The Rolex Sea-Dweller Ref 126603 is already one of the most talked about watches of 2019. Impressive for a watch design that is over 50 years old. Even more impressive when you consider all Rolex did was add some yellow gold to the mix. Of course, there’s a bit more to the story than that. A yellow rolesor Sea-Dweller represents a major departure from the model’s raison d’etre. Which is to be a serious tool watch for professional divers. Anytime Rolex does something unexpected, people pay attention. And the market responds accordingly. Meaning prices get silly. So, does that make new gold Sea-Dweller a good investment?
A (Very) Brief History Of The Rolex Sea-Dweller
The Rolex Sea-Dweller is a tool watch through and through. Unlike other Rolex models, it did not start out life as a commercial product. Instead, it catered to serve a specific audience. Professional deep-sea divers who were underwater for long periods of time. The original concept was developed in conjunction with COMEX. The French company specialized in engineering and deep diving operations in the 1960s. At the time they needed a diving watch for their professional divers to use whilst working on deep sea oil rigs.
It was this collaboration with COMEX and Doxa S.A., that led Rolex to develop and patent the helium escape valve. A one-way valve, it activates when the differential between the inner and the outside pressure reaches a critical level. This allows the helium and any other gases used in the breathing gas to be released from inside the watch case. A specific reference was created for COMEX (Submariner ref 5514.) Following on from this, Rolex launched a new model fitted with helium escape valves. The Sea-Dweller Ref 1665 came to market in 1967. The initial model was water resistant to 2,000ft (610 meters), an impressive feat at the time.
The early designs were like that of the Submariner Ref 5514 COMEX. To set the Sea-Dweller apart, Rolex used red text on the dial. Today, these models are known to collectors as “double red” Sea-Dwellers. That’s because the words “Sea-Dweller” and “Submariner 2000” are printed in red. There were also “single red” versions with only the name “Sea-Dweller” in red. These models were prototypes only though and were rated waterproof to 500m.
For a more detailed look at the history of the Rolex Sea-Dweller read this article.
Why Buy A Sea-Dweller?
The Rolex Sea-Dweller is a proper tool watch. Robust, practical and with a focus on function over form. That’s not to say it’s not stylish too. It is, in a rugged sort of way. Yet, it would be foolish to think that all owners are professional divers. They’re not. So, why do they buy a Rolex Sea-Dweller?
The reasons vary. Many like the tool watch angle. The fact that Sea-Dweller is less commercial than the Submariner. And with a substantially higher depth rating. (4,000ft vs 1,000ft on the Sub.) They like that it’s bigger on the wrist. Yet not as imposing as the DeepSea. Which means you can wear it with just about anything. Including a suit and tie. And that’s where we begin to see logic behind Rolex introducing the Ref 126603.
The Rolex Sea-Dweller Ref 126603
At 43mm, the Rolex Sea-Dweller Ref 126603 cuts an imposing figure on the wrist. It’s notably larger than most other Rolex watches. Including the GMT-Master II (40mm). The Daytona (40mm). And even the Explorer II (42mm).
There are a few reasons for this. From a practical point of view the larger size makes it easier to see and use underwater. Aesthetically, it sets it apart from the Submariner. And gives Rolex a solid option for those who like a larger watch in general. To make sure it’s still comfortable Rolex redesigned the case. This includes shorter, curved lugs for a snug fit on the wrist. The height to width ratio is also in better proportion compared to the previous Ref 166660.
All these changes served to make the Sea-Dweller more attractive to a wider audience. It’s only natural then that they would want more options. Before the Ref 126603 there was black on steel and that’s it. Perfect for a tool watch but not very luxurious. The new yellow Rolesor model address this issue. But without compromising on the fundamental appeal of the Sea-Dweller.
So, how did they do it? By using 18ct yellow gold for the first time ever in this collection. From the yellow gold surrounds on the indices and the hands. To the gold coated numerals and graduations on the Cerachrom bezel insert. To the two-tone steel and gold Oyster bracelet. Aesthetic touches that frame the Sea-Dweller in a whole new light.
Functionally though the Ref 126603 is identical to its less ostentatious sibling. It’s still powered by the new generation calibre 3235. Which is the same movement used in the Datejust 41. This self-winding mechanical movement is developed and manufactured by Rolex. It boasts 14 patents in total, including the new Chronergy escapement.
This escapement combines high energy efficiency with great dependability. Made of nickel-phosphorus, it is also insensitive to magnetic interference. New barrel architecture and superior efficiency means a power reserve of 70 hours. The 3235 carries the Superlative Chronometer certification redefined by Rolex in 2015. This means it is very accurate (−2/+2 seconds per day) and reliable.
Official pricing for the Rolex Sea-Dweller Ref 126603 is GBP 12,400 / USD 13,400. That’s if you can get one through an authorized retailer. Spoiler alert: you probably can’t. As a result, the secondary market is already charging a hefty premium. Expect to pay upwards of GBP 17,000 / USD 20,000.
Is It A Good Investment?
Short term the answer to this is an obvious yes. Assuming you can buy the watch at retail. And assuming you’re only interested in flipping it to make an immediate profit. Longer term, it’s a bit more nuanced. For a start, the Ref 126603 is very new. Once more stock comes onto the market prices should settle down somewhat. In theory anyway. The way the market for Rolex is performing at the moment, it’s anyone’s guess.
But what about in 10 years? Or 20? Will the Ref 126603 be seen as a pioneering model by collectors? And what about production volumes? What if the yellow rolesor Sea-Dweller turns out to be the commercial success everyone thinks it will be? Will Rolex make so many that they won’t be considered “hard to find” in the future? The opposite could just as easily be true. After the initial hype dies down the Ref 126603 could be a flop. Maybe not that many people want a two-tone Sea-Dweller after all. It’s unlikely, sure. But if it does happen, it could make this watch a cult piece for collectors.
The bottom line is it’s impossible to say if this watch is a good investment. There are too many variables. Plus, watches shouldn’t be thought of as investments in the first place. They are luxury objects to be used and enjoyed. If you make some money when you sell it on, that’s a bonus. At least that’s what I think. Am I wrong? You tell me.
Technical Specifications: Rolex Sea-Dweller Yellow Rolesor Ref 126603
- Case: Oyster – 43 mm – Oystersteel and yellow gold – monobloc middle case, screw-down case back and crown with Triplock triple waterproofness system – Unidirectional rotatable 60-minute graduated, scratch-resistant Cerachrom insert in ceramic, numerals and graduations coated in yellow gold – waterproof to 1,220 metres / 4,000 feet.
- Dial: Black – scratch-resistant sapphire, Cyclops lens over the date – centre hour, minute and seconds hands – instantaneous date – stop-seconds for precise time setting – Chromalight display with longlasting blue luminescence on hour markers and hands.
- Movement: Calibre 3235 – bidirectional self-winding via Perpetual rotor – paramagnetic blue Parachrom hairspring – Chronergy escapement with optimized energy efficiency – 70-hour power reserve – certified as Superlative Chronometer.
- Price: GBP 12,400 / USD 13,400.
More info at www.rolex.com.