Review of Rolex Sea-Dweller ref.16600

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I was going to buy an air-cooled Porsche 911 in the early 2000’s but never did. Now the prices have doubled. Unfortunately for the real watch enthusiasts and collectors, I predict these 5-digit models will face similar future. Think about those classic cars like pristine Jag E-Types, SL Mercs and old Porsches. Soon you won’t see them on the road anymore because they become so expensive. In my view that’s not what a hobby should be. Cars are meant to be driven and sports watches meant to be worn. Hard. I never polish scratches off of my sports watches. Every scar make them more handsome.

The recent price increases of the 5-digit models was the reason I wanted the Sea-Dweller. I have owned many Rolex watches but never a 16600. This was probably the last moment to buy one for a reasonable price.

I own a 16610 and I think it’s one of the most perfect watch designs ever made. But I still lust after 5513 or 14060 no-date and their pure, clean lines. But then again the date feature on a watch is very practical and 16600 Sea-Dweller has that. It’s “best of both worlds”. Plus it has a bit bulkier and thicker design which gives it just that small extra “wrist presence”.

How the wrist presence actually compares with the 16610 Submariner is described in my other Rolex review, in the link below.

Which 5-digit Rolex to get?

Both Submariner 16610 and Sea-Dweller use the same movement, COSC-certified Rolex caliber 3135. It was first introduced in 1988 and became Rolex’s main movement and it was used in many models. Experts agree that it is one of the most reliable automatic movements ever made. It’s a high beat movement that oscillates at 28.800 bph.

The balance features two pairs of adjusting system, known as the “Microstella”. It has four screws at symmetrically spaced positions along the balance wheel.

It doesn’t have any decoration as it’s designed to be hidden inside the Oyster case to withstand the most extreme conditions.

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Rolex Sea-Dweller does not have a ‘cyclops’ lens over the date. That’s because the Dweller has been designed to be a hardcore diving tool. To achieve this the crystal needed to be consistent in thickness and glued cyclops would not stand the massive underwater pressure in such depths.

You can clearly see the characteristic crystal front thickness from the photograph of my 16600 dial.

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Let’s take a brief history lesson of the Sea-Dweller in the Rolex back catalog.

This is my friend John Holbrook’s 1665 “double red” from year 1972 (picture courtesy of John).

Double red” refers to two red lines written on the dial print. This model had very thick plastic plexiglass, which allowed water resistance to 610 meters.

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Helium escape valve (HEV) became the signature of Sea Dweller model series. Rolex patented the design and many other watch manufacturers have copied and mimicked this system.

HEV is a water-safe way to release the case pressure without allowing moisture to damage the mechanism.

It’s a one-way valve that is spring-loaded to respond to a specific level of pressure. The Rolex valve is automated: when the watch reaches the designated pressure differential, the valve releases the gases that have become trapped during prolonged underwater exposure.

You can see the HE valve on both watches. It’s located on the left side of the watch. It’s a bit larger on my watch than on John’s vintage “double red”.  Other than the end links you can see that the appearance of the original Sea Dweller changed very little during its 42-year production run (1967-2009).

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The next incarnation was reference 1665 ‘Great White’ (1977-1983). It had very little difference to the “double red”. The depth rating was still 610 meters and it even maintained the same ref. number and it was the last Dweller with the plexiglass crystal. Only the COMEX-versions have increased their value to ridiculous proportions but even they aren’t comparable to prices that the crazed market demands for the “double reds” now.

Reference 16660 ‘Triple Six’ (1978-1989) introduced a sapphire crystal, solid end links and higher beat movement. The HEV also increased in size and the depth rating was increased to 1220 meters. “Triple Six” has also a bit thicker crown guards and wide polished bevel on the lug edges.

My watch, reference 16600  was produced between the years 1989-2009. It was the last “old style” Sea-Dweller before the new DeepSea (reference 116660). The depth rating remained the same (1220 meters) but the new movement caliber 3135 replaced the old 3035. The main improvement was longer power reserve. From the visual standpoint the crown guards and the polished lug bevel slimmed down a bit from the “Triple Six”. Mine is a K-serial, year 2001 model which still had the visible lug holes on the sides.

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Ever since John wrote his review of the 16600 back in 2004, I’ve wanted one.

John Holbrook’s review of the 16600 Sea-Dweller

Sea-Dweller came with the infamous Rolex anchor, a Buehlmann diving chart, additional dive suit links, and a link changing tool for the Oyster bracelet. For some strange reason this handy tool never came with other Rolex watches. It was exclusive for the Sea-Dweller only.

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I always thought it’s the most hardcore Rolex that still looked good. Yes, the new DeepSea is technically even more hardcore (the depth rating was increased to 3990 meters) but visually – in my opinion – Breitling does the XL size better and offers similar features for more reasonable price.

My review of Breitling SteelFish SuperOcean

I don’t particularly like the new six-digit models with fat lugs. If 16600 is a slender and powerful fitness chick, the new DeepSea is a massive female bodybuilder with Sustanon injection sticked up her ass (pardon my French).

Personally, I never liked the old tritium dials very much, either. The markers turn yellow as they age and the very old ones had the low beat movements. I like the super luminova version with white gold surroundings – and generally this “era” of Rolex is the one I’m drawn to the most.

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What makes the older 5-digits so much more attractive you ask?

It’s the slender lines, those “spiky” crown guards (that look like “chops”) and some kind of classical beauty that you can’t even describe. The lines of the old Submariner are just perfect.

The old, hollow-link Oyster bracelets and their sheet metal clasps have been subject to criticism — often by those who haven’t actually worn them — as long as I can remember. Some people complain that the old Submariner diving suit extension is difficult to use.

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Personally, I like the old Rolex Oyster bracelets, and while I admit they don’t suit modern sensibilities for what’s expected on an expensive watch, they’re strong, serve their purpose well, and are extremely comfortable to wear. They also have a certain silky, smooth feeling that none of the “homage” watches has managed to capture.

If we go back to the car world again and think about the old Porsche 911 SC. The interior is like poor man’s home but the Porsche enthusiasts wouldn’t take it any other way. It “belongs” to the car. I wouldn’t trade my classic Oyster bracelet and clasp to anything, I like them just the way they are.

The new “supercase” versions have much better clasps and there’s no doubt that they’re technically better watches too. Of course a lot of people prefer the new models over the old ones and that’s just a matter of opinion.

For me there is no comparison.

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Someone asked me in the Rolex Collectors Facebook forum why I purchased the 16600 because it’s so similar to 16610 (Submariner date that I already own).

“What can one do that the other can’t? Unless you are a pro deep diver I can’t see the point?”

That was a good question. My answer was:

Common sense has little to do with it. People often ask me where do you need an expensive watch? I tell them that world doesn’t need you or me, either. Actually it would survive much better without the humankind.

It’s a dull way to live a life if you always have to think “what’s the gain”, “where do I need this”? “How can I benefit from this”?

I don’t even do scuba diving. How many people who wear diver watches actually do? How many Explorer II owners climb to the Mount Everest? How many Daytona owners are professional race car drivers – or even use the stopwatch for anything? I just wanted the Dweller because it’s perhaps the coolest model in the entire Rolex history and it has always been flying a bit “under the radar”, thus it must be at least 50 times rarer than the 16610 Submariner. It’s the “WIS Rolex”, so to speak. I also felt now was the good time to buy before the prices get completely ridiculous.

That’s the watch collector way of approaching the life. Splash!

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