The legendary Swiss watchmaker Rolex celebrates its centennial this year with a new benchmark timepiece – the Sea-Dweller DEEPSEA.
By Kristian Haagen
This year’s grand horological exposé at Baselworld saw one brand stealing the headlines, and rightfully so. It was none other than the star in the crown of Swiss watchmaking, Rolex.
Celebrating its centennial this year, Rolex has issued an entirely new model to further ennoble its reign as the king of diver’s watches: the Rolex Oyster Perpetual Sea-Dweller DEEPSEA, already dubbed the DSSD by timepiece enthusiasts the world over.
Rolex has built its reputation on a relatively conservative approach to change. To a layman a model such as Submariner would seem very similar to its vintage original from 1954. Nevertheless, much has taken place in terms of design. To enhance time-reading, the maxi dial has been introduced to the Submariner and GMT-Master II, which allows for a larger hour-hand and wider minute marker. And fancy accessories have also been introduced, such as zebra stripe and leopard print leather straps. New models include the Yacht-Master II chronograph complete with a regatta timekeeping feature. The stoic classicism of Rolex has further been challenged by new market trends that point to increased competition from other exclusive Swiss watchmakers.
Unique to Rolex, they are the only watchmaker to produce most timepiece components themselves, including the movements, dials, time markers, cases and bracelets, which many watchmakers source from independent manufacturers and consequently experience difficulties in meeting demand. This often results in retail-level backorders for new models where consumers have to wait a year or two for their personal order. Rolex has eliminated much of the production lag quite simply through acquisition of their sub-suppliers, which is why the new Rolex models launched at Baselworld in April this year were available only months after. However, this does not mean that you can visit your local Rolex dealer and simply walk away with a Cosmograph Daytona or Milgauss. Indeed, the exceptional demand for many of the Rolex models has resulted in long waiting lists, such as with the newly launched Sea-Dweller DEEPSEA.
First diver’s models
The first Rolex Submariner was based on the original Turn-O-Graph, and six months before the watch was launched at the Basel Spring Fair in 1954 it was tested by two professional divers, Auguste Piccard and his son Jacques. But rather than taking the plunge with the watch strapped to the wrist they mounted it on the outside of their bathyscaphe ‘Trieste’. Having submerged to a depth of 3,150 metres/ 10,334 feet, the mini-sub surfaced with the Rolex Submariner in perfect working order. This amazing achievement was repeated when an updated version of the Trieste reached a depth of 10,916 metres/ 35,813 feet in 1960. Once again, the Rolex performed immaculately both during and after the test.
The successor to the Submariner, the Sea-Dweller, was launched in 1971 as the result of a close partnership with the French COMEX company that asked Rolex to develop an enhanced version of the Submariner for deep-sea oil exploration. The first Sea-Dweller was watertight to a depth of 600 metres/ 1,960 feet. Today’s advanced version is flawless to a depth of 1,220 metres/ 4,000 feet.
The Sea-Dweller DEEPSEA resembles its sister in the Oyster Perpetual collection, the Sea-Dweller. Its highlight innovative feature is the high-performance ring made of nitrogen-alloyed stainless steel that allows the watch to resist the extreme pressures exerted at the ocean deep. It also features a unidirectional rotating bezel that allows divers to accurately time their ascent and descent to ensure safe diving. The bezel itself features a zero triangular marker with a capsule of newly developed luminescent material that allows better visibility at extreme depths. The timepiece is waterproof to a depth of 3,900 metres/ 12,800 feet, which is no less than 2,680 metres/ 8,800 feet more than the Sea-Dweller and 3,600 metres/ 11,800 feet more than the Submariner, which was the first diver’s model to be introduced by Rolex at the Basel Spring Fair in 1954.
Rolex produces around 800-850,000 timepieces a year, which makes it one of the largest Swiss watchmakers and also the largest purchaser of gold in Switzerland. Reigning supreme in the deep seas, Rolex can look ahead to the next century of fine watchmaking and the next generation of awe-inspiring timepieces set for deep-sea mission impossible.