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Watch Review

Vintage Rolex 1665 Sea-Dweller Great White

Shop Vintage Sea-Dweller 1665
Paul Altieri

For the first ten years of its existence, the Rolex Sea-Dweller model was manufactured with both the “Sea-Dweller” and “Submariner 2000” names printed in red text on the surface of its dial. However, in 1977, Rolex released a new Sea-Dweller – still under the 1665 reference number, that abandoned the red lines of text, along with the Submariner name entirely, in favor of an entirely black and white dial.

Join us as we take a closer look at the coveted Rolex 1665 “Great White” Sea-Dweller and explore how it helped the Sea-Dweller establish its own identity apart from its fellow dive watch cousin, the Submariner.

Rolex Sea-Dweller Great White Reference 1665

Vintage Rolex Sea-Dweller Great White Reference 1665

Great White Sea-Dweller 1665 Key Features:

  • Reference Number: 1665
  • Production Years: 1977 – 1983 (Approx.)
  • Case Size: 40mm
  • Materials: Stainless Steel
  • Functions: Time w/ Running Seconds, Date Display, Helium Escape Valve
  • Dial: Matte Black w/ Luminous Hour Markers
  • Luminous Material: Tritium
  • Bezel: Bidirectional, Aluminum Insert w/ 60-Minute Scale
  • Crystal: Acrylic (Domed)
  • Movement: Rolex Caliber 1575
  • Water Resistance: 610 Meters / 2,000 Feet
  • Strap/Bracelet: Oyster Bracelet (Stainless Steel)
  • Price: $22,000 – $55,000 (Pre-Owned)
  • Availability: Pre-Owned Market Only

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

Vintage Rolex 1665 Sea-Dweller Great White

About The Great White Sea-Dweller

Due to the monochromatic all-white text of the dial of the new reference 1665 Sea-Dweller, the watch earned the nickname the “Great White” among Rolex collectors, as a means to help distinguish it from the earlier reference 1665 Sea-Dweller watches that featured red text on the surface of their dials. Additionally, this change to an entirely black and white dial for the Sea-Dweller would be a lasting decision that would stand for forty years until the release of the reference 126600 Sea-Dweller at Baselworld 2017.

To accompany the updated dial of the “Great White” Sea-Dweller, the case-backs on the new generation of reference 1665 watches received slightly more refined engravings, in which the Rolex name curves along the arc of the fluting, rather than appearing in a straight line. Beyond the subtle updates to the dial and case-back, the new generation of reference 1665 Sea-Dweller watches was very much like the previous ones that had featured red text; however, what the updates on the “Great White” represented was far more important than the actual changes to the watch themselves.

Vintage Rolex Sea-Dweller Reference 1665 Great White

Born From The Submariner

The Rolex Sea-Dweller began its life as a Submariner that had been modified to be even more water-resistant in order to withstand even greater depths below the surface of the ocean. For the first ten years of its existence, the dial of the Sea-Dweller also had the Submariner name printed on it, so it was somewhat unclear as to whether the Sea-Dweller was a separate line of watches or merely a special version of the Submariner that had been designed for more rigorous professional use.

To better understand the difference between both watches, the Submariner boasted a depth-rating of up to 200 meters/660 feet during this era, which is still impressive in its own right. It wasn’t until the early 1980s that Rolex upgraded the Submariner to be 300 meters/1,000 feet. On the other hand, the Sea-Dweller ref. 1665 was built more for deep saturation diving with a Helium Escape Valve and a depth rating of up to 610 meters/2,000 feet, hence the original moniker “Submariner 2000.” That depth rating would eventually improve up to an impressive 1,220 meters/4,000 feet, where it currently remains for the contemporary Sea-Dweller watches that Rolex produces.

Vintage Rolex Reference 1665 Sea-Dweller Great White

Goodbye Red Text

Although the elimination of red lettering made for a rather noticeable visual change, the removal of the Submariner name was the most important change that accompanied the arrival of the “Great White” reference 1665. Without the Submariner name appearing on the dial, it was an obvious signal to the public that Rolex intended the Sea-Dweller to be its own line of watches, separate from the Submariner, and filling a slightly different niche within their lineup of highly competent, professional dive watches.

The reference 1665 “Great White” Sea-Dweller remained in production for roughly five years, during which time a number of small changes took place, and five different dial variations (known as Mark 0 through Mark IV) were manufactured. Additionally, production of the “Great White” reference 1665 lasted into the early 1980s – several years after Rolex had announced the new reference 16660 Sea-Dweller with a sapphire crystal in 1978. Unusually, both Sea-Dweller references appear to have been available alongside each other for a few years.

Vintage Rolex Great White Sea-Dweller 1665

Rolex 1665 Great White Dial Variations

If you’re familiar with vintage watch collecting, you’ll understand just how important even the smallest details of a watch can be, none more so than the dial. Rolex Sea-Dweller Great White dials vary primarily in the spacing and font type used, each featuring feet-first depth ratings. Depending on how rare they are, the dial type can add significant value to ref. 1665 on the open market

  • Mark 0: The Sea-Dweller logo is longer than the line of text below it displaying the depth rating. The font also features a closed 6 instead of an open 6.
  • Mark 1: We start to see the use of an open 6, and the Sea-Dweller logo has been shortened to line up better with the second line of text.
  • Mark 2: Also known as the “Rail Dial.” The C’s in “Chronometer” and “Certified” line up perfectly. Additionally, the font used in the depth rating is in italics.
  • Mark 3: This dial variant uses a slightly different font. Also, the C’s in the previous “Rail Dial” no longer line up.
  • Mark 4: Rolex made very minute changes to this dial variant only immediately recognizable to the most keen-eyed collectors. For example, the position of the second “S” in the word “Swiss” below the 6-hour marker is slightly different. Additionally, the shapes of the 6’s and F’s in the depth rating and R in the word “Chronometer” are somewhat different.

Although it is not the rarest iteration of the Sea-Dweller that Rolex has ever produced, the reference 1665 “Great White” is the watch that helped distinguish the Rolex Sea-Dweller as its own unique line of highly specialized, ultra-water resistant, tool watches – separate from the Submariner and specifically engineered for the rigors of saturation diving and professional use.

Vintage Rolex Sea-Dweller Great White 1665
Paul Altieri
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