To supplement our in-depth review of the history of Sea-Dweller, we now explore some special Rolex Sea-Dweller models—the COMEX editions. For the full backstory of the Sea-Dweller, please start with our article on the Sea-Dweller ref. 1665 Double Red Sea-Dweller and continue through all six parts. If you have already, then read on and enjoy our last chapter of our Sea-Dweller history series.
Compagnie Maritime d’Expertises and Rolex work together. (Credit: Telegraph.co.uk)
The Rolex COMEX Sea-Dweller Models
Compagnie Maritime d’Expertises, COMEX, is the French commercial diving company that commissioned Rolex to create dive watches. COMEX needed watches that could plunge down to extreme depths, handle pressurized chambers, and survive ensuing decompression periods. Enter the Sea-Dweller. While this collaboration between COMEX and Rolex eventually gave birth to the Sea-Dweller collection for the public, there were special COMEX editions that were reserved for the companies’ employees only.
Comex Sea-Dwellers were exclusive to employees of Comex. (Credit: responsesource.com)
Rolex supplied many different diving watches for COMEX, including a variety of Submariner models. Rolex produced three different COMEX Sea-Dweller references too — first the ref. 1665, then the ref. 16660, and finally, the ref. 16600. Before we delve into the details of each of those references, there are a couple of things to note about the COMEX Sea-Dweller watches.
COMEX Sea-Dwellers vs. Non-COMEX Sea-Dwellers
First of all, these were exclusively issued to COMEX employees, thus, never available to the public for sale. They were built as tool watches to get a job done. The watches the COMEX divers wore were an integral part of their gear. It’s important to stress that these divers did not have all the computers and technology we have today, so they were dependent on the functionality and reliability of their dive watches. Since these watches were made to order, COMEX Sea-Dwellers were produced in very small quantities. As you can imagine, their non-availability to the public, coupled with low production numbers, makes these pieces some of the most coveted vintage Rolex watches in the market.
Second, there are some common design details across all COMEX Sea-Dweller references. There’s the obvious “COMEX” designation on the dial, of course. Furthermore, COMEX Sea-Dwellers have both the reference and serials numbers engraved on the interior of the caseback. Finally, COMEX had their own issue numbers to keep track of which employees had which watches. These COMEX issue numbers are prominently engraved on the outside of the caseback encircled by other, more typical Sea-Dweller engravings.
COMEX watches were engraved on the caseback to keep track. (Credit: Phillip’s)
The COMEX Sea-Dweller Ref. 1665
The first COMEX labeled Sea-Dweller is the ref. 1665. Note the text on the dial is white, not red, so this is a part of the ref. 1665 “Great White” not the ref. 1665 “Double Red Sea-Dweller” family. Moreover, observe the lack of the word “DATE” after ‘OYSTER PERPETUAL” despite the fact that the Sea-Dweller is indeed a date model. Only 300 ref. 1665 COMEX were produced from the late 1970s to the early 1980s carrying the COMEX issues numbers 2000-2300.
When the “C” in “Chronometer and Certified are lined up, it is called a “Rail” Dial. (Credit: Phillips)
Like Sea-Dweller watches that were sold to the public, there are different dial variations found on the COMEX ref. 1665. The first dial variation is a “Rail” dial, where the “C” in “CHRONOMETER” lines up with the “C” in “CERTIFIED.” Even more interesting, however, is the depth rating on the original dials of the COMEX Sea-Dweller ref. 1665, which say 2000ft = 600m. Christie’s sold an example of this very rare Sea-Dweller back in 2015 for about $87,500. The other dial variation of the COMEX Sea-Dweller ref. 1665 were actually service dials and they did not have the “Rail” alignment of the letter “Cs” and the 600m was replaced by 610m.
The COMEX Sea-Dweller Ref. 16660
Following the ref. 1665, the second special delivery Sea-Dweller with COMEX on the dial is the ref. 16660 a.k.a. the Triple Six. It’s said that only 200 of these pieces were sent to COMEX between 1980 and 1984 with the COMEX issue numbers between 3000 and 3200.
Just like the non-COMEX Sea-Dweller 16660, these Triple Six watches offered plenty of enhancements. These improvements included better water resistance to 4,000 feet, a bigger case to accommodate a more robust HEV, sapphire crystal, and the new Caliber 3035.
Seeing that this does not have “SUPERLATIVE CHRONOMETER OFFICIALLY CERTIFIED” we know its the first 50 of 200. (Credit: Phillip’s)
There are also two distinct dials of the COMEX Sea-Dweller Ref. 16660. The first 50 sported matte dials and only two lines of text under the COMEX label. The remaining 150 watches, on the other hand, had glossy dials and white gold surrounds on the hour markers. Furthermore, the “SUPERLATIVE CHRONOMETER OFFICIALLY CERTIFIED” designation increased it to four lines of text rather than just two. A Triple-Six COMEX is pretty rare so when you get an opportunity, you should take it.
The COMEX Sea-Dweller Ref. 16600
Finally, the last COMEX edition Rolex watch is the Sea-Dweller ref. 16600. Rolex delivered the first lot of 100 COMEX Sea-Dweller ref. 16600 watches in 1992. These had the COMEX issue numbers in the 3200 to 3299 range. Also, the “ROLEX” and “COMEX” engravings sit straight across the exterior of the caseback.
This watch marks the end of an amazing partnership. (Credit: responsesource.com)
The second delivery of the remaining watches happened in 1997 and these particular COMEX Sea-Dweller ref. 16600 included the 3300 – 3399 COMEX issue numbers. This time, “ROLEX” and “COMEX” lie on a curve on the periphery of the exterior caseback.
Not only were there only 200 pieces of the COMEX Sea-Dweller ref. 16600, it is also the last Rolex watch delivered to COMEX. Thus, the end of a legendary partnership.
And there you have it, the conclusion of our journey through the history of the Rolex Sea-Dweller. After looking at the ref. 1665, ref. 16660, ref. 16600, ref. 116600, ref. 126600, and the COMEX Sea-Dweller editions, which Sea-Dweller is your favorite model? Do you prefer vintage or modern? Leave us your thoughts below.