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In honor of its 50th anniversary, Rolex revisits the Sea-Dweller for 2017 to upgrade its look with a larger case and a Cyclops lens. So, let’s dive in for a closer look and examine the bigger, newer, and somewhat controversial Sea-Dweller ref. 126600.

New Rolex Sea-Dweller ref. 216600 vs. Original 1967 Sea-Dweller ref. 1665
New Rolex Sea-Dweller ref. 216600 vs. Original 1967 Sea-Dweller ref. 1665 (Image: Rolex)

Rolex’s iconic professional diver’s watch, the Sea-Dweller was first introduced five decades ago. Built for the pro divers of the COMEX company, the Sea-Dweller offered much better waterproofness than the Submariner of the time. The 1967 Sea-Dweller guaranteed water resistance to a depth of a whopping 610 meters. Paying homage to the original model—the Double Red Sea-Dweller ref. 1665—while working off of 2014’s Sea-Dweller 4000, the Rolex Oyster Perpetual Sea-Dweller ref. 126600 for 2017 boasts a range of significant design updates.

The Look of the 2017 Rolex Sea-Dweller Ref. 126600

Sized at 43mm in diameter, the new 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.

The 50th Anniversary Sea-Dweller ref. 216600
The 50th Anniversary Sea-Dweller ref. 216600 (Image: Rolex)

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, are definitely keeping fans on their toes with another never-before-seen update. With this new release, for the first time ever, on its sapphire crystal, the new Sea-Dweller ref. 126600 includes a Cyclops lens at 3 o’clock. Previously, a Sea-Dweller was set apart and identifiable because of the absence of the Cyclops. 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.

The 50th Anniversary Sea-Dweller ref. 216600
The 50th Anniversary Sea-Dweller ref. 216600 (Image: Rolex)

Housing a black dial, this anniversary Oyster Perpetual 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. Honoring the original ref. 1665 Double Red Sea-Dweller watch, this model’s watch face displays the “Sea-Dweller” lettering in red. A clear nod to its roots, the inclusion of the red font is a happy addition for pretty much all Rolex fans.

The Technical Side of the 2017 Rolex Sea-Dweller Ref. 126600

Created entirely in-house by Rolex, the new-generation movement, Caliber 3235 powers the 50th-anniversarysary Sea-Dweller (the older ref. 116600 ran on Caliber 3135). Comprised of an unparalleled 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 considering the previous Sea-Dweller’s 48-hour reserve.

The 50th Anniversary Sea-Dweller ref. 216600
The 50th Anniversary Sea-Dweller ref. 216600 (Image: Rolex)

The new Sea-Dweller ref. 126600 maintains the same waterproofness as the preceding ref. 116600 — 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 watchcase during a dive’s decompression phase.

The 50th Anniversary Sea-Dweller ref. 216600
The 50th Anniversary Sea-Dweller ref. 216600 (Rolex)

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. Thus, the 50th anniversary Sea-Dweller 216600 is an ideal dive partner. Also, priced at $11,350, this pro instrument is not completely out of reach for those who take diving as seriously as they take masterful watchmaking.

The Other Sea-Dweller Models

For those who prefer the aesthetics of the previous Sea-Dweller models, thankfully they’re still available in the secondary market. In fact, since the launch of the new Sea-Dweller ref. 126600, there’s been an increase in popularity of the ref. 116600 due to its more traditional 40mm size and lack of Cyclops lens.

In addition to the Sea-Dweller 4000 ref. 116600, there are, of course, the other older models including the Sea-Dweller ref. 16600, the Sea-Dweller ref. 16660 “Triple Six,” and the Sea-Dweller ref. 1665 “Great White,” and Sea-Dweller ref. 1665 “DRSD.” Each of these Sea-Dweller references offers their own appeal, some vintage, some modern.

Whether you like the new style of the Sea-Dweller or lean more towards the older designs, its 50-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.