Rolex Sea-Dweller

Rolex Sea-Dweller

At a trade show in New York, sometime in the mid-1960s, a Navy diver casually approached the Rolex booth. He had been having trouble with his watch, a Reference 5514 Submariner, particularly when it came to his line of work: saturation diving. As he explained to the man behind the counter, the crystal of his watch would pop off in the middle of a dive, rendering the watch—an indispensable tool—utterly useless.

The diver was Chief Warrant Officer Bob Barth, and the man he happened to meet that day at the trade fair was none other than T. Walker Lloyd, an executive at Rolex.

As a veteran of the U.S. Navy’s SEALAB programs, Barth spent days at a time in a habitat that was essentially a glorified tin can.

Barth wore a Submariner throughout the SEALAB 1 and 2 programs, but like other saturation divers, found that the crystal of his watch would come flying off during decompression. Gas expands as pressure decreases, and the helium molecules that had passed through the watch’s seals at depth expanded during decompression. As the gas molecules grew and grew, the pressure that they exerted inside the case increased so much that it couldn’t contain the gas, and the crystal was the easiest way out.

Fortunately for Barth, for history, and for collectors of vintage watches, “T” Lloyd was there at the trade fair that day—and sympathized with Barth’s concerns. In fact, Lloyd was, like Barth, a veteran saturation diver—one of the first to dive to a depth of 100 feet using a mix of oxygen and nitrogen. Thus, he was uniquely positioned to do something about Barth’s troublesome Sub.

After Lloyd’s conversation with Barth, the brand developed and patented the Helium Release Valve, which was a one-way value that gave the helium molecules a safe path out of the watch during decompression. The first watch that Rolex equipped with the Helium Escape Valve was given the name “Sea Dweller”—the same nickname that the SEALAB participants (like Barth) went by in the U.S. Navy diver community.

Barth and other divers went on to wear the SEALAB during the SEALAB 3 mission.

The Sea Dweller performed flawlessly, and went on to set the standard for professional dive watches throughout the industry.

The Sea Dweller that we offer here is a Reference 1665 dating from very late 1970s/early 1980s. A (flawlessly restored) late Mark III case houses a Mark IV dial with lovely even patina and a Tropic-39 domed crystal. Coming complete with the correct 93150/585 HD bracelet with VD date code, this is a truly superlative example of a historic and legendary watch.

To learn more about Bob Barth and his role in the development of the Sea-Dweller, subscribe to SHIFTed Magazine.


SKU: AS02305

Stainless steel Mark III Oyster case is approximately 40mm (excluding crown). Reference 1665. Circa late 1970s/early 1980s.

Overall Condition: Case is in very good condition, having been expertly refinished. Bezel insert shows pleasing fading from age. Mark IV dial is in extremely good condition with even patina to the luminescent elements. Rolex Tropic 39 domed crystal and Rolex-signed crown.

Includes one 20mm 93150/585 Rolex HD Oyster bracelet with VD date code.

Includes Rolex inner and outer boxes and Rolex service paperwork from 2004.

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