Following our in-depth look at the GMT-Master family of watches, we now turn our attention to the Rolex Sea-Dweller collection. From the very first Sea-Dweller to the brand new model unveiled at Baselworld this year, let’s dive into the history of the Rolex extreme diver’s watch. The story beings with the Rolex Sea-Dweller ref. 1665 “Double Red Sea-Dweller.”
Comex and the birth of the Sea-Dweller
Compagnie Maritime d’Expertises, aka Comex, is a French company specialized in deep diving operations. Founded in 1961, Comex and Rolex developed a relationship early on. Comex needed watches that could withstand very deep diving expeditions, so Rolex obliged. This vintage timepiece from Rolex is a historically important watch and a stepping stool for future Sea-Dwellers to come.
Rolex modified the Submariner ref. 5513 and fitted it with a Helium Escape Valve (HEV). The patented Helium Escape Valve mechanism permitted the watch to release built-up helium and other gasses as the watch traveled down. As a result, this prevented pressure damage to the watch, thus Rolex now had the ability to produce extreme diving watches.
The performance of those Comex-modified Submariner ref. 5513 watches did so well, it set the blueprint for a new Rolex model. In 1967, the new Rolex Sea-Dweller was born. The official name of the inaugural model was the Sea-Dweller Submariner 2000. But, it’s more commonly referred to as the Double Red Sea-Dweller or DRSD for short.
The Double Red Sea-Dweller (DRSD)
The very first Sea-Dweller from 1967 was the ref. 1665. Compared to the Submariner, it had, among other things, a thicker case, the helium escape valve, a domed crystal protecting the face of the watch, engravings on the caseback, and no Cyclops lens over the date window. However, one of the most distinguishing factors, and the reason for the watch’s nickname, are the two lines of red text on the black dial. In red, we read “SEA-DWELLER” followed by “SUBMARINER 2000,” clearly indicating that this is a souped-up version of the Sub. Rather than the 660 feet (200 meters) depth rating of the preceding Submariner, the Sea-Dweller boasted one at 2,000 feet (610 meters). This was an impressive feat for the era indeed.
As expected, the Double Red Sea-Dweller is a highly-coveted vintage Rolex model. Rolex produced the DRSD from 1967 until 1977. The four main dial versions of the Double Red Sea-Dweller ref. 1665 are categorized by collectors as Mark I, Mark II, Mark III, and Mark IV.
The Four Dials of the Double Red Sea-Dweller
- MK I: These are the dials on the very first versions of the Sea-Dweller ref. 1665. Since the HEV patent hadn’t been granted yet, these models actually have “Patent Pending” engraved on the caseback. The font size and color of both lines of red text are identical. The Rolex crown or coronet is the thicker style found on many vintage Rolex watches of the era.
- MK II: This dial version is found on both “Patent Pending” and “Patented” engraved Sea-Dweller models. The main difference with the MK I dial however, is the “SUBMARINER 2000” text is smaller than the “SEA-DWELLER” font.
- MK III: The MK III dial has a similar font structure of the two red lines of the preceding MK II dial, however, the coronet is different. This time the updated Rolex crown logo is lengthened and not as thick as previous versions.
- MK IV: This is the last version of the DRSD dial. The MK IV includes closed 6s rather than open 6s. Furthermore, the font on all four lines of text — red and white — is thicker than previous versions. Also thicker, are the prongs of the Rolex coronet.
A Rolex Grail Watch
The Double Red Sea-Dweller is a difficult vintage Rolex model to find due to its rarity and popularity. It’s certainly a grail watch by any Rolex enthusiasts’ standards. The DRSD’s value has steadily increased in the secondary market over the last decade, with no signs of slowing down. In fact, Rolex even paid homage to the red text with the latest version of the Sea-Dweller ref. 126600 by including the coveted crimson font.
Keep an eye out for the next installment of our in-depth look at the Sea-Dweller history where we dig into the model that replaced the DRSD: the Sea-Dweller “Great White” ref. 1665.