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There's certainly something to be said for the fact that Rolex still continues to improve their products and keep abreast of advancing technologies.
Nothing illustrates that fact more than the Sea-Dweller. Introduced in 1967 for divers of the French company COMEX, Rolex refined and improve the design of the model throughout the 1970s. The models produced from 1971 to 1977 with two lines of red on the dial (referred to as "double red" by collectors) and "patent pending" on the case back attract the most attention from collectors.
But an "inexpensive" double red Sea-Dweller can run for upwards of $60,000 for examples in good condition.
Fortunately, the Sea-Dweller was produced until 2009. Each successive version improved upon the last, illustrating that in terms of quality and ingenuity, Rolex just keeps getting better and better. Moreover, those produced starting in the 1980s are now reaching twenty to thirty years of age, the new generation of vintage watches.
In many ways the development of the 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 16660. With the Reference 16660 (or "triple six"), Rolex released a Sea-Dweller that was more robust than previous versions. Now fitted with a synthetic sapphire crystal, the Reference 16660 (which ran until 1988) 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.
Rugged and dependable, the Reference 166600 is 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 still run, and is a lesser-seen alternative to the omnipresent Submariner.
A contemporary classic, for sure.
Stainless steel Oyster case is 40mm (excluding crown). Rolex Reference 16660. Rolex Caliber 3035 Self-Winding Movement. Circa 1980s.
Overall Condition: Stainless steel Oyster case is in excellent condition with thick, fat lugs and no signs of over-polishing. Rotating bezel is likewise in excellent condition with minimal signs of use and wear. Dial is in excellent condition with no signs of major discoloration or hand drag. Luminescent (tritium) material of the hour markers and hands have gained a fine even patina over time. Rolex Trip-Lock crown. Rolex case back has faint scratches and tool marks but is in otherwise very good condition.
Includes one 20mm Rolex 93160 Oyster bracelet with 592 end links. Bracelet is in excellent condition with minimal stretch and signs of wear.