Rolex Submariner
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Rolex Submariner

The Double Red Sea Dweller’s origin story is shrouded in a haze of myth, legend and truth. While we don’t know everything for sure, one thing that we can state with all certainty is that the DRSD is the most badass vintage Rolex sports watch, bar none. 

In the 1960s, amateurs, professionals and militaries were all on a quest to explore what lay beneath the seas. As Jacques Cousteau was making SCUBA diving a massively popular sport, industry began to rely on professional divers for offshore work, and navies around the world devoted more resources than ever into underwater operations and training.

Every vintage Rolex collector should have some level of familiarity with COMEX, the French commercial diving firm made famous for co-branding and using Rolex divers for many years. These highly sought after watches have become extremely valuable over the past decade. Many Rolex aficionados credit COMEX as the impetus for the DRSD’s creation, but those details are murky at best. One indisputable truth is that Chief Warrant Officer Bob Barth worked closely with Rolex on the DRSD’s development, a feature that came to illuminate a fascinating piece of U.S. Navy history: The SEALAB underwater habitation program.

The 1960s was a decade that saw human exploration pushed to new and once unthinkable heights, and many dreamed of colonizing not only the Moon, but also the oceans. The Navy created the SEALAB program to discover how long-term habitation under water affected the human body.  Chief Barth was one of the men who participated in the program - one of the “sea dwellers” - who spent an extended period of time living in 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.

After bringing this to the attention of Rolex executives, 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. Rolex created the Sea Dweller as a professional dive watch featuring the new valve, and Barth and others wore it during the SEALAB 3 mission. The Sea Dweller performed flawlessly, and Rolex set the standard for professional dive watches.

This example of the DRSD appears to have been spared from any hard use and is in excellent condition. With a beautiful dial, hands and case, and of course the coveted two lines of red text, this is a watch that every vintage collector should be lusting after. Few watches have such an incredible history, and combined with classic Rolex looks, the DRSD is perhaps the ultimate vintage dive watch.

To see a video of this piece, click on over to our Vimeo feed, HERE.

For more information about Cheif Bob Barth and SEALAB, visit our friends at Hodinkee, HERE.

For more information about the Sea Dweller, check out this great piece on GearPatrol, HERE.

Details

Steel case is approximately 40 mm (excluding crown). Rolex Reference 1665. Caliber 1570 automatic movement. Circa 1974.

Overall condition: The original case is in excellent condition over all, showing minor wear from age and use, and no signs of over-polishing. The dial is in excellent original condition with no signs of wear and creamy patina. The original hands are in excellent condition with matching patina. The original crystal has a light scratch between 3 and 4 o'clock and another near 2 o'clock. Original signed case back. Original bezel. Correct silver date wheel. Original signed crown.

Includes Oyster ref. 93150 bracelet and two nylon straps by Crown & Buckle.

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