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In honor of its 50th anniversary, Rolex launched a new Sea-Dweller, complete with a larger case, Cyclops lens, and design nods to the original. Three years on, how does the newest Sea-Dweller fare? Let’s dive in for a closer look at the biggest, newest, (and somewhat controversial) Rolex Sea-Dweller 126600.

Rolex Sea-Dweller Ref. 126600
The 50th Anniversary Rolex Sea-Dweller Ref. 126600 marries old and new

Brief History of the Rolex Sea-Dweller

  • 1967 – 1977: Sea-Dweller ref. 1665 “Double Red Sea-Dweller”
  • 1977 – 1983: Sea-Dweller ref. 1665 “Great White”
  • 1978 – 1989: Sea-Dweller ref. 16660 “Triple Six”
  • 1989 – 2009: Sea-Dweller ref. 16600
  • 2014 – 2017: Sea-Dweller ref. 116600
  • 2017 – Present: Sea-Dweller ref. 126600
  • 2019 – Present: Sea-Dweller ref. 126603
The Rolex Sea-Dweller from 1967 (Image: Rolex)
The Rolex Sea-Dweller ref. 1665 from 1967 (Image: Rolex)

The Rolex Sea-Dweller was released in 1967 as the brand’s professional diver’s watch. Built for the pro divers of the COMEX company, the Sea-Dweller offered deeper water-resistance ratings than the Submariner of the era as well as a helium escape valve (HEV) specifically for deep-sea diving. Although they shared the same 40mm case size, compared to the Submariner’s 200-meter (660 feet) rating, the Sea-Dweller could plunge down to 610 meters (2,000 feet). Plus, the HEV prevented the crystal from popping off during decompression periods following long saturation dives by allowing built-up gasses to escape from the watch. Another notable difference from the Submariner Date was the lack of Cyclops lens on the Sea-Dweller’s acrylic crystal.

The first reference to kick off the then-new watch model was the Sea-Dweller ref. 1665, first with red text on the dial (nicknamed the Double Red Sea-Dweller or DRSD for short) followed by a white text dial version in 1977 (nicknamed the Great White). The Great White Sea-Dweller was eventually discontinued in 1983.

Rolex Sea-Dweller 16660 “Triple Six”

In 1978, Rolex released the updated Sea-Dweller ref. 16660, which interestingly was produced alongside the Sea-Dweller ref. 1665 Great White for about six years. However, the Sea-Dweller ref. 16660 (nicknamed the “Triple Six”) brought about a slew of upgrades including double the water resistance (4,000 feet/1,220 meters), a sapphire crystal, a unidirectional bezel (instead of bidirectional), and a new higher-beat Caliber 3035 movement with quickset date.

Next in line was the Sea-Dweller ref. 16600, which debuted in 1989. While essentially identical in looks to its predecessor, this was the first Rolex watch to include solid end-links on its Oyster bracelet. Plus, the Sea-Dweller ref. 16600 also came equipped with the upgraded Caliber 3135 movement. When Rolex stopped producing the Sea-Dweller ref. 16600 in 2009 it signaled the end of the Sea-Dweller watch–at least temporarily.

Rolex Sea-Dweller ref. 16600 with Caliber 3135

In 2014, Rolex revived the Sea-Dweller model in the form of the ref. 116600. Although the watch retained the customary 40mm case size, the aluminum bezel insert was replaced by a new-generation Cerachrom ceramic one instead. Other modern additions included the Glidelock extension clasp on the Oyster bracelet and the long-lasting blue-glowing Chromalight luminescence. The Sea-Dweller ref. 116600 was only manufactured for three short years until it was replaced by the Sea-Dweller 126600 in 2017.

Rolex Sea-Dweller ref. 116600 with Cerachrom bezel

Paying homage to the original model—the Double Red Sea-Dweller ref. 1665—while working off the preceding Sea-Dweller 116600, the Rolex Sea-Dweller ref. 126600 boasts a range of significant design updates.

Rolex Sea-Dweller Ref. 126600 Design

Sized at 43mm in diameter, the Sea-Dweller ref. 126600 features a larger case and wider bracelet than the 40mm models that came before. Arguably more proportional, some say this timepiece’s larger diameter is better suited to its thickness. But whether or not 40mm or 43mm is a better size is entirely up to personal taste and wrist size.

Rolex Sea-Dweller Ref. 126600
Sea-Dweller ref. 126600 with larger 43mm case

Similar to the preceding Sea-Dweller ref. 116600, the 50th Anniversary Oyster Perpetual Sea-Dweller also showcases a 60-minute, graduated unidirectional rotating bezel that allows for the tracking of dive and decompression times. Like most modern Rolex sports watches, the bezel is made from Cerachrom, an ultraviolet light resistant, scratch proof ceramic. Plus, the bezel also features a knurled edge, which is designed to account for grip while underwater. In keeping with this Rolex’s sturdiness, the black bezel’s numerals are also coated in one of the most resistant elements known to man: platinum.

The robust nature of this watch will surprise few Sea-Dweller aficionados. Rolex, however, surprised onlookers with another never-before-seen update. With this newest release, the Sea-Dweller ref. 126600 includes a Cyclops lens protruding from the sapphire crystal at the 3 o’clock position–a first for the Sea-Dweller watch. Previously, a Sea-Dweller was unique in the modern Rolex lineup because of the absence of the Cyclops above the date window. A contentious modification, Rolex enthusiasts will surely be debating about this design change for years to come. Regardless if it’s aesthetically pleasing or not, no one can deny the practicality of the Cyclops since it magnifies the date 2.5x.

Pre-Owned Rolex Sea-Dweller Ref. 126600
The red text on the dial is a nod to the original Sea-Dweller model

Housing a black dial, this anniversary Sea-Dweller offers excellent legibility thanks to contrasting Chromalight lume-coated white gold hands and hour markers. Not only does the Chromalight luminescence glow blue, it and can last up to eight hours. Paying tribute to the original ref. 1665 DRSD, this model’s dial displays the “Sea-Dweller” lettering in red. A clear nod to its roots, the inclusion of the red font is a happy addition for most Rolex fans.

Technical Specs

Created entirely in-house by Rolex, the new-generation movement, Caliber 3235, now powers the Sea-Dweller. Comprised of an impressive 14 patents, the self-winding Caliber 3235 guarantees precision, resistance to shocks and magnetic fields, reliability, and power reserve. With a new Chronergy escapement and an oscillator-fitted optimized Parachrom hairspring, this instrument offers up a substantial power reserve of 70 hours, a welcomed upgrade to the previous Sea-Dweller’s 48-hour power reserve.

The Sea-Dweller 126600 maintains the same water-resistance as its predecessor — 4000 feet (1,220 meters). Ensuring resistance to water infiltration, this Sea-Dweller’s case is made from the characteristic monobloc of corrosion-resistant 904L steel that features a hermetically sealed screw-down fluted caseback and a triple safety system Triplock winding crown. And as a pro dive watch, sitting at 9 o’clock is Rolex’s famous helium escape valve (HEV), which automatically regulates the pressure that builds up in the watch case during a dive’s decompression phase.

Under the caseback of the Sea-Dweller 126600 is Caliber 3235

Fitted with a 904L steel Oyster bracelet with an Oysterlock safety clasp and a double extension system that means this watch can be worn comfortably over a 7mm thick wetsuit. In short, the Sea-Dweller 126600 is an ideal dive partner. Two years after the launch of the steel version, Rolex surprised everyone yet again with a two-tone steel and yellow gold Sea-Dweller ref. 126603. Yet another first for the Sea-Dweller collection.

Whether you like the new style of the larger 43mm Sea-Dweller or lean more towards the classic 40mm designs, the watch’s 50-plus-year history offers up plenty of different models to choose from. 

Written by

Celine Simon

Celine is a freelance luxury watch writer who has enjoyed working in the horology industry for over ten years. Like many of the high-end timepieces she writes about, she comes from Switzerland—the heart of fine watchmaking. From Singapore to Montreal to Geneva to Dubai, Celine has lived all over the world but now calls Southern California home.