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Rolex Diving Watches: Submariner vs. Sea-Dweller vs. Deepsea
Rolex Diving Watches: Submariner vs. Sea-Dweller vs. Deepsea

Starting by famously inventing the world’s first waterproof watch in 1926, Rolex has continued its quest to conquer the earth’s waters with an enviable collection of diving watches. It all began with the Submariner, which was the world’s first dive watch waterproof to 100 meters deep. Rolex then followed it up with the launch of the Sea-Dweller dive watch for professional saturation divers. Finally, the Deepsea dive watch joined the Rolex catalog, boasting an incredible water resistance rating of 3,900 meters. While all these models make up the Rolex diver’s watch collection, they each have their own distinct features and heritage. So if you’re looking for a Rolex dive watch just in time for summer, but are unsure of which one to get, join us as we compare the Submariner vs. Sea-Dweller vs. Deepsea.

History: Submariner vs. Sea-Dweller vs. Deepsea

The Rolex launched the Submariner in 1953, during the decade when scuba diving was taking off both as a sport and as a profession. Divers needed a way to track their immersions times and the Submariner proved to be just the right tool watch for the job. The first Submariner was a full stainless steel model with a waterproof case and a time-only dial. The rotating timing bezel was marked to 60 minutes and the dial had plenty of lume for legibility under water.

Over the years, Rolex has greatly enhanced the Submariner collection, yet has maintained the watch’s fundamental design. This explains why the Rolex Submariner has become one of the most recognizable luxury watches in modern history. One of the biggest enhancements to occur over the Submariner’s history was the addition of the Submariner Date model in the late 1960s. Since then, the Rolex Submariner Date collection has evolved to become a luxurious collection of dive watches, complete with full gold and two-tone gold and steel models. There are also plenty of bezel and dial colors to choose from within the Submariner Date collection. On the other hand, the no-date Submariner range has stayed true to its tool watch roots by sticking to stainless steel construction, time-only functionality, and black dials and bezels.

Rolex Submariner
The Rolex Submariner has become the world’s most famous luxury sports watch

In 1967 the Sea-Dweller was born from a collaboration between Rolex and a commercial diving company named COMEX. In the 1960s, COMEX needed timepieces for their professional saturation divers that could withstand extreme depths—and Rolex obliged. The first Sea-Dweller boasted water resistance to 2,000 feet deep and a mechanism called the Helium Escape Valve (HEV). During long-term saturation dives, divers often live in pressurized underwater habitats, where gasses such as helium can seep into the watch. Therefore, the HEV serves to automatically release the built-up gasses (when the diver slowly ascends back to the surface) to prevent the watch crystal from popping off from pressure differences. A decade later, in 1978, Rolex launched the Sea-Dweller 4000, which, as its name suggests, could dive down to 4,000 feet.

Rolex Deepsea
The Deepsea is Rolex’s largest dive watch

The most recent Rolex diving watch—and the most robust—is the Deepsea, which made its debut in 2008. Its 44mm Oyster case is also equipped with a Helium Escape valve and its water resistance rating is an incredible 12,800 feet. That is a depth 100 times deeper than any human could ever survive! Particular popular versions of the Deepsea watch are those with the D-Blue dials. Rolex developed and these blue to black gradient D-Blue dials for the Deepsea in honor of James Cameron’s record-breaking Mariana Trench dive.

Modern Modifications: Submariner vs. Sea-Dweller vs. Deepsea

In 2005, Rolex introduced new Cerachrom (the company’s proprietary ceramic alloy) bezels to the GMT-Master II collection to replace the once-standard aluminum bezels. Over the ensuing decade, Rolex rolled out these ultra-modern Cerachrom bezels to other sports watch collections, including the Submariner and the Sea-Dweller. What’s more, the most modern Rolex Submariner and Sea-Dweller dive watches have what are referred to as “Super Cases,” which are broader in shape compared to their predecessors. Given the introduction year of the Deepsea, this particular Rolex diving watch model has always featured ceramic bezels and other modern design touches.

Green Rolex Submariners
A classic Submariner with an aluminum bezel (left) vs. a Super Case Submariner with a Cerachrom bezel

The current generation of the Submariner Date watches first came out in 2008 with the yellow gold and white gold versions. These were quickly joined by two-tone Submariner editions in the following year and finally, stainless steel ones in 2010. It’s worth noting that the current production steel Submariner models are available in either a black dial and black bezel configuration or a vibrant green colorway, nicknamed the Submariner Hulk. Rolex added a new no-date Submariner watch fitted with the ceramic bezel in 2012. Although the modern Submariner watches retain the same 40mm case measurements of past models yet are bulkier in style thanks to the silhouette of the Super Case.

New Rolex Sea-Dweller ref. 216600 vs. Original 1967 Sea-Dweller ref. 1665
2017 Rolex Sea-Dweller ref. 216600 vs. Original 1967 Sea-Dweller ref. 1665 (Image: Rolex)

In 2017, Rolex increased the Sea-Dweller size from its traditional 40mm case size to a larger 43 mm size. Furthermore, for the first time in the Sea-Dweller’s history, Rolex added a Cyclops date magnification lens to the sapphire crystal. In 2019, Rolex added the first ever two-tone yellow gold and stainless steel Sea-Dweller model to the collection. With these changes, it seems that the Sea-Dweller is following in the footsteps of the Submariner collection by offering more luxurious options.

Rolex Deepsea with the D-Blue Dial

In 2018, Rolex updated the Deepsea model with a new-generation movement, slimmer lugs, and a slightly wider bracelet. The mega dive watch still sports a large 44 mm case and is offered with either a standard black dial or the more colorful D-Blue dial.

References and Specs: Submariner vs. Sea-Dweller vs. Deepsea

Among the three Rolex dive watches, the Submariner is the smallest with a 40 mm case size and slimmer profile than the Sea-Dweller and Deepsea. Modern versions of the Submariner are water resistance rated to 300 meters.  It is also the most varied collection due to its longer history, more metal and color options, and choice of date vs. no-date editions.

The Submariner comes in several metal options
The Submariner comes in several metal options

Older versions of the Rolex Sea-Dweller also measure 40 mm but cases are thicker to accommodate both the helium escape valve and higher water resistant rating of 1,200 meters. Newer versions of the Sea-Dweller are now 43 mm in diameter.

The Sea-Dweller was once exclusively available in stainless steel but since this year, it is now also offered in a two-tone configuration. The largest of the bunch is the Rolex Deepsea with a case size of 44 mm and a water resistance rating of 3,900 meters. It is exclusively made in stainless steel although there are two dial options to choose from.

Rolex Sea-Dweller ref. 16600
Rolex Sea-Dweller ref. 16600

All three watches have always been fitted with the Oyster bracelet, complete with extension systems to fit over diving suits. However, modern versions of the Sea-Dweller and all Deepsea models also benefit from an additional extension mechanism called the Fliplock for even more bracelet length.

Rolex Submariner References and Model Specs:

ReferenceMaterial & SizeBezel TypeProduction Year
114060Stainless Steel 40mmBlack Ceramic2012-Present
116610LVStainless Steel 40mmGreen Ceramic2010-Present
116610LNStainless Steel 40mmBlack Ceramic2010-Present
116613LNGold & Steel 40mmBlack Ceramic2009-Present
116613LBGold & Steel 40mmBlue Ceramic2009-Present
116618LNYellow Gold 40mmBlack Ceramic2008-Present
116618LBYellow Gold 40mmBlue Ceramic2008-Present
116619White Gold 40mmBlue Ceramic2008-Present
16610LVStainless Steel 40mmGreen Aluminum2003-2010
14060LNStainless Steel 40mmBlack Aluminum1990-2012
16610LNStainless Steel 40mmBlack Aluminum1988-2010
16613LNGold & Steel 40mmBlack Aluminum1988-2009
16613LBGold & Steel 40mmBlue Aluminum1988-2009
16618LNYellow Gold 40mmBlack Aluminum1988-2008
16618LBYellow Gold 40mmBlue Aluminum1988-2008
168000Stainless Steel 40mmBlack Aluminum1988-1989
16803Gold & Steel 40mmBlue or Black Aluminum1983-1988
16808Yellow Gold 40mmBlue or Black Aluminum1979-1988
16800Stainless Steel 40mmBlack Aluminum1979-1988
1680/8Yellow Gold 40mmBlue or Black Aluminum1969-1979
1680Stainless Steel 40mmBlack Aluminum1967-1979
5513Stainless Steel 40mmBlack Aluminum1962-1989
5512Stainless Steel 40mmBlack Aluminum1959-1978

*There are earlier vintage Submariner models that came before the ref. 5512 as well.

Rolex Sea-Dweller References and Model Specs:

ReferenceMaterial & SizeBezel TypeProduction Year
126603Gold & Steel 43mmBlack Ceramic2019-Present
126603Stainless Steel 43mmBlack Ceramic2017-Present
116600Stainless Steel 40mmBlack Ceramic2014-2017
16600Stainless Steel 40mmBlack Aluminum1989-2009
16660Stainless Steel 40mmBlack Aluminum1978-1989
1665Stainless Steel 40mmBlack Aluminum1967-1983

Rolex Deepsea References and Model Specs:

ReferenceMaterial & SizeBezel TypeProduction Year
126660 D-BlueStainless Steel 44mmBlack Ceramic2018-Present
126660Stainless Steel 44mmBlack Ceramic2018-Present
116660 D-BlueStainless Steel 44mmBlack Ceramic2014-2018
116660Stainless Steel 44mmBlack Ceramic2008-2018

Which Rolex Dive Watch is Right for You?

If you prefer a smaller sized or a more luxurious dive watch, then the Submariner collection is a great choice. Whether in solid gold, two-tone, or steel, with or without gems, in black or more vibrant shades like blue and green, there’s probably a Rolex Submariner out there that’s right for you.

A variety of Rolex Submariner models
A variety of Rolex Submariner models

Alternatively, if you like your dive watches bigger and in stainless steel, then you may find the perfect dive watch within the Sea-Dweller or Deepsea collections.

Used Rolex Submariner, Sea-Dweller, and Deepsea models

The secondary market offers a bigger variety of used Rolex diving watches that include vintage, retro, discontinued, and current models. For pre-owned Rolex Submariners, secondhand Rolex Sea-Dwellers, and used Rolex Deepsea watches, browse the Gray & Sons inventory for a great selection of like-new models at attractive prices. Alternatively, if you have a used Submariner, Sea-Dweller, or Deepsea watch you’d like to sell, we can help. You can either sell it to us directly or you can take advantage of our world’s best 90-day consignment program.

Rolex Deepsea Dive Watch
Find the right Rolex dive watch for you

Not only do we have decades of experience in buying and selling pre-owned Rolex Submariners and Sea-Dwellers watches, but we also have a team of highly-trained watchmakers who are specialized in servicing and restoring secondhand Rolex watches. Although Gray & Sons is based in Miami, Florida, we ship to all 50 states and select counties outside of the US. Each used Rolex that we sell at Gray & Sons is backed by our two-year international guarantee, in addition to a 10-day, no questions asked, buy-back privilege option.

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.