A complete review of the Rolex Sea-Dweller 126600 50th anniversary edition
In its marketing literature, Rolex likes to refer to the Sea-Dweller as “the watch that conquered the deep”. In fairness to the Swiss luxury brand, there’s no hyperbole about the statement. In fact, the two-tone gradient dial which adorns the model is designed to reflect man’s journey to the deepest, widest, vastest spaces on the earth – our oceans.
Even if you’re only into timepieces from an aesthetic perspective, it’s worth checking out the history behind the iconic Sea-Dweller watch. Some of the world’s most forward-thinking explorers have used Sea-Dweller models for their practicality and function, and there’s certainly some prestige in that.
These ultra-resistant divers’ timepieces have been expertly crafted for deep-sea exploration since the 1960s. While a lot may have changed since the launch of the first Sea-Dweller, it’s reassuring to see that some things stay the same. In its latest iteration, Rolex’s Sea-Dweller pays homage to past models, while improving on past engineering with aplomb.
When the Rolex Sea-Dweller 126600 was launched in 2017, what may have initially seemed like minor design changes turned out to be some serious firsts in terms of specification. The 126600 essentially replaced the Sea-Dweller 4000 and was regarded by many to be one of the most important releases at Baselworld 2017. In this Rolex Sea-Dweller 126600 review, we’re going to look at the new technical specs, aesthetic improvements and reasons to consider owning the model.
While the Sea-Dweller has long been a mainstay in the Rolex canon, with a new reference comes several considerable updates. Most noticeably, the watch has grown in width to 43mm (previous Sea-Dwellers measured 40mm). In keeping with the wider dial, the Rolex Sea-Dweller 126600 also features a completely redesigned bracelet which has also increased in width. While it may not be eminently noticeable from a visual perspective, upon adorning the timepiece it becomes clear that this new bracelet offers a much more secure fit on the wrist.
In as equally a controversial move as updating the width, the Rolex Sea-Dweller 126600 has also received a cyclops over its date fascia – a first for a Sea-Dweller. While it may seem unconventional to those familiar with previous iterations of the model, it certainly looks the part.
There’s another significant change in terms of calibre, too. The Rolex Sea-Dweller 126600 is powered by the updated 3235 calibre, as opposed to the 3135 used in the 4000 model.
One might be forgiven for thinking that these changes are likely to have a serious effect on the appearance of the Rolex Sea-Dweller – but this isn’t entirely the case. In fact, size changes aside, the updated Sea-Dweller 126600 closely resembles the original 1967 model. Sure, it might feature heavily updated technology, but there’s more than a subtle nod to the past of this Rolex classic.
While the thickness of the watch was one of the main takeaways of Baselworld 2017, there seems to be perfect reasoning behind the larger design which has less to do with aesthetics and more to do with practicality. It’s true that in recent years, there’s been a design trend for things to get bigger (compare the latest smartphones to models ten years’ previous, for example) – but the thickness of Rolex’s Sea-Dweller 126600 is all to do with its water-resistance levels.
This latest iteration of the Sea-Dweller is guaranteed to have water-resistance of 4,000ft (1,220m), which necessitates the need for a bulkier outer casing. This makes perfect sense, although, for many luxury watch aficionados, the inclusion of the all-new cyclops certainly doesn’t.
Purists have argued that the Sea-Dweller stands as a larger alternative to the Rolex Date Submariner and No-Date models, which makes the inclusion of a cyclops something of a misnomer. This is because the original 1967 Sea-Dweller didn’t feature a cyclops, but only from an engineering perspective. A cyclops had originally been added to the original design, although it caused structural weaknesses which ultimately caused the plexiglass to shatter prior to reaching the desired depth rating. This resulted in the omission of the cyclops.
However, it’s a fair comment to make that engineering has improved somewhat over the past 50 years. While existing Sea-Dweller models up to 2017 were manufactured without a cyclops, the fact is that the demand for certain features is clearly there, and Rolex is more than capable of delivering, from both an engineering and an aesthetic standpoint.
Ultimately, the addition of a cyclops puts the Sea-Dweller 126600 in line with other classic Rolex designs. Only the Deepsea stands out as not having a cyclops above its date aperture as of now. Ultimately, when you buy a Rolex Sea-Dweller 126600 you’re getting the very latest in timepiece technology.
The 3235 calibre is a fully automatic, Rolex-designed movement which complies with the brand’s commitment to -2 or +2 daily second accuracy. It improves upon previous Sea-Dweller models in terms of power reserve, offering a total of 70 hours in comparison to the 48 hours provided by the 3135 calibre.
This calibre also makes use of Rolex’s trademark mainspring barrel, Paraflex shock absorbers, a Chronenergy escapement complete with paramagnetic pallet fork, Parachrom hairspring, a balance wheel with Microstella inertia lugs and a 4Hz operating frequency. As of 2017, it was the most technologically brilliant calibre Rolex could offer.
The Rolex Sea-Dweller 126600 features a 904L Oyster bracelet which comes complete with a signature Oysterlock safety clasp. This clasp is rugged, durable and built to withstand shocks while ensuring your watch stays where it belongs.
In addition to this, the bracelet also makes use of a Fliplock extension system which can be used to add up to 26mm of reach, alongside the Rolex Glidelock system which allows for adjustments of 2mm increments up to a length of 20mm.
In keeping with tradition, regular Sea-Dweller features such as the flat-front sapphire crystal face, black Cerachrom bezel and PVD-applied platinum numerals remain present.
On the Sea-Dweller 126600, Rolex has opted for a black dial featuring white-gold hands and indices. A Chromalight lume is used to make the dial more legible in the dark, and there’s a stand-out feature of the red Sea-Dweller designation atop the usual COSC certification and depth rating information.
Interestingly, the name of the 2017 Sea-Dweller doesn’t contain any anniversary references. Some may find this odd, given that from a design perspective the 126600 certainly takes cues from the 1967 original. There are clear references to some of the defining aesthetics of vintage Rolex collections – and the watch was presented to the world as a 50th Anniversary Oyster Perpetual Date Sea-Dweller - but there are enough small changes to be significant enough for fans of the classic model to notice.
There’s clearly good reason for this: the latest Rolex Sea-Dweller marks a step forward, and with the addition of several new features, perhaps the brand thought it was better to focus on the present than the past. The tribute to the original with the red Sea-Dweller text is more than enough for what is essentially an all-new Rolex design in everything but name.
A watch for all occasions
It’s fair to say that despite its maritime history and reputation for ruggedness, the Rolex Sea-Dweller is an incredibly smart-looking watch. The 126600 continues this trend, with the latest model working as well with formal attire as it does with casual wear.
It’s the perfect timepiece for formal functions and family gatherings, and the all-new bracelet on the 126600 offers even more comfort than before. It’s a piece of history that you’ll be happy to show off whatever the occasion, and it also makes for a practical and sentimental heirloom for future generations.
Whether you’re the sort of person who spends time adventuring and exploring or are more at home admiring your timepiece from a presentation box, the Rolex Sea-Dweller is perfect. Yes, it’s built for durability, but it also exudes the sort of timeless class and quality that only certain brands like Rolex can manage to pull off well.
A welcome replacement
Having replaced the 4000 model, the 126600 is now the only modern Rolex Sea-Dweller on the scene. While it looks much bolder and heavier than its predecessors, it carries that weight in a much more balanced manner than previous incarnations.
What truly makes this watch interesting is how it fits neatly with other Rolex dive ranges on account of the cyclops. Some fans have even suggested that the Sea-Dweller 126600 could have been a completely new model if it weren’t for the familiar red text. For now, luxury watch fans have a larger alternative to the Submariner, but one which isn’t quite as bold as the Deepsea. Essentially, Rolex has spotted a niche and filled it.
Sure, it may be controversial, but it’s refreshing to see that the Sea-Dweller has been given more than a simple facelift. There’s a clear market for the 126600, and the resale value is testament to this. It’s possible to sell a Rolex Sea-Dweller 126600 for upwards of £16,000, and this is a clear indicator that it’s a model that retains and even appreciates in value, given that it initially retailed brand-new at just over half that (£8,500).
Put simply, the Rolex Sea-Dweller 126600 combines quality engineering, classic design and a sense of adventure into one beautifully-crafted timepiece – and it’s one you’ll want to treasure for years to come.
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