A complete review of the Rolex Sea-Dweller 126603
At BaselWorld 2019, Rolex announced the introduction of a two-tone gold/steel version of its signature Sea-Dweller model. The watch, known as the Rolex Sea-Dweller 126603, quickly became a hot topic of conversation, on account of being an ostentatious version of a model already steeped in controversy.
The main bone of contention among watch fans centred on the rather opulent and luxurious detailing on this two-tone gold/steel timepiece. After all, who would need gold links and a gold bezel on a watch that is meant to be a practical diving instrument? The answer, of course, is nobody. However, in the 21st century, it could be argued that nobody needs a diving watch whatsoever, with or without gold adornments. We’ve got affordable computers and digital technology for that.
Instead, the Rolex Sea-Dweller 126603 is a timepiece for those with a penchant for luxury. Sure, it performs perfectly as a diving instrument, but that’s not what it’s about. Just like a Ferrari could get you from A to B in the morning without being essential, this watch is essentially all about status.
Of course, the same could be said for even entry-level Rolex dive watches. Most dive watch owners aren’t traversing the oceans each day; they’re wearing watches at business meetings, formal functions and casual occasions. If standard Sea-Dweller models are ideal for everyday wear, doesn’t it make sense that Rolex should release one as a statement piece? From a commercial perspective, it makes a lot of sense. While Rolex is a brand that isn’t afraid to take risks, it is also renowned for doing lots of R&D prior to releasing a new product – and it’s clear that the demand for an upscaled version of the Sea-Dweller exists, judging by its popularity on launch-day.
An elegant take on a classic
It’s fair to say that the Rolex Sea-Dweller has never been a particularly delicate or elegant timepiece. Even on models with fancy clasps and ceramic bezels, there’s always been something clunky about this design. Ultimately, it’s built for practical use. However, the addition of gold does go a large way towards correcting this and adding a bit more opulence.
In terms of practicality, there’s an argument that gold is much softer than the proprietary 904L steel traditionally used by Rolex, which means there’s greater scope for the Sea-Dweller 1226603 to become damaged. Of course, conventional wisdom tells us this won’t be the case – after all, you wouldn’t take a Porsche 911 off-roading, in the same way, that you wouldn’t go diving in your Rolex 1226603 – it’s simple common sense.
The fact that this iteration of the Sea-Dweller is capable of venturing nearly a mile into the deep of the ocean is good enough to enjoy in theory, but not in practice. When you wear it, you’re more likely to be wearing it at a formal occasion than at a dive meet – make no mistake, when you buy a Rolex 1226603, you’re doing so with the purpose of gaining a watch to both treasure and impress. And it does so overwhelmingly.
With a 43mm width, the Rolex Sea-Dweller is rather imposing on the wrist. It’s larger than most Rolex watches, which typically fall in at around the 40mm mark. Even the large Explorer II, which measures 42mm, is smaller than the 126603.
There are several reasons why the Sea-Dweller is larger than other designs – not all of which make sense on a more opulent model like the 126603. From a purely practical point of a view, the larger dial makes it easier to read underwater. Aesthetically, it also sets the Sea-Dweller apart from its relative, the Rolex Submariner. It also allows Rolex to provide a decent option for luxury watch fans who simply prefer a larger timepiece.
To allow for great comfort, Rolex has also redesigned the case on the 126603. It features curved lugs which are slightly shorter than those on the 126600 model, and this helps the watch to fit more snugly on the wrist. The height/width ratio is also more proportional than previous incarnations of the Sea-Dweller, too.
What the new changes bring to the table
These updates essentially make the Sea-Dweller much more attractive to a wider audience. Previously, the only option other than monochrome was a black-on-steel offering. This might have been ideal for a functional watch, but it certainly wasn’t luxurious. The Sea-Dweller 126603 Rolesdor model addresses this issue quite succinctly, without ever compromising on the practical fundamental appeal of the original Sea-Dweller.
18ct gold has been used here for the first time in the Sea-Dweller’s history. There are gold surrounds on the hands and indices, gold-coated numerals, and gold graduations on the Cerachrom bezel, in addition to the two-tone gold/steel Oyster bracelet. These luxurious aesthetic touches help to frame the Sea-Dweller in an entirely new light.
Same reliable Sea-Dweller functionality
From a purely functional perspective, the Sea-Dweller 126603 is practically identical to its less ostentatious older siblings. Like the 126600 before it, it’s powered by the latest-generation 3235 calibre, which appears to have replaced the 3135 as Rolex’s signature workhorse movement. It’s a self-winding mechanical movement which boasts a total of 14 patents, including the new Chronergy escapement which allows it to carry a power reserve of up to 70 hours.
The escapement here combines energy efficiency with dependability. It’s manufactured from nickel-phosphorus, which means it is insensitive to exterior magnetic interference. In addition to this, the 3235 is certified as a Superlative Chronometer, which means you can expect reliability and accuracy to within 2 seconds per day.
How much does the Rolex Sea-Dweller 126603 cost?
The Rolex Sea-Dweller officially retails at £12,400 via official channels – if you can find one, that is. Demand for this watch is high, which means it is already going for a premium on the secondary market. If you already own one, you can expect to sell a Rolex Sea-Dweller 126603 for a figure that won’t disappoint compared to other brands.
Ultimately, this makes the 126603 a worthwhile short-term investment, on the assumption you can find one at retail value. In the long term, things get slightly more nuanced. This is because the Sea-Dweller 126603 is a very new model. If/when new stock makes its way onto the market, it’s likely that prices will begin to settle down.
The question remains as to whether the 126603 will continue to be considered a pioneering model by collectors. This, combined with future production volumes, will ultimately dictate the worth of the latest iteration of the Sea-Dweller in ten, twenty or perhaps even thirty years’ time. After the initial hype, it may be the case that demand isn’t too high for a two-tone diving watch in gold and steel. Whatever happens, the Sea-Dweller 126603 is extremely likely to at least hold its initial market value – if it becomes popular, it will be hot in demand. If it flops, it will be a cult classic. Ultimately, owning one is a win-win for watch enthusiasts.
The Rolex Sea-Dweller 126603 is designed to be a piece of flair – it’s bold, it’s luxurious and it’s difficult not to notice it. With a soft gold finish, it is clearly impractical as a diving watch, and it may seem a little ostentatious for some. However, it is an extremely attractive timepiece. While the 126603 won’t appeal to everybody, it’s unique enough to win the hearts and minds of those who like their functional timepieces to be a little flashier than normal.
As an investment, time will tell whether this version of the Sea-Dweller holds its own. As an heirloom or luxury watch to simply enjoy wearing, it’s near perfect.
Rolex Sea-Dweller 126603 technical specifications:
- 43mm width
- Oyster case (steel and gold), with Triplock triple waterproof system
- Scratch-resistant Cerachrom insert
- Scratch-resistant sapphire dial with Cyclops lens
- Chromalight display featuring blue luminescence
- Hour, minute and second hands
- Numerals/graduations coated in yellow gold
- Water-resistant up to 1,220m/4,000ft
- 3235 calibre movement
- Paramagnetic Parachrom hairspring
- 70-hour power reserve
- Chronergy escapement featuring optimised energy-efficiency
- Bi-directional self-winding perpetual rotor
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