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Watch 101

Rolex Sea-Dweller Deepsea: How Does the Ring Lock System Work?

Paul Altieri

The Rolex Sea-Dweller Deepsea is the most robust and over-engineered dive watch in Rolex’s current lineup. While the regular Sea-Dweller is water-resistant to an insane depth of 4,000 feet, the Deepsea has an absolutely abyssal depth rating of 12,800 feet, which is more than 100 times further below the surface of the ocean than any human could physically survive.

Although the case of the standard Rolex Sea-Dweller is not all that different from that of a Submariner, the Deepsea has a re-designed case architecture that allows it to stand up to the crushing pressures found at 12,800 feet below sea-level. As a result of its more rugged and highly specialized build, the Deepsea is among the largest Rolex watches currently in production, with a case diameter of 44mm, and an overall thickness of just under 18mm.

Rolex Deepsea Sea-Dweller 116660

The Rolex Deepsea Sea-Dweller

At the heart of the Deepsea’s case is Rolex’s patented Ring Lock System, which uses a super hard, nitrogen-alloyed steel central ring to internally support both the extra-thick sapphire crystal and the Grade 5 titanium caseback. While the Ring Lock System is largely responsible for the overall increase in the case size of the Deepsea, it actually enables the watch to be smaller than it otherwise would be, had it were to follow a more traditional case design while still retaining its same colossal depth rating.

Rolex Deepsea Sea-Dweller D-Blue Dial

The primary purpose of the Ring Lock System is to reduce the amount of stress placed on the case of the watch. As pressure on the watch increases at greater depths, the majority of it gets exerted on the front and back surfaces of the watch. Since the nitrogen-alloyed stainless steel compression ring internally supports both the crystal and the caseback of the Deepsea, the amount of force exerted on the actual case itself remains relatively minimal. Additionally, as the crystal and caseback get squeezed together, with the majority of the force being supported by the internal compression ring, the front and back gaskets of the watch get pressed together, ensuring an extra tight seal.

The caseback on the Rolex Deepsea consists of two components: an inner caseback made from Grade 5 titanium, and an outer, screw-down caseback ring that is constructed from Oystersteel (904L stainless steel). With a traditional, single-piece, caseback design, the entirety of the pressure placed on caseback gets exerted on the case of the watch itself, particularly near the threads. By separating the caseback into two components, Rolex is able to redistribute much of the force being exerted on the rear surface of the watch. The outer, screw-down ring performs the sole duty of keeping the inner, titanium caseback tight on the watch, while the nitrogen-alloyed steel compression ring ultimately supports all the pressure being exerted on the titanium case-back itself.

Rolex Deepsea Sea-Dweller 116660

Titanium is the material of choice for the inner caseback on the Deepsea due to its strong corrosion-resistant properties and its ability to repeatedly flex under stress without developing the same degree of metal fatigue as steel. Since the crystal on the Deepsea will be subjected to the same extreme pressures as the caseback, its scratch-resistant sapphire crystal has been beefed up to be a massive 5.5mm thick, and it is crafted in a domed shape (without a Cyclops magnification lens) to better distribute the pressures being exerted on the face of the watch.

Like both the Submariner and the normal Sea-Dweller, the Deepsea is equipped with Rolex’s Triplock winding crown that screws down and uses a system of gaskets to create three sealed zones to protect against moisture intrusion. Additionally, since the Deepsea is a variation of Rolex’s Sea-Dweller collection, its case is equipped with a helium gas escape valve, which allows the watch to safely be used for saturation diving applications.

One of the hallmark characteristics of modern dive watches is the degree of the over-engineering present in their designs and the almost-ludicrously excessive performance-statistics that manufacturers are able to achieve. Although the Rolex Deepsea Sea-Dweller is easily the most capable and robust dive watch available in Rolex’s current catalog, only a very slim percentage of its owners will ever require even a small fraction of its incredible underwater functionality. Regardless, the Ring Lock System and the case of the Deepsea are the perfect embodiment of form following function, as the watch was specifically designed from the ground-up to be the ultimate deep-sea diving timepiece.

Rolex Deepsea Sea-Dweller James Cameron

Paul Altieri
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