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ROLEX BLOG

Rolex Sea-Dweller 126600 Ultimate Buying Guide

November 5, 2021

BY Paul Altieri

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For decades, the Rolex Sea-Dweller maintained a 40mm diameter. However, that all changed in 2017 when the brand introduced the reference 126600. As the latest edition of its famed deep saturation diver, the Sea-Dweller 126600 is complete with a 43mm case, integration to the cal. 3235 Perpetual movement, a Cyclops magnification lens on the dial, and the return of the bright red ‘Sea-Dweller’ logo on the dial.

The Sea-Dweller 126600 represents the latest in Rolex innovation and it is perfectly on-trend with current watch tastes. Known as the bigger and more capable sibling to the iconic Submariner dive watch, it’s no wonder why so many loyal Rolex customers have their eye on this absolute stunner. Read on to learn more about the latest example of the stainless steel Rolex Sea-Dweller and find out how to get one on your wrist.

Rolex Sea-Dweller 126600

Rolex Sea-Dweller 126600 Review Ultimate Guide 43mm

Sea-Dweller 126600 Key Features:

  • Production Years: 2017 – Present
  • Reference Number: 126600
  • Case Size: 43mm
  • Materials: Oystersteel (904L Stainless Steel)
  • Functions: Time w/ Running Seconds, Date Display
  • Dial: Black w/ Luminous Hour Markers
  • Luminous Material: Chromalight
  • Bezel: Unidirectional, Black Cerachrom Insert w/ 60-Minute Scale
  • Crystal: Sapphire (Flat w/ Cyclops Lens)
  • Movement: Rolex Caliber 3235
  • Water Resistance: 1,220 Meters / 4,000 Feet
  • Strap/Bracelet: Oyster Bracelet (Stainless Steel)

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

Rolex Sea-Dweller 126600

Rolex Sea-Dweller 126600 43mm Stainless Steel

Rolex Sea-Dweller History

The Sea-Dweller’s history technically began in 1926 when Rolex invented the waterproof Oyster case. While it has remained a fixture of the brand’s catalog ever since, it wasn’t until 1953 that the company released its first official dive watch in the form of the Submariner, which was initially only waterproof up to 100 meters and now sits steady at 300 meters. Ever the innovators, Rolex continued to improve upon the design of its beloved Oyster case and released the first Sea-Dweller in 1967 with the launch of the ref. 1665.

The design of the Sea-Dweller 1655 was like the Submariner with a 40mm case and waterproof crown. However, it also included a Helium Escape Valve (HEV) on the left side of the case. This extra feature enabled the Sea-Dweller to be used for saturation diving and to accompany its commercial diving design, it was also given more water resistance – 2,000 feet (610 meters), to be exact. The ref. 1665 also featured an acrylic crystal without the Cyclops magnifier over the date window to better improve overall water resistance. This reference was the first and last Sea-Dweller to use a domed plexiglass crystal – now considered to be a desirable trait among many vintage Rolex connoisseurs.

Next came the Sea-Dweller ref. 16660 – a transitional Rolex of sorts that replaced the acrylic crystal with sapphire. The Sea-Dweller’s depth rating also doubled to 4,000 feet (1,220 meters). Additionally, the bezel was updated with a uni-directional mounting and the cal. 1575 movement powering the ref. 1665 was replaced with the higher-beat cal. 3035, which also featured a quick-set date. Rolex produced this series with two dial variants: first, matte with painted hour markers and then glossy with white gold-trimmed hour markers near the later part of the model’s production.

The reference 16660 remained in production from 1978 until the late 1980s when the ref. 16600 replaced it. Nearly identical to its predecessor, ref. 16600 features the same depth rating, case size, and crystal. Only now, it relies on the cal. 3135 movement with a longer power reserve. This edition of the Sea-Dweller was produced for approximately two decades, during which Rolex used three different types of lume on the dial: Tritium, Luminova, and Super-Luminova.

Rolex 126600 Sea-Dweller 43mm Stainless Steel Cerachrom Bezel Cyclops

Ceramic Bezel Sea-Dweller Watches

The Sea-Dweller disappeared from production for a couple of years, presumably to make way for the release of the Rolex Deepsea. However, it made a triumphant return to the market in 2014 in the form of the reference 116600.

As a 6-digit Rolex sports watch model, the ref. 116600 marked the transition of the Sea-Dweller to the ceramic “Cerachrom” bezel (replacing aluminum) and a “Maxi” dial topped with larger hour markers and wider hands filled with blue-glowing Chromalight lume. The sapphire crystal remained Cyclops-free, the movement beating within the case was still the cal. 3135, and the stainless steel case remained 40mm in diameter, although it now featured significantly thicker lugs and crown-guards, similar to the “Super Case” versions of the Rolex Submariner.

That brings us to the present day and the current iteration of the beloved Rolex Sea-Dweller deep saturation diver, the ref. 126600 – aka the 50th Anniversary Red Sea-Dweller. Read on to find out more about its many features and upgrades.

Sea-Dweller Watch Production Dates

  • 1665: 1967 – 1983
  • 16660: 1978 – 1989
  • 16600: 1989 – 2009
  • 116600: 2014 – 2017
  • 126600: 2017 – Present

Rolex Sea-Dweller 126600 Stainless Steel 43mm

Sea-Dweller Nicknames

It’s almost a tradition for Rolex collectors to assign charming monikers to different variations of their favorite Rolex watches. While none of the watches produced by the brand have official nicknames, some are so common that they’ve just become accepted by the watch collecting community – and the Sea-Dweller is just one example.

The inaugural ref. 1665 is also known as the “Double Red” because the first two lines of text are presented in bright red font. Similarly, the very earliest Sea-Dweller prototypes only featured one line of text and have consequently picked up their “Single Red” nickname. The Double Red Sea-Dweller (DRSD) was produced for roughly a decade through the 1960s and 1970s until it was ultimately replaced by the “Great White” Sea-Dweller ref. 1665 with, you guessed it, all white text on the dial. There are also iterations of the Great White Sea-Dweller referred to as “Rail Dial” Sea-Dweller watches, a moniker that originates from the placement of the chronometer distinction on the dial.

Next came the “Triple Six” Rolex 16660 Sea-Dweller aptly named for its devilish reference number. Lastly, we have the ref. 126600, which has since become known as the “Anniversary Sea-Dweller” or the “Sea-Dweller 43” because it was released 50 years after the first reference hit the market in 1967, and features a 43mm case compared to the 40mm case diameters offered by all of its predecessors.

Rolex 126600 Sea-Dweller Helium Escape Valve HEV

Rolex Sea-Dweller Comparison: 126600 vs. 116600

The reference 126600 was preceded by the very short-lived Sea-Dweller 116600. Compared to the older versions of the Sea-Dweller, the current-production ref. 126600 includes many new features. The first and most obvious difference is its case size. Growing from its original 40mm size to a much bigger 43mm, the Sea-Dweller is now one of the largest models Rolex produces, second only to the 44mm Deepsea and Yacht-Master II models.

While some may protest the bigger case size, it does balance out the thickness of the Sea-Dweller to an arguably more proportional fit. Also, because of the larger size, the Oyster bracelet is subsequently wider to maintain those balanced proportions. With this most recent update, Rolex now offers three different sizes among its diver’s watches: Submariner at 41mm, Sea-Dweller at 43mm, and Deepsea at 44mm.

In addition to its larger size, the new Sea-Dweller 126600 now includes the Cyclops lens on the sapphire crystal above the date window on the dial. While one can assume that this was done to increase the legibility of the date, there have been some very loud protests from Rolex fandom in regards to the addition of the Cyclops. The Sea-Dweller and the Deepsea have always been the only date-displaying Rolex Oyster Perpetual models without the Cyclops lens. All other Rolex date watches have it – the Datejust, Day-Date, Submariner, Sky-Dweller, etc. In fact, the lack of Cyclops was, for many Rolex enthusiasts, one of the selling points of the Sea-Dweller, as the lack of the magnification lens offered a more streamlined and symmetrical aesthetic.

Of course, since the Sea-Dweller is Rolex’s professional diver’s watch, it is still equipped with the Helium Escape Valve. A mechanism patented by Rolex in 1967, the HEV automatically releases built-up gasses within the watch to prevent internal pressure damage during the decompression stage of a saturation dive. Similar to preceding models, the Sea-Dweller ref. 126600’s construction makes it water-resistant to 4,000 feet/1,220 meters. Furthermore, the new 2017 Sea-Dweller retains the popular black, fully-demarcated Cerachrom ceramic insert on its unidirectional rotating diver’s bezel.

Like the ref. 116600, the hour markers and Mercedes hands are filled with Rolex’s patented “Chromalight” lume – a luminous material that glows bright blue in the dark for up to 8 hours. Lastly, the reference 126600 is also equipped with Rolex’s folding Oysterlock clasp with a Glidelock extension system. With the Glidelock clasp, the bracelet extends up to 20mm in 2mm increments without the use of any tools. This convenient feature is incredible because it allows for on-the-fly adjustment to fit over wetsuits. Of course, it’s also quite useful for daily wear to better accommodate the wrist as it fluctuates due to humidity and other factors.

Rolex Sea-Dweller 126600 43mm Case Stainless Steel Ceramic Bezel

A great addition to the 2017 Sea-Dweller 126600 is the red text on the dial. As we already mentioned, the very first prototype Sea-Dweller watches featured a single line of red text and the inaugural ref. 1665 is also known as the “Double Red Sea-Dweller” (DRSD) because it features two lines of red text on the black dial.

It’s also worth mentioning that a very popular vintage Rolex Submariner is the ref. 1680 “Red Submariner,” named so for its red text on the dial too. Thus, it’s safe to say that vintage Rolex collectors have a soft spot for red text. So, it’s only fitting that for the Sea-Dweller’s 50th birthday, Rolex also included the red “SEA-DWELLER” designation on the dial.

Rolex Caliber 3235 Movement

Also new to the 43mm Sea-Dweller 126600 is the Rolex Caliber 3235 automatic mechanical movement. The caliber actually made its debut in the Pearlmaster 39 back in 2015 before starting to work its way throughout the collection, replacing the long-running cal. 3135 and now finding itself inside the Sea-Dweller ref. 126600. As a new generation movement, the caliber 3235 comes with all the bells and whistles we’ve come to expect from Rolex, and will likely remain the brand’s core date-displaying movement for many years to come.

Like the Caliber 3255 at the heart of the new Day-Date 40 watches, the Caliber 3235 also boasts 14 Rolex patents that improve reliability, precision, and efficiency. As a result, thanks to the new Rolex Chronergy escapement in the Caliber 3235, the Sea-Dweller now has a power reserve of 70 hours rather than the 48 hours offered by its predecessor. Furthermore, the new Caliber 3235 falls under Rolex’s redefined Superlative Chronometer accuracy rate of -2/+2 sec per day – more than twice as accurate as what is required to meet normal Swiss chronometer standards.

Rolex 126600 Sea-Dweller Red Dial Text 43mm Stainless Steel

How to Buy the Rolex Sea-Dweller 126600

You’ve made it this far in our guide, so we can only assume that you’re still interested in investing in the Rolex 126600 Sea-Dweller. And that means you’re probably wondering, how do you get your hands on the coveted deep saturation diver anyway?

The combination of a black bezel and dial with an all-stainless steel finish is one of Rolex’s most enduring design codes. Recently, Rolex replaced the bezel with tougher and more lustrous Cerachrom within the Submariner, Sea-Dweller, and Deepsea collections. Any Rolex that includes both Cerachrom and steel is widely sought-after on the secondary market and, as a result, is usually entirely sold out on the retail level with some waiting list that spans several years in length.

Unless you have an “in” with your local authorized dealer, the pre-owned market is the best option for buying the Rolex 126600. Unfortunately, that also means paying a higher premium than the current retail price of $11,700; however, that premium is simply the price of guaranteed availability. Additionally, given that open market prices for the Sea-Dweller 126600 are negligibly higher than those of its current-production Submariner counterpart, the ref. 126600 actually represents great value in the context of modern stainless steel Rolex dive watches. Either way, many will agree that the Rolex Sea-Dweller 126600 is worth the investment as every watch produced by the brand holds its value well and even stands to increase in price long-term, and the ref. 126600 represents the forefront of what is possible with Rolex’s underwater timekeeping technology.

Rolex Sea-Dweller 43 Reference 126600 Black Writing Stainless Steel Cyclops Lens

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One Response to “Rolex Sea-Dweller 126600 Ultimate Buying Guide”

  1. MrJJW says:

    I own this redline sea-dweller and it is spectacular. Not for the skinny wristed. It has serious presence and is chucky in a good way. The matte black dial almost has a slight brownish vibe when the sun hits it just right. I love the cyclops date window. Watch is a home run.

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