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Rolex Sea-Dweller vs. Deepsea vs. Submariner

Paul Altieri

Within Rolex’s lineup, there’s not just one dive model to choose from, but in fact, three of them. There’s the Submariner, the Sea-Dweller, and the Deepsea. Do you know the main differences between these three Rolex dive watches? In this video comparison, we take a closer look at the Rolex Sea-Dweller vs. Deepsea vs. Submariner. Note that since there are so many references and material options to choose from, we’re focusing on three of the most comparable models: Submariner 116610LN, Sea-Dweller 126600, and Deepsea 126660.

The Origins of the Submariner, Sea-Dweller, and Deepsea

In 1953, Rolex introduced its first dive watch model, the Submariner, to meet the demands of the burgeoning sport of SCUBA diving. The first Submariner featured a stainless steel case waterproof to 100 meters, a rotating black aluminum bezel graduated to 60 minutes, plenty of luminous material on the time-only dial for legibility in dark environments, and an automatic movement. Over the following decade, Rolex released a flurry of new Submariner references, tinkering with water depth ratings, movements, crown size, crown guards, and case dimensions. However, it wasn’t until the late-1960s that Rolex introduced a Submariner Date model to sit alongside the no-date Submariner model. This continues through today with Rolex offering both no-date and date versions of the Submariner dive watch. 

Rolex Sea-Dweller vs Deepsea vs Submariner Dive watch

The Rolex Sea-Dweller made its public debut in 1967 as a dive watch built specifically for professional deep-sea saturation divers and designed in collaboration with COMEX, a French commercial diving company. Saturation divers spend extended periods at greater depths by living in dry pressurized environments underwater, which can result in small helium molecules getting forced past the seals and trapped in their watches. Once the divers are ready to return to the surface, they have to undergo lengthy decompression phases in hyperbaric chambers. If helium is not released from a watch during decompression periods, the differences in external and internal pressure can cause the crystal to pop off.

Rolex solved this problem by fitting the Sea-Dweller with a helium escape valve to allow gasses to expel automatically from the watch. Additionally, compared to the Submariner, which had a waterproof rating of 200 meters at that time, the 1967 Sea-Dweller was rated to dive down to 610 meters. Style-wise, the Rolex Sea-Dweller shared many details with the Submariner Date of the same era, including a stainless steel case, steel bracelet, black dial with a date window (but no Cyclops lens on the crystal), black rotating bezel, and luminous Mercedes-style hands and hour markers. 

Rolex Sea-Dweller compare Deepsea versus Submariner

The Deepsea is the newest Rolex dive watch to join the brand’s catalog, first launched in 2008. Named after the “Deep Sea Special” prototype from the 1960s that reached a depth of 10,916 meters in the Mariana Trench, the Deepsea is Rolex’s most extreme diving watch with an impressive water-resistance rating of 3,900 meters. This is possible thanks to the Deepsea’s innovative Ring Lock System which includes a nitrogen-alloyed steel ring embedded in the middle case, a 5.5mm thick domed sapphire crystal, and a titanium caseback that can flex when necessary under extreme pressure. 

In 2014, Rolex introduced a D-Blue dial version of the Deepsea with a blue to back gradient colorway in honor of James Cameron’s historic solo dive in the Deepsea Challenger o a depth of about 11,000 meters. For the purposes of this comparative review, we will focus on the traditional black dial version of the Rolex Deepsea, rather than the D-Blue variant. 

Rolex Sea-Dweller vs Deepsea vs Submariner Diving watches Comparison guide

Submariner 116610LN vs. Sea-Dweller 126600 vs. Deepsea 126660

The Submariner ref. 116610LN, Sea-Dweller ref. 126600, and Deepsea ref. 126660 are all current production models. Furthermore, they are all made from Oystersteel (904L stainless steel) and have black dials with Mercedes-style hands and date windows at 3 o’clock. As the most modern iterations of their respective collections, these references are all supplied with scratch and fade-resistant Cerachrom ceramic unidirectional rotating bezels and furnished with blue-glowing Chromalight lume.

Naturally, as highly water-resistant diving watches, they all have Triplock screw-down winding crowns to keep the water out. Additionally, all three models benefit from solid-link Oyster bracelets fitted practical extension systems to allow them to fit over thick wetsuits when needed. Finally, like all contemporary Rolex watches, the trio of divers are all equipped with sapphire crystals and automatic movements. 

Rolex Sea-Dweller vs Deepsea vs Submariner Black Dive watch Comparison guide

Moving away from the similarities, let’s go over the main differences between the Submariner, Sea-Dweller, and Deepsea. First, the case dimensions; the Submariner 116610LN features a 40mm case, the Sea-Dweller 126600 a 43mm case, and the Deepsea 126660 a 44mm case. Also, in terms of thickness, the Submariner is the slimmest of the three (around 13mm), followed by the Sea-Dweller (around 15.5mm), and (as expected) the Deepsea is the thickest (around 17.7mm). 

While all three have similarly styled black dials, there are a few variances to note. The Sea-Dweller’s name on the 126600 is not in white like the Submariner and the Deepsea, but in red—recalling the first Double Red Sea-Dweller 1655 from 1967. Also, if we look closely at the face of the Deepsea, we see that the nitrogen-alloyed steel ring visible around the dial periphery, which includes “RING LOCK SYSTEM” and “ORIGINAL GAS ESCAPE VALVE” text.

This brings us to the helium escape valve – the Submariner does not have one while both the Rolex Sea-Dweller and the Deepsea do. Plus, returning to the front view of the three watches, the Submariner 116610 and the Sea-Dweller 126600 both have a Cyclops magnification lens on the flat sapphire crystals above their date windows, while the extra-thick domed crystal on the Deepsea does not. 

Rolex Sea-Dweller vs Deepsea vs Submariner Comparison guide

In terms of performance, the Submariner is water-resistant to 300 meters, the Sea-Dweller to 1,220 meters, and the Deepsea to 3,900 meters. Because the Submariner 116610LN is the oldest reference of the three, introduced in 2010, it still runs Rolex’s Caliber 3135 movement, which offers a 48-hour power reserve. On the other hand, the newer Rolex Sea-Dweller 126600 (launched in 2017) and the Deepsea 126660 (released in 2018) are powered by the new generation Caliber 3255 movement which offers users a 70-hour power reserve.

Lastly, another difference worth mentioning across the Submariner, Sea-Dweller, and Deepsea, are the extension systems mounted into the clasps of their bracelets. The 116610, 126600, and 126660 all feature Oysterlock safety claps on their three-link Oyster bracelets that have the Glidelock extension system which permits divers to lengthen (or shorten) the bracelet in 2mm increments to a total of about 20mm. However, the Rolex Sea-Dweller and the Deepsea also have the Fliplock extension link, which adds an additional 26mm in length to accommodate the thicker sleeves of dry suits and hot water suits that are often used for saturation diving. 

Rolex Sea-Dweller vs Deepsea vs Submariner Comparison guide 116610 126600 126660

Below is a quick breakdown of the main spec differences between Rolex Sea-Dweller vs. Deepsea vs. Submariner.

Rolex Submariner 116610LN

  • Year Introduced: 2010
  • Case: Stainless steel; 40mm
  • Movement: Cal. 3135; 48hr power reserve
  • Water Resistance: 300m
  • Helium Escape Valve: No
  • Cyclops Magnificiaon Lens: Yes
  • Clasp: Oysterlock with Glidelock extension system

Rolex Sea-Dweller 126600

  • Year Introduced: 2017
  • Case: Stainless steel; 43mm
  • Movement: Cal. 3235; 70hr power reserve
  • Water Resistance: 1,220m
  • Helium Escape Valve: Yes
  • Cyclops Magnificiaon Lens: Yes
  • Clasp: Oysterlock with Glidelock and Fliplock extension systems

Rolex Deepsea 126660

  • Year Introduced: 2018
  • Case: Stainless steel; 44mm
  • Movement: Cal. 3235; 70hr power reserve
  • Water Resistance: 3,900m
  • Helium Escape Valve: Yes
  • Cyclops Magnificiaon Lens: No
  • Clasp: Oysterlock with Glidelock and Fliplock extension systems

Rolex Sea-Dweller vs Submariner vs Deepsea Divers Compared

Rolex Sea-Dweller, Submariner, or Deepsea? 

Now that we’ve outlined the similarities and differences between the current-production steel and ceramic Submariner, Sea-Dweller, and Deepsea models, which one is the best to get? 

The industry-standard depth limit for recreational divers is 39 meters, which is well below the depth ratings of all three watches. However in reality, most Rolex diving watches are worn not because of their diving performance anymore but rather, for their distinct style, topnotch quality, and prestigious name. For all but the most serious of professional divers, who spend days at a time on the bottom of the ocean floor, the Submariner offers all the water resistance you will ever need.

Rolex Sea-Dweller vs Deepsea vs Submariner Dive watch Comparison guide

Another key point worth mulling over is the different movements that power these three Rolex watches – the Submariner runs on an older generation caliber with a lower power reserve compared to the newer movement of the Sea-Dweller and Deepsea. Some may find this to be an important distinction while others recognize the reliability and durability of the older Cal. 3135 movement – even though it’s been around for over three decades. Therefore, the ultimate decision is really based around the size of the watch and what will wear best on your wrist. Remember, not only is the Submariner the smallest option among the three at 40mm in comparison to the Sea-Dweller’s 43mm and Deepsea’s 44mm, but it’s also the slimmest. 

Which Rolex dive watch would you pick from the Submariner 116610LN, Sea-Dweller 126600, and Deepsea 126660? Tell us why in the comments below.  

Rolex Sea-Dweller vs Deepsea vs Submariner Dive watches Comparison guide 116610 126600 126660

Paul Altieri