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Watch Review

Tool Watch: COMEX Sea-Dweller Models

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Paul Altieri

Comex (or Compagnie Maritime d’Expertises) is a French commercial diving company that issued Rolex dive watches to its fleet of deep-sea divers starting in the 1970s. Since divers at that time did not have all the computers and tech we have at our disposal today, their diving watches were an integral part of their gear – and survival. On top of that, Comex needed watches that could plunge to extreme depths, handle pressurized chambers, and survive ensuing decompression periods. Enter the Sea-Dweller, which came fitted with a helium escape valve to greatly reduce the risk of damage to the watch during pressure changes. While Sea-Dweller watches were made available to the public to buy, there were some special editions reserved for Comex only.

Rolex supplied several diving models to Comex over the decades, including both Submariner and Sea-Dweller watches. Rolex produced three different Comex Sea-Dweller references: ref. 1665, ref. 16660, and ref. 16600. As expected, these now-discontinued Comex-branded Rolex tool watch references are highly collectible, prized for their rarity and history. Delve into the history, progression, and value of these fascinating diving watches with our ultimate guide to the Rolex Sea-Dweller COMEX watches.

Rolex COMEX Sea-Dweller

COMEX Sea-Dweller

Rolex Sea-Dweller Comex Key Facts

References: 1665, 16660, and 16600

Case material: Stainless steel 

Case size: 40mm

Bezel: Black rotating aluminum timing bezel, 0-60 minutes

Dial: Black dial, Mercedes-style hands, date window at 3 o’clock

Lume: Tritium

Crystal: Acrylic or Sapphire; no Cyclops date magnification lens

Bracelet: Stainless steel Oyster

HEV: Yes

Water resistance: 2,000 feet or 4,000 feet

Caliber: 1575, 3035, or 3135 automatic movements

Special markings: COMEX logo on the dial, serial and reference numbers on interior caseback, Comex-issue number on exterior caseback

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


Comex Sea-Dweller Timeline

Early Model Rolex Sea Dweller 1665
Early Model Rolex Sea Dweller 1665

1967: Rolex debuts the Sea-Dweller 

1977-1981: Comex Sea-Dweller Ref. 1665

1980-1984: Comex Sea-Dweller Ref. 16660

1992-1997: Comex Sea-Dweller Ref. 16600

1997: Last Rolex Sea-Dweller is supplied to Comex

Comex Sea-Dwellers Vs. Non-Comex Sea-Dwellers

Comex Sea-Dwellers Vs. Non-Comex Sea-Dwellers

Before we outline the details of specific references, it’s worth mentioning the general differences between Comex Sea-Dwellers and standard Sea-Dwellers.

There are some common design traits across all Comex Sea-Dweller references. First, there’s the obvious “COMEX” branding on the dial, placed right above the lines of text on the bottom portion of the dial. Furthermore, Comex Sea-Dwellers have both the reference number and the serial number engraved on the interior of the caseback. Finally, Comex had its own issue numbers to keep track of which employees had which watches. These Comex-issued numbers are prominently etched on the outside of the caseback, encircled by other, more typical Sea-Dweller engravings.

  • COMEX logo on the dial
  • Rolex reference number and serial number engraved on the caseback interior
  • Comex issue number engraved on the caseback exterior

Moreover, these special Sea-Dwellers were exclusively issued to Comex employees, and never available for sale to the public. Rolex would only customize the watches with logos and engravings as Comex ordered them; therefore, Comex-branded Sea-Dweller watches were produced in very small quantities.

As you can imagine, the combination of Comex Sea-Dwellers’ distinctive design details, non-availability to the public, and low production numbers make these pieces some of the most coveted vintage Rolex watches in the market.

The Comex Sea-Dweller Ref. 1665

Comex Sea-Dweller Ref. 1665

  • 1977-1981
  • 300 examples
  • Original dial (Mark I) vs. Service dial (Mark II)
  • Acrylic crystal

The first Comex-labeled Sea-Dweller is the ref. 1665. Only 300 ref. 1665 COMEX were produced from the late 1970s to the early 1980s carrying the COMEX issues numbers 2000-2300.

The text on the dial is white and not red; so this is a part of the ref. 1665 “Great White” series (which ran from 1977 until 1983) and not the earlier ref. 1665 “Double Red Sea-Dweller” (which ran from 1967 until 1977) series.

The dial is also missing the word “DATE” after “OYSTER PERPETUAL,” although the Sea-Dweller is indeed a date model. The is also no mention of “Sea-Dweller” anywhere on the dial, instead, there’s a large COMEX logo right under the center of the handset.

The original Comex Sea-Dweller Ref. 1665 dials were what we now call a “Rail Dial,” characterized by the perfect alignment of the letters Cs in CHRONOMETER and “CERTIFIED.” Lastly, the depth rating on the dial states 2000ft = 600m (instead of the more accurate 610m).

However, there’s another dial variation of the Comex Sea-Dweller Ref. 1665 to consider – the service dial. These service dials are no longer “Rail Dials” and 610m replaced 600m in the depth rating. The original dial is now commonly categorized as the Mark I while the service dial is the Mark II dial.

The Comex Sea-Dweller Ref. 16660

COMEX Sea-Dweller

  • 1980 – 1984
  • 200 examples
  • Matte dials then Glossy dials
  • Increased water resistance to 4,000 feet
  • Sapphire crystal
  • Caliber 3035

Following the ref. 1665, the second Sea-Dweller delivery to Comex was the ref. 16660 a.k.a. the Triple Six. It’s estimated that only 200 of these pieces were sent to Comex between 1980 and 1984 with Comex issue numbers between 3000 and 3200.

Identical to the standard Sea-Dweller 16660, these Comex Triple Six watches offered plenty of enhancements over their predecessor. These improvements included a bigger (but still officially 40mm) case for double the water resistance to 4,000 feet and to accommodate a more robust HEV. There was also the addition of a sapphire crystal and the then-new higher-beat Caliber 3035 with quickset date functionality. The word “DATE” appears after “Oyster Perpetual” and we finally see the name “SEA-DWELLER” on the dial. 

There are also two distinct dials of the Comex Sea-Dweller Ref. 16660. The first (approximately) 100 examples housed matte dials and only two lines of text under the COMEX logo. Those two lines of text include the depth rating (4000 ft = 1220 m) followed by the SEA-DWELLER name.

Conversely, the remaining (approximately) 100 watches in the Comex delivery had glossy dials and white gold surrounds framing the hour markers. Furthermore, Rolex added the “SUPERLATIVE CHRONOMETER OFFICIALLY CERTIFIED” label to the dial, thereby increasing the text to four lines. Also, the SEA-DWELLER name and depth rating switched positions. A Triple-Six Comex is pretty rare so when you get an opportunity, you should take it.

The Comex Sea-Dweller Ref. 16600

The Comex Sea-Dweller Ref. 16600

  • 1992-1997
  • 200 examples
  • Caliber 3135
  • Last Rolex delivered to Comex

Finally, the last Comex Rolex Sea-Dweller is the ref. 16600. Rolex delivered the first lot of 100 Sea-Dweller ref. 16600 watches to Comex in 1992. These had the COMEX issue numbers 32XX. Also, the “ROLEX” and “COMEX” engravings sit straight across the exterior of the caseback.

The second delivery of the remaining watches happened in 1997 and these particular COMEX Sea-Dweller ref. 16600 included the 33XX 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, bringing an end to the legendary partnership.

The Collectability and Value of Comex Sea-Dweller Watches

Collectability and Value of Comex Sea-Dweller Watches

It isn’t common for Comex Sea-Dweller dive watches to come up for sale. After all, not only were they produced in extremely small batches but they were also never commercially available. These were Comex company-issued watches used in extreme environments.

As a result, the value of a Comex Sea-Dweller, whether the 1665, 16660, or 16600, is exceedingly high in today’s market. Think six-figure high, generally ranging from $100,000 to over $200,000. For example, in late December 2020, a 1979 Comex Sea-Dweller ref. 1665 sold at auction for over $199,000.

A Sea-Dweller made for Comex is a grail watch for many Rolex collectors. With approximately only 700 examples ever made over three decades, the owners club for this vintage Rolex tool watch is a small and exclusive one.

Paul Altieri
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