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In many ways the development of the Rolex Sea-Dweller mirrors the technological advances that occurred during the 1960s and 1970s. When the Sea-Dweller was introduced in 1967, NASA had launched over fourteen manned space missions and was just two years from putting a man on the Moon. Yet deep sea explorers (in many ways the astronauts of the deep) had only descended to the Marianas Trench once, in 1960.
But the divers of COMEX (for whom the Sea-Dweller was designed) pushed the envelope, operating at depths that had never been possible before the introduction of commercial saturation diving in 1965.
At the time, the divers at COMEX were already using watches by Rolex, specifically the Submariner Reference 5513. However, since the divers of COMEX employed a new diving technique called saturation diving (in which the divers used a mix of hydrogen, helium and oxygen) the Reference 5513 was poorly designed for the purpose. When not working, the divers would rest in a pressurized chamber, breathing helium-infused air and allowing the built-up helium to leave their bodies.
Since saturation diving decreases a diver's decompression interval, the helium molecules left their bodies faster than they left their watches, causing a build-up of pressure that would blow the crystals off their watches. COMEX approached Rolex with this problem. Rolex presented a solution: install a titanium Helium Escape Valve on the case at 9 o'clock, which would allow the helium molecules to escape the watch faster.
A waterproof O-Ring secured a spring-loaded piston to the outside of the case, which pressed against the O-Ring when the watch was exposed to increased water pressure. Rolex gave COMEX a few of these special prototype 5513 Submariners with Helium Escape Valves, and the problem was solved. Later, in 1967, when COMEX requested a hundred more, Rolex issued a new Reference number, 5514, and placed the COMEX logo on the dial.
These Reference 5514 Submariners proved such a success that Rolex decided to release them to the public in a brand-new Reference: 1665, the Sea-Dweller. This first Reference of Sea-Dweller was equipped with the Calibre 1575 movement and a thicker crystal. Now recreational divers could buy a watch capable of descending to the punishing depth of 2000 feet (or 610 meters) at which the COMEX professionals worked.
In 1978, the Reference 1665 Sea-Dweller was replaced by the Reference 16600, which was fitted with the Rolex Caliber 3035 movement. Now fitted with a synthetic sapphire crystal, the Reference 16600 boasted an even greater depth rating: an impressive 4000 feet (or 1220 meters). This was possible, in part, due to a larger Helium Escape Valve.
The Reference 16600 ran until 2008, when it was replaced by the current model, the gargantuan 44mm Reference 116600. Rugged and dependable, the Reference 16600 is the last 'Dweller with classic Oyster dimensions. A quintessential tool watch with a solid construction, this example comes fitted with its original heavy duty Oyster bracelet with solid end links (SEL) and has just taken a turn through our shop. It's a perfect example of a precision instrument that can take a beating (and a bath!) and still run.
Stainless steel Oyster case is approximately 40mm (excluding crown). Rolex Reference 16600T, Rolex Calibre 3035 automatic winding movement with quickset date. Circa 2005.
Overall Condition: Case is in very good condition over all, showing light signs of wear consistent with careful use. Dial is in excellent, as new condition with crisp printing and no signs of discoloration, water damage or hand drag. Bezel and insert are in excellent condition. Case back is in good condition with minimal signs of wear. Rolex signed crown.
Includes original 20mm steel Oyster Bracelet (93160A/SEL) which has been professionally rebrushed. Also includes two 20mm nylon straps from Crown & Buckle