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ROLEX BLOG

Rolex Dive Watches Ultimate Buying Guide

October 20, 2021

BY Paul Altieri

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The dive watch industry as we know it today owes much of its success to the pioneering achievements made by Rolex many decades ago. In 1926, Rolex founder Hans Wilsdorf developed the innovative waterproof Oyster case. This invention came during a time when men primarily wore pocket watches that could be safely tucked away inside their waistcoats. With the advent of the Rolex Oyster case, it became possible for wristwatches to be worn during most activities without exposing the movement to moisture or dust.

With that in mind, it wasn’t until the 1950s that Rolex released its first purpose-built professional dive watch in the form of the legendary Submariner. While Rolex was not the first company to release a dive watch, the Submariner has since become the single most famous dive watch in existence. Rolex’s catalog of professional divers now consists of three categories: the Submariner, the Sea-Dweller, and the Deepsea (which is technically part of the greater Sea-Dweller collection). Even though their core designs are similar, these Rolex dive watches all bring slightly different sets of features to the table. Our complete Rolex dive watch guide will break down each collection, including some of our favorite references, to help you decide which Rolex diver is best for your wrist.

Rolex Submariner

Rolex Dive Watches Submariner 126610LV

Submariner Key Features:

– Release Year: 1953

– Case Diameter: 37/38mm, 40mm, 41mm

– Material: Stainless Steel, Yellow Rolesor (Stainless Steel & Yellow Gold), 18k Yellow Gold, or 18k White Gold

 – Functions: Time w/ Running Seconds or Time w/ Running Seconds and Date Display

– Dial: Black, Blue, or Green w/ Luminous Hour Markers

– Bezel: Aluminum or Ceramic Insert w/ 60-Minute Scale

– Crystal: Acrylic (Domed) or Sapphire (Flat)

– Water Resistance: 100 meters, 200 meters, or 300 meters

– Strap/Bracelet: Oyster Bracelet

Click here for our Ultimate Buying Guide on the Rolex Submariner.

Rolex Submariner

It has become somewhat cliché to call the Rolex Submariner “iconic,” but few watches are more deserving of the term. Since its introduction in 1953, the Rolex Submariner has served as the blueprint for contemporary divers’ watches and it has, in some way or another, influenced nearly every single dive watch that exists today. The term “iconic” may be overused (especially within the luxury watch industry); however, the Submariner is a true icon.

Despite remaining in continuous production for well over half a century, the Rolex Submariner has changed very little throughout the years. The design and appearance of the Submariner have been updated as better technologies and materials have become available. However, at its core, the current version of the Submariner is very much the same watch that Rolex first released to the public more than 65 years ago.

Submariner 1680

Rolex Dive Watches Submariner 1680

The date window is now a fixture on many Submariner watches. However, that wasn’t always the case. When the watch debuted in the 1950s, it did not yet feature the convenient calendar mechanism on the dial. Rolex didn’t add that feature until the late 1960s when the ref. 1680 hit the market. Its place in the Submariner’s history is largely why so many avid collectors strive to own the Submariner Date ref. 1680.

With an average price of around $20, depending on the feature set, condition, and year of production, the ref. 1680 is also a relatively affordable vintage Submariner. With that in mind, the early “Red Submariner” examples that have their Submariner name in red letters are consistently among the most expensive and desirable on the pre-owned market. If you’re interested in adding a vintage Rolex with a bit more history to your collection, and you have the budget for it, we highly recommend the coveted Rolex 1680 Submariner Date.

Rolex Submariner 1680

Submariner 126610LN

Rolex Dive Watches Submariner 126610LN

For the first time in the Submariner’s history, the collection is now available in 41mm. As many might recall, the case of Rolex’s dive watch remained 40mm for decades. The case is somewhat more contemporary with the extra millimeter in diameter while keeping a similar size and weight as its predecessor. The 12661x generation also marks the full integration of the Submariner collection to the newer Caliber 3235 (or Cal. 3230 for the no-date model), replacing the long-running Cal. 3135. The new movement is more efficient, boasting Rolex’s impressive skeletonized Chronergy escapement and a longer 70-hour power reserve.

The 41mm Rolex Submariner from 2030 is available in all the usual metal finishes, including Rolex’s proprietary Oystersteel, Yellow Rolesor (two-tone), and all-gold (either 18k yellow or white gold). However, it’s the reference 126610LN that has caught the eye of many collectors as it pairs a versatile Oystersteel construction with a classic black dial and bezel. This timeless feature set is still widely sought-after on the secondary market, as there is no way to purchase one at a retail level without spending a significant amount of time on a waiting list. If you don’t want to join a lengthy cue to purchase one at retail, the secondary market is your next best bet at owning what is arguably the single most famous dive watch of all time.

Rolex Submariner 126610

Submariner 116613LB

Rolex Dive Watches Submariner 116613LB

A beloved classic, the Rolex Submariner is on the wish list of just about every watch collector – dive enthusiast or not. The yellow gold and stainless steel Submariner ref. 116613 is a beautiful example, with the two-tone look being very ‘in’ after some years in the shadows. The collection is available with either a black or blue dial and bezel, but it’s the blue bezel ref. 116613LB that really steals the show. Its bright color perfectly contrasts against the yellow gold center links and bezel, taking your mind right back to the sea. This is the kind of watch that’s going to look great on your wrist year-round, whether you’re diving, heading into the office, or even playing a round of golf.

As a recently discontinued Rolex model, the reference Submariner 116613LB is well on its way to earning cult status, yet it offers much of the same look and feel of the current-production steel and gold Submariner model. It offers the luxury of gold without appearing too flashy or commanding the top-tier price that often accompanies an all-gold Rolex.

Rolex Submariner 116613

Rolex Sea-Dweller

Rolex Dive Watches Sea-Dweller 126600

Sea-Dweller Key Features:

– Release Year: 1967

– Case Diameter: 40mm or 43mm

– Material: Stainless Steel or Yellow Rolesor (Stainless Steel & Yellow Gold)

 – Functions: Time w/ Running Seconds and Date Display + Helium Escape Valve

– Dial: Black w/ Luminous Hour Markers

– Bezel: Aluminum or Ceramic Insert w/ 60-Minute Scale

– Crystal: Acrylic (Domed) or Sapphire (Flat)

– Water Resistance: 610 meters or 1,220 meters

– Strap/Bracelet: Oyster Bracelet

Click here for our Ultimate Buying Guide on the Rolex Sea-Dweller.

Rolex Sea-Dweller

The Rolex Sea-Dweller made its debut in 1967, a little over a decade after the Submariner hit the market in 1953. While its design set is similar to the Submariner with a 60-minute diver’s bezel and iconic luminous hour markers and ‘Mercedes’ hands, the Sea-Dweller boasts a greater depth rating of up to 1,220 meters (4,000 feet). Compare that to the current Submariner, which is waterproof up to 300 meters (1,000 feet).

In addition to its increased water resistance, the Rolex Sea-Dweller also features a Helium Escape Valve (HEV) – a valve that equalizes differences between internal and external pressure, which enables it to be used for saturation diving. If you’re in the market for a slightly more robust dive watch, the Sea-Dweller might be the perfect Rolex for your wrist.

Sea-Dweller 116600

Rolex Dive Watches Sea-Dweller 116600

The Rolex Sea-Dweller 4000 is the brand’s modern interpretation of its legendary professional diver’s watch, complete with 904L Oystersteel, Maxi dial with longer-lasting lume, and ceramic bezel resistant to scratching and fading. While the current generation clocks in at a contemporary 43mm in diameter, the discontinued Rolex Sea-Dweller 116600 measures 40mm. It’s also important to note that the date display is not magnified by a Cyclops lens, a feature that is currently a staple of the Sea-Dweller collection.

The reference 116600 was only produced for a short time between 2014 and 2017, which is a rather short amount of time, especially considering that it is a relatively modern Rolex reference. With its limited production run, smaller 40mm case, and Cyclops-free crystal, it has since become a very prized collector’s item and increasingly difficult to find on the pre-owned market.

Rolex Sea-Dweller 116600

Sea-Dweller 126603

Rolex Dive Watches Sea-Dweller 126603

For decades, Rolex only produced the Sea-Dweller in stainless steel. 2019 marked the first time in Rolex history that the brand’s innovative deep saturation diver was produced in Yellow Rolesor – a versatile two-tone pairing of Oystersteel with 18k yellow gold. While most of the watch is presented in resilient steel, the center links, bezel ring, crown, hands, hour markers, and 60-minute diver’s scale on the bezel are presented in glitzy yellow gold.

Additionally, the Sea-Dweller name on the dial features a complementary gold hue, further separating it from the stainless steel model that has its name in bright red letters. With Chromalight blue lume on the dial, lustrous Cerachrom for the bezel, and a handsome steel and gold finish, this edition of the Rolex Sea-Dweller is contemporary and on-trend with contemporary watch tastes.

Rolex Sea-Dweller 126603

Rolex Deepsea

Rolex Dive Watches Deepsea Sea-Dweller 116660 D-Blue

Deepsea Key Features:

– Release Year: 2008

– Case Diameter: 44mm

– Material: Stainless Steel

 – Functions: Time w/ Running Seconds and Date Display + Helium Escape Valve

– Dial: Black or D-Blue w/ Luminous Hour Markers

– Bezel: Ceramic Insert w/ 60-Minute Scale

– Crystal: Sapphire (Domed)

– Water Resistance: 3,900 meters

– Strap/Bracelet: Oyster Bracelet

Click here to learn more about the Ring Lock System on the Rolex Deepsea.

The Rolex Deepsea is steeped in the design language that gave us the Submariner and the Sea-Dweller. However, while it may bear an uncanny likeness (at least if you squint), it’s what is going on inside Rolex’s ultimate dive watch that sets it apart from its siblings. More than doubling the depth rating of the other two models on our list, the Deepsea’s abilities are made possible by some truly ground-breaking engineering, even by Rolex’s standards.

This includes the Ring Lock system, a combination of three elements unique to the Deepsea that work together to absorb the crushing pressures that exist at the model’s lowest working depth – nearly two-and-a-half miles underwater. The case back is 3.28mm thick and made from titanium, and it is designed to flex slightly to soak up some of those incredible forces. Covering the dial is a domed sapphire crystal that measures 5.5mm thick and can withstand a weight of 4.5 tons pressing down on it.

Between the two is an inner ring made of Biodur-108 steel, three times stronger than even the brand’s proprietary 904L grade steel, and this component internally supports the pressure put on the crystal and caseback. It all adds up to a watch that not only goes far beyond the depth ratings of virtually all other professional dive watches on the market. At 44mm in diameter and 17.7mm thick, it may be the biggest Rolex dive watch of them all, but it is a full 10% smaller than a watch with its talents would otherwise be without the innovative Ring Lock system.

Deepsea 116660

Rolex Dive Watches Deepsea 116660

The Deepsea debuted alongside the ref. 116600 in 2008. As we already mentioned above, the case includes some seriously impressive innovations, allowing it to withstand the pressures experienced at depths as great as 3,900 meters (12,800 feet) below the ocean’s surface. The reference 116660 is a relatively modern release, meaning that it also takes advantage of such amenities like a Cerachrom ceramic bezel, Maxi dial with larger hour markers, and Chromalight, which is a long-lasting luminous material that appears white in the daylight and glows bright blue in the vast darkness of the ocean.

The Rolex Deepsea’s Glidelock clasp was developed for diving and features a tool-free extension system that increases the length of the bracelet up to 20mm in 2mm increments to accommodate wetsuits. Of course, this feature is also enjoyed by collectors of all lifestyles who love the convenience of on-the-fly adjustment, while the fold-out Fliplock link adds further possibilities for extension, which enable the bracelet of the Deepsea to fit over the sleeve of a thick dry-suit.

Rolex Deepsea 116660

Deepsea 126660 D-Blue

Rolex Dive Watches Deepsea 126660 D-Blue Dial

The Rolex Sea-Dweller Deepsea D-Blue Dial is essentially the same watch as the current version of the Sea-Dweller Deepsea except for its very distinct dial. The Deepsea D-Blue dial was created in 2014 in honor of James Cameron’s 2012 historic dive in the Deepsea Challenger submersible, which dove 35,787 feet down the Mariana Trench. The dial on this special edition Deepsea features a blue to black gradient, illustrating how light travels through the water while diving. Furthermore, the bright green color of the “DEEPSEA” logo on the dial is a nod to the color of the Deepsea Challenger vessel.

While the D-Blue dial originally debuted on the ref. 116660, it was carried over onto the current-production Deepsea 126660, which features Rolex’s new-generation Caliber 3235 movement and slightly updated case and bracelet proportions. Besides the fact that this watch can withstand depths of 12,800 feet, the stunning face of the timepiece is a feat itself. The iconic blue gradient face that mimics the way light disappears the deeper you dive is extremely difficult to create, as it must seamlessly fade from deep blue to black. The watch is inspired by film director and explorer James Cameron, who worked closely with Rolex during his dive to the bottom of the Mariana Trench. To honor the record-breaking deep-dive, Rolex created this watch for the mass market and it has since picked up the “James Cameron” nickname. To own a James Cameron Deepsea is to own one of the world’s most exclusive adventure watches.

Rolex Deepsea 126660

Rolex Dive Watch Model Comparison

Rolex Dive Watches Comparison Guide

Rolex Submariner

– Case: 37/38mm (early models), 40mm, 41mm
– Metal: Stainless Steel, Yellow Rolesor (steel and gold), 18k Yellow Gold, 18k White Gold
– Bezel: Black, Green, Blue
– Dial: Black, Green, Blue
– Bracelet: Oyster
– Movement: Automatic w/ Date or No Date
– Water-Resistance: 300 Meters/1,000 Feet

Rolex Sea-Dweller

– Case: 40mm, 43mm
– Metal: Stainless Steel, Yellow Rolesor (steel and gold)
– Bezel: Black
– Dial: Black
– Bracelet: Oyster
– Movement: Automatic w/ Date
– Water-Resistance: 1,220 Meters/4,000 Feet

Rolex Deepsea

– Case: 44mm
– Metal: Stainless Steel
– Bezel: Black
– Dial: Black, D-Blue
– Bracelet: Oyster
– Movement: Automatic w/ Date
– Water-Resistance: 3,900 Meters/12,800 Feet

Rolex Dive Watches Comparison Guide

Current Rolex Dive Watch References

Rolex Submariner

– 124060

Rolex Submariner Date

– 126610LN

– 126610LV

– 126613LN

– 126613LB

– 126618LN

– 126618LB

– 126619LB

Rolex Sea-Dweller

– 126600

– 126603

Rolex Deepsea Sea-Dweller

– 126660

Rolex Dive Watches Submariner 41mm

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