At Baselworld 2018 Rolex debuted an updated version of the famed Deepsea Sea-Dweller watch. aBlogtoWatch went hands-on with the D-Blue (aka “James Cameron”) version of the reference 126660 Deepsea watch here. Today, I give my personal take on the new Rolex Deepsea 126660 and look at the other dial version which is the traditional black face for the Deepsea. Does a different dial color for a dive watch merit its own discussion? When it is a Rolex, perhaps the answer is yes. It also gives me an opportunity to discuss my own feelings about Rolex’s largest, and “most professional” dive watch.

The traditional black dial for the 126660 Deepsea is not identical to the D-Blue (blue to black gradient dial) in terms of text. The primary difference (in addition to colors) is the placement and size of “Deepsea.” On the D-Blue 126660 the word is placed right above “Sea-Dweller” under where the hands connect. On the the black dial, “Deepsea” is smaller and placed just over where the hands connect under “Oyster Perpetual Date.” I happen to prefer the black dial myself, as part of that is the placement of the text. Yes, we aren’t even talking about the functionality, construction, or comfort of the watch, but rather, where a small term is placed on the dial. Welcome to being a watch nerd.

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All images by Ariel Adams

Speaking of text, Rolex seemed to want the new for 2018 reference 126660 to look similar to the outgoing 116660, so it kept one of the original Deepsea’s most controversial features. That is a silver rehaut ring around the dial which contains two phrases being “Original Gas Escape Valve” (referring to the automatic helium release valve) and “Ring Lock System,” which refers to how the case is constructed to ensure such high levels of water resistance. The silver ring itself is actually part of the Ring Lock and is a “high-performance nitrogen-alloyed stainless steel ring.” Honestly, when you wear the watch you quickly forget that it is there, but in truth Rolex didn’t need to remind the wearer at each glance of the dial that the timepiece contains these parts/systems. I’m usually not one to complain about too much text, but I am not sure the text on the Ring Lock needed to be there. Oh well, it isn’t that big of a deal in an otherwise fantastic package.

The vast majority of people who wear a Deepsea will not take it underwater – let alone to almost 13,000 feet. The Rolex Deepsea has 3,900m of water resistance thanks to an actual submarine-like case construction. Rolex has made watches that can go deeper – but it barely matters unless you find yourself in a miniature, wearable submariner pissing contest. The reason people tend to wear a Rolex Deepsea (other than the fact that it is a really cool machine) is the size. At 44mm wide and almost double the thickness of the Submariner, the Deepsea is a beast on the wrist – but one that fans love.

The Ring Lock System case is part of the reason it can withstand such massive pressures. The sapphire crystal alone is 5.5mm thick and the caseback is produced from grade five titanium. For 2018 Rolex will no longer really be using the “904L steel” designation to refer to the steel they use. They are still using 904L steel for their watches, but they just won’t call it that. Rolex has introduced “Oystersteel” as the preferred term, which makes their special 904L alloy blend unique to them.

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It is true that Rolex does have their own particular alloy blends made for them all the time. It is also true that until recently, really no other watch brand used 904L stainless steel. 904L is harder to machine, polishes up better, and has some corrosion resistance properties that make for a good diving watch.

Last year in 2017 Rolex introduced the updated Sea-Dweller 126600 in a 43mm wide case also in steel. Like the short-lived Rolex Sea-Dweller 4000 116600 (2014-2017), the newer Sea-Dweller now needs to fight for its right to exist. I also need to explain to myself why I like the 40mm wide Submariner. I think part of it is because the Submariner has such amazing proportions and the Sea-Dweller 43mm simply tries to blow it up and add a dash of red. I suppose there is a market for that, but my wrist isn’t part of that crowd. I think anyone who can properly pull off the Sea-Dweller 126600 watch should certainly do so.

Even though there are more common elements between the Submariner and the Deepsea than I have the patience to list out, these don’t wear like the same watch. Yes, they are both traditional-style Rolex diver’s watches. They also wear very differently and for 2018 the Deepsea 126660 finally wears as comfortably (scaled up) as a Submariner and doesn’t visually suffer from an undersized bracelet. For me the biggest improvement with the 2018 Deepsea is the better proportioned case with matching bracelet. The watch offers almost nothing new (updated movement), except for the same Deepsea watch wearing experience, only better.

Rolex uses its recently debuted in-house “Superlative Chronometer” certified calibre 3235 automatic movement inside of the Deepsea. This plus/minus 2 seconds accuracy per day movement operates at 4Hz (28,800 bph) with three days of power reserve. This is the same movement currently inside of the Rolex Datejust 41. The movement features the time and date, with a window at 3 o’clock.

The automatic helium release valve is a feature Rolex originally invented in the late 1960s for serious professional divers who didn’t want their watch to break when helium attempted to escape from it while the diver was spending time in a decompression chamber. This is an extremely niche purpose by today’s standards and most people agree that watch brands who continue to implement these features do so only because it is one more technical story to tell about the watch. In any event, the automatic helium release valve is on the left-side of the case and of course, you get that handy text on the Ring Lock reminding you about it.

Rolex’s most wild deployant clasp comes with Glidelock, which is on the Deepsea bracelet. In addition to the Fliplock extension link, the deployant offers a long travel of opening and closing thanks to Glidelock. It is different from the system on the Submariner, and involves pulling the deployant open like a lever and moving teeth along a small rail. It’s cool and offers a great level of wearing comfort – as well as expansion room if you want to wear the watch over a jacket or wetsuit.

Rolex of course tweaked the dial of the Deepsea in a good way with better sized elements and overall more perfection. If you like the idea of an almost (but not) comically-sized, yet super classy sports watch, the Deepsea is hard to beat. And those white gold hands (which are on all Rolex dive watches), always look great and offer excellent legibility. As I said from the start, Rolex didn’t reinvent anything but simply made a classic watch an even better buy. I don’t think the price went up either. Price for the D-Blue version of the 126660 is $300 more than the black dial, which is almost nothing in the scheme of these prices. I will, however, say that I think for me the most timeless version is the black dial. Price for the Rolex Deepsea Sea-Dweller 126660 with the black dial is $12,250 USD.

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