Rolex Sea-Dweller 'Rail Dial'

Rolex Sea-Dweller 'Rail Dial'

Why We Love It

The Sea-Dweller is the stuff of legend...and proof that Rolex is King of the Seas.

A big brother to the iconic Submariner, the Sea Dweller is bigger, thicker, meaner, and deeper in every way. It was also the first model to feature a Helium Escape Valve fitted to a commercially-available Rolex.

This particular example, a Reference 1665, features a short run 'Rail Dial' and is in absolutely incredible condition, featuring a richly patinated and crisp matte dial, beautifully matching handset, and even the correct early silver date wheel. Better yet, this pristine example comes complete with its inner box, booklets, hangtags (with serial!), papers from original sale in February of 1980, and RSC papers from 2008.

If you've spent any time searching for a complete set Sea-Dweller, you'll already know they are a needle in a haystack, and even harder to find in this condition, carefully worn and lovingly serviced by Rolex just over a decade ago.

This, dear friends, is a special one!

The Story

Rolex designed the Sea-Dweller specifically for professional divers with the Compagnie Maritime d'Expertise or COMEX. At the time, the divers at COMEX were already using watches by Rolex, specifically the Submariner Reference 5513. Unfortunately, the Submariner Reference 5513 encountered problems when exposed to the extreme depths at which the COMEX divers worked. Simply put, COMEX employed a new diving technique, called saturation diving, in which the divers used a mix of hydrogen, helium and oxygen rather than the standard nitrogen and oxygen. 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, and 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, enabling the public to 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.

A quintessential tool watch with a solid construction, the following versions come fitted with a heavy duty Oyster bracelet with solid end links (SEL) and additional depth rating. Modern Sea Dwellers are the perfect example of a precision instrument that can take a beating (and a bath!) and still run, and is a lesser-seen alternative to the omnipresent Submariner. 


SKU: AS03403

Stainless steel Oyster case is approximately 39mm (excluding crown). Rolex Reference 1665. Rolex automatic winding movement. Circa 1979/80.

Overall Condition: Case is in very good condition overall, showing light signs of wear consistent with age and use and signs of professional factory refinishing. Luminous matte black 'Rail' dial is in excellent condition with richly patinated luminous indices. Luminous handset shows matching patina. Signed crown.

Includes heavy duty 20mm steel Oyster Bracelet (93150/585) with signed Fliplock clasp and diver's extension. Also includes inner box, booklets, hangtag with serial number, COSC hangtag, papers dated 2/1980, and RSC papers dated 2008.

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