The Submariner and the Sea-Dweller are Rolex’s most well-known and well-loved divers’ watches. But what sets them apart from the rest of the market – and from each other?
This article takes a plunge into the history of Rolex’s divers’ watches, comparing the pros and cons of these two remarkable watches, and offering some advice for anyone who’s considering buying one.
Rolex’s First Iconic Divers’ Watch
When it comes to divers’ watches, Rolex were actually latecomers to the game, with the Omega Marine, the Panerai Radiomir, and the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms all beating Rolex to it. But while the Submariner wasn’t the first divers’ watch, it has come to be recognised as one of the most famous divers’ watches in the world, and indeed one of the most recognisable watches of all time.
Sporty, elegant, and satisfyingly substantial, the design of the Rolex Submariner is loved by many, and even imitated by a few lesser watch brands. But it’s massive popularity hasn’t lessened its appeal. The Submariner’s demand and market value hasn’t stopped growing since its release in 1953. Its unmistakable bezel, when paired with the steel link bracelet, simply hits the spot for thousands of watch lovers around the world.
With the superior functionality that all Rolex tool watches boast, the Submariner exceeds the requirements of most professional divers. With modern models waterproof up to 1,000 feet, few divers need anything more advanced. But for the superior performance that was demanded by the US Navy during their SEALAB research, Rolex’s innovation was pushed to the next level. It was Rolex’s collaboration with SEALAB that ultimately led to the birth of the Sea-Dweller.
The Evolution of the Sea-Dweller
The fame of the Submariner means that sometimes its close relative, the Sea-Dweller is overlooked – despite the fact that thanks to SEALAB, the Sea-Dweller is more advanced as a professional tool watch.
SEALAB divers began using Submariners at first, but found that the crystal would occasionally pop-off after emerging from certain dives. It was discovered that this was a problem only experienced by saturation divers, where helium is included in a divers’ breathing gas to decrease the risk of decompression sickness. The problem was that helium particles – the smallest element on the periodic target – were getting into Submariner watches and causing damage.
Rolex needed to introduce a gas escape valve to meet the requirements of saturation divers, and the Rolex Sea-Dweller was born – the first watch to meet the requirements of saturation divers.
Launched in 1967, the Sea-Dweller is visually similar to the Submariner. It is distinguished, first and foremost by the gas escape valve, but it also claims superior water resistance. The Sea-Dweller’s patented ringlock system enables water resistance to 4,000 feet – far deeper than the 1,000 of a modern Submariner. Indeed, some Deepsea Sea-Dweller models now boast water resistance to a phenomenal 12,800 feet.
Submariner vs Sea Dweller
So, which watch is right for you – the Submariner or the Sea-Dweller?
Unless you’re a saturation diver, you can be confident that both watches will meet your needs underwater. At which point, a number of other factors come into play. For the average Rolex aficionado, this includes collectability, design, and value. And for these attributes, there is no simple answer to which watch is right for you.
In the world of luxury watches, rarity almost always equates to desirability. In the case of the Sea-Dweller, this is also true. First released as a professional tool watch, rather than a commercial watch, a number of Sea-Dweller models are quite scarce. Models such as the ‘Double Red’ have attracted quite a sum. On the other hand, Rolex Submariners have been touted as a reliable investment by many watch experts.
As for the aesthetic design of the watch, the Sea-Dweller is chunkier. While Submariners weigh in at around 155g, the Sea-Dweller Deepsea weighs in 37% heavier at 212g. Until recently, Sea-Dweller watches have not featured the distinctive magnifying bubble above the date that you will find on Submariner date models.
We all know that it in many ways, it’s hard to beat the Submariner. But here’s the clincher you should bear in mind if you’re weighing it up against the Sea-Dweller: how important is performance to you?
The Submariner is the iconic classic, and that can’t be denied. But when it comes to technical specifications for a diving watch, the Sea-Dweller has benefitted from research in the toughest underwater conditions imaginable. In that respect, the Sea-Dweller has the edge.
In the perilous world of deep-sea diving, it’s vital to have a watch you can rely on. In diving, timing is everything – from oxygen levels to ascent rate, timing is a matter of life and death for underwater professionals.
Through years of development, Rolex has produced two models which amply meet the needs of professional divers. Whichever best suits your needs, you can be guaranteed that either one of these will put you in the possession of one of the best designed and most reliable diving watches available today.