this model, the Sea-Dweller has now been given a detail that it was deprived of for five decades: the magnifying glass above the date display. 

The maximum diving depth for this watch is 1,220 metres - a person can only reach this extreme depth in a diving bell. The breathing air in these diving devices is enriched with helium. The volatile gas slips into the case through the usual seals of a watch and would blow the glass out of the watch on surfacing and cause serious damage. Since professional divers in the oil and gas industry live underwater in a pressure vessel for up to a month, some helium accumulates in the watch as the divers breathe the enriched air 24 hours a day. For this purpose, a professional watch like the Sea-Dweller must have a helium valve that allows the gas to escape safely from the case, but also prevents leaks from forming. Therefore, unlike Omega, for example, Rolex uses an automatically functioning helium valve. 

The history of the Sea-Dweller - which translates as sea dweller - is closely linked to the French company Comex. They specialise in high-risk diving missions, and the professional divers they employ are among the best in the world. In the 1960s, these divers needed a watch that was perfectly readable and unconditionally reliable - above water, under water and even in diving bells. All of this was almost completely true of the Submariner from Rolex, which was introduced in 1953. For Comex and diving bell operations, some Submariners in the early 1960s were equipped with a helium valve that could automatically relieve the overpressure in the case. Then in 1967, Rolex introduced the reference 1665: 610 metres of diving depth, and one of the most sought-after jewels in the Rolex sports model range. On the dial, the watch is marked Sea-Dweller Submariner 2000 in red. The number 2000 stands for the maximum attainable diving depth. 

Since 1992, Comex divers have been receiving the Sea-Dweller 4000, introduced in 1988, with the reference 16600. The thick sapphire crystal to ensure the enormous pressure resistance of the case to a depth of 1,220 metres makes the watch somewhat more top-heavy than the Submariner. 

2008 will see the launch of the Sea-Dweller Deepsea Ref. 116660 - waterproof to a depth of 3,900 meters and thus one step further into the depths of the ocean. In addition to the model with a black dial, the Deepsea is now also available with a black-blue gradient. The domed sapphire crystal is 5.5 millimetres thick and, like the name of the watch, is reminiscent of the 1960 experiment in which Jacques Piccard mounted a Submariner Deep Sea Special on the outer skin of his submarine Trieste and dived into the Mariana Trench to a depth of 10,916 metres. 

Six years later the classic Sea-Dweller 4000 reappears. Equipped with the new Cerachrom bezel, a water resistance of 1,220 meters and a diameter of 40 mm, the model follows the Sea-Dweller tradition. In the anniversary year 2017, the desire for this model is growing again, despite the date magnifying glass and because of the model's red lettering. Thus the new reference 126600 pays homage to the past - and cements Sea-Dweller's classic status.