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Rolex DeepSea SeaDweller

One of the watches that always fascinated me is the DeepSea SeaDweller. Despite the size, I always appreciated the engineering and details that are in the Rolex DeepSea.
DeepSea Red Second Hand

Click any image for a larger picture (all images mine with some notable exceptions; scratches are real)

Rolex DeepSea in Ocean

One of the watches that always fascinated me is the DeepSea SeaDweller. Despite the heft the watch brings, I always appreciated the engineering and details that are in the Rolex DeepSea.

Also appealing is that the DeepSea has functions and details found on no other Rolex model. Like my other favorite Rolex, the revised 42mm Explorer II 216570, the DeepSea is only available in 904L stainless steel.

Rolex DeepSea North Pole

The DeepSea features that speak to me (aka -are just cool) are the crystal, bracelet clasp, and the titanium ring lock caseback. These details are what drew me to the watch and are the same features that are found on no other watch, including ones in the Rolex line.

Another aspect is the watch's DNA for traveling to places that people cannot comprehend. From the bottom of the Mariana Trench to the underside of the North Pole, this watch DeepSea has garnered a provenance of durability in the most unimaginable adventures. The image to the left is the National Geographic expedition to going under the ice of the North Pole.

Taking more than 50 dives in the frigid water photographing the underside of impenetrable ice, the Rolex DeepSea performed flawlessly.

To survive the three tons of pressure on the watch face found at 12,800 feet, Rolex utilizes the Ringlock system of a thick domed crystal, a nitrogen-alloyed Biodur-108 steel central ring, and a grade 5 titanium caseback, -all cool aerospace grade materials. Biodur-108 steel is frequently found around MRI machines and used in implantable orthopedic applications because of its high fatigue strength rating and non-magnetic properties.

Rolex DeepSea

The first aspect that stands out is the 5.5mm thick domed sapphire crystal and how it appears seamless and in the same plane as the ceramic bezel. Unlike other Rolex models where the crystal height is on a completely separate plane as the bezel, the DeepSea bezel and crystal seam are flush. Like with the original SeaDweller 16600, there is no cyclops above the date because it would magnify too large because of the distance created by extra thick crystal. Additionally, the domed crystal cuts down on reflection and make reading the watch face a pure joy. Despite popular belief otherwise, there is a laser etched Rolex crown at the 6:00 o'clock position, but it takes a pretty bright SureFire LED light to see it.

The second entirely cool feature is the Glidelock clasp. Although named the same, the DeepSea Glidelock is an entirely different design found on the Submariner models. The Glidelock clasp on the Submariner looks like the image on the right. An interior link pops-up and the link slides inside the clasp.

Glidelock Clasp

On the DeepSea, the Gildelock clasp looks like the image to the right.

The DeepSea Glidelock has a spring loaded candilever lever hidden in the bracelet clasp cover. The nice thing with this clasp is that you do not need to remove the DeepSea from your wrist to make a quick adjustment. Each increment is 2mm, much more refined than the 5mm half-link found inside the Oyster Clasp on Explorer II, GMT II, and on DateJusts, and a 1000 percent improvement over the adjustability of the older tuna-can clasps found on the 16600 SeaDweller.

The immediate image on the right is a Glidelock clasp from a Submariner.

An indepth review of the Glidelock clasps can be found here.

Rolex Glidelock Clasp
Glidelock
Glidelock Bracelet

The Grade 5 titanium caseback is also a great technical marvel. Rolex's promotional images show the caseback as being domed, but this optical illusion is just that. The titanium caseback is flat and the flat section is the same diameter as most other Rolex casebacks, but is 3.28mm thick. Like with the 16600 SeaDweller, the outside edge of the caseback is engraved with the model and depth rating.

Rolex DeepSea Caseback

Chromalight and Visibility

As with all other modern Rolex models, the DeepSea is fitted with Chromalite filled hands and dial dots. The hand size looks similar to both the modern ceramic bezeled Submariner and GMT II's. Although considered "maxi hands," over the older 16610 Submariner and 16710 GMT, the hands are not as visible as on the larger 42mm Explorer II. Despite the smaller hand size, the DeepSea is still very readable at night with the same Chromalight brilliance found on all the updated Rolex watches in the sports line.

Rolex DeepSea and Explorer II

 

 

Rolex DeepSea Lume Rolex DeepSea Lume

Noise on the Dial

The DeepSea watch face displays the customary watch features such as depth rating, chronometer certification, date, and such which to some appears busy especially when the Ring Lock and Original Escape Valve features are in the mix. Reading the watch face is pure distraction-less joy as there are no reflections from the domed crystal, and the hands contrast perfectly on the matte black dial. I find the myself ignoring the lettering on the Ring Lock when reading the watch. I can see Rolex having to put something on the Ring Lock in order to explain what it does, and requiring a design element on both top and bottom for visual balance. When reading the watch, the face is a full 2mm below the plane of the Ring Lock making the Ring Lock verbiage virtually unnoticeable. Additionally, the "Rolex" engraving on what would be considered the rehaut on all other watches is practically invisible. Rolex DeepSea SeaDweller

The only way to really see the "Rolex Rolex Rolex" and the DeepSea's individual serial number engraved on the rehaut/Ring Lock requires a loupe. The Rolex engraving and serial number are there, but it does not jump at the wearer like it does on all other modern Rolex models.

Over the years, there are slight variations on the dial that are well chronicled here.

Size, Weight and the 4x4 Factor

There is much discussion in the Rolex community regarding the DeepSea's size and weight. Yes, this watch is heavy but it does not seem like a brick strapped to your wrist because everything is proportional; the watch is proportionally wider as it is taller than say a Submariner.

Rolex and Explorer II
  All scratches are genuine
I did own and wear a traditional 16600 SeaDweller but found that it was a top heavy watch flopping from one side of the wrist to the other side; not the case with the DeepSea. The traditional SeaDweller with a taller case, thicker crystal and thicker caseback was stuffed into the sacrosanct 40mm size case. The DeepSea though, grew to 44mm and a case growing to 8 mm thick, and the crystal increasing from 3mm on the 16600 SeaDweller to 5mm on the DeepSea making it much less floppy on the wrist.

Even at 45mm wide, and 17mm tall, the DeepSea SeaDweller is actually 10 percent slimmer than it otherwise would have been because of the RingLock sleeve made of Biodur-108 steel, the 5.5mm thick domed sapphire crystal, and the 3.28 mm thick of Grade 5 titanium. Biodur-108 steel is used in high stress and high corrosion resistance applications and possesses low-magnetic permeability. Biodur-108 steel is frequently found around MRI machines and used in implantable orthopedic applications because of its high fatigue strength rating and non-magnetic properties.

On my 6 3/4" - 6 5/8" wrist, the watch is big, but there are not the tell tale signs that the watch is too big when viewed directly at the watch face. The DeepSea's lugs do not pass the edge of the wrist. There are watches that are long as well as wide and the DeepSea does not fall into a class where the lugs protrude beyond the width of the wearer's wrist. The proportional case does not make it look out of place like an oversized 4x4 on a residential suburban street.

The latest Omega ceramic-cased Speedmasters took the same approach; their 44.5mm wide Speedmaster grew proportionally and does not look particularly oversized.

Some argue that the DeepSea bracelet is too narrow for the width of the watch. I see where Rolex aficionados see this, but it does not seem noticeable on my wrist. The links are slightly thicker than on the Explorer II, but it takes a discerning eye and micrometer to see it.

Wrist Size
Tiger Woods and Charlize Theron are not known for having large wrists. The DeepSea does not look too out of place for either of them. Tiger Woods Rolex DSSD
Charlize Theron Rolex DSSD Charlize Theron Rolex DSSD
Rolex DeepSea

At 210g the DeepSea is heavy, but lighter than a 270g(+) all-platinum Daytona. The weight reminds me that I are wearing a great watch, but not so heavy that it is bothersome. When I put on my 60 gram lighter 42mm Explorer II, the weight difference is amazing. My Explorer II feels like one of my first Timex watches worn in second grade and my first thought is "where is my DeepSea?"

After a few weeks of wearing the DSSD, by wrist would get tired and I would switch over to my Explorer II for a few days.

Glidelock Makes a Huge Difference

Perhaps the greatest technical difference that makes the DeepSea wearable is the Glidelock clasp. The older 16600 SeaDweller and 16610 Submariner have limited adjustability over the GlideLock clasps. Glidelock clasps combined with the solid center-link bracelets provide a greater degree of adjustability. Glidelock clasps are screwed to the link allowing more flexibility for centering on the underside of the wearer's wrist. Getting the tuna-can clasp centered is a much more difficult endeavor as one end of the clasp is riveted to the first bracelet link. The 2mm adjustment steps inside the Glidelock clasp allow for the owner to wear the watch much tighter, yet make it easy to adjust throughout the day as outside temperature and activity affect wrist size. For left hand Rolex wearers, the raised caseback also prevents the crown from hitting the back of the wearer's hand when the DeepSea is worn loose.

Glidelock Submariner

This Glidelock Clasp is from a Submariner, but the 2.5mm increments make a world of difference. No tools are needed to adjust the bracelet length and can be adjusted on the fly.


For daily wear, be sure to remove the dive extenstion link. Unless the DeepSea is going on a 7mm dive suit, the extension link is not needed and the bracelet is more comfortable without it.

Fitting under a Shirt Sleeve

Much has been written on the Internet on how the DeepSea does not fit under a short cuff. In my experience, I have found that not to be the case. I wear fitted shirts (16 - 32) with button cuffs without any real issue when the watch is worn on the left wrist. Size medium long sleeve sport shirt also fits over the DeepSea just fine (when worn on the left wrist). I am sure that if I wore French cuffs with cufflinks would be another story, but those are a rarity for me (I'd wear my Explorer II in that case which I know make purists cringe). I did notice that when wearing the DeepSea on the right wrist, the right shirt cuff would be caught under the crown. Although the cuff fits over the watch, I found myself having to untuck the shirt cuff from under the winding crown.

Other -isms

What some consider as a design flaw on all Rolex ceramic bezels is the Derlin/nylon retaining ring. When assembled, the ceramic bezel is fit over the crystal without the ceramic insert. After the bezel is fitted, a Derlin ring is then pressed onto the bezel to hold it in place. After the Derlin ring, the ceramic insert is then pressed into bezel. Older non-ceramic Rolex models were press fit onto watch and could be easily popped off and replaced. The ceramic models require a new Derlin ring, and the proper tools to press the assembly into place. For such a rugged watch, the Derlin ring is somewhat of an Achilles heel for the bezel.

Broken Bezel

Space Dweller "Bo" on Rolex Forums posted (here) that the DeepSea has three different dial variations.

The vairations lie in the spacing of the "=" sign and some minor differences in font. The most apparent difference is as follows:

Mark 1..... ft=3900
Mark 2..... ft = 3900
Mark 3..... ft= 3900

Although mine was purhased in 2-2014, mine appears to be a Mark II dial.

Rolex DSSD Mk II
Mark III dial image by PureWhiteDesign; Watchlounge.com

Other Errata & Final Thoughts

Lifted Solid End Link Solid End Link Underside
The raised solid end link and the reinforced end link underside make this a robust watch. Scratches are from normal use.
Rolex DeepSea and Explorer II

The 42mm 216570 Explorer II (bottom) is 2mm shorter than DeepSea. The DeepSea is 52mm long and the Explorer II is 50mm long.

The extra DeepSea length helps with the overall proportions of the extra height. The DeepSea comes in at 17.5mm thick and the Explorer II at a more civilian 12mm thick.

 

Fatter Springbars The DeepSea has fatter springbars (right) than the Explorer II (left)
DeepSea Exploded
Rolex DeepSea Cross Section

Disassembled Rolex DeepSea SeaDweller

Yes, I like this watch. The thick crystal, titanium caseback, Ring Lock, and the Glidelock clasp makes this a one of a kind watch. The weight makes me remember that I am wearing a watch-with-purpose and the proportions are easy on the eye. Even as Rolex releases a new updated ceramic SeaDweller at Basel 2014, the very distinct DeepSea features make the DeepSea truly stand out as Rolex's premier diving watch.
 

Installing a red second hand

After seeing images of a red second hand on a DSSD, I had to install one on my watch. I did not like how the original second hand disappears into the watch face.  

The bench and the tools are not mine but of a AWCI certified watchmaker who performed the work while I did my best to capture images.

The image on the right shows the DSSD in a caseback press. The plastic bag is placed between the watch crystal and the vice-pins to prevent any inadvertent scratches.

Rolex DeepSea Red
This is an image of the caseback ring sitting loose on the caseback. Rolex DeepSea Red
Here is the caseback ring removed. You can see the Delrin waterproof ring, and the caseback profile. The caseback gasket rests between the caseback and the Ring Lock. Rolex DeepSea Red

Here are the undersides of the caseback and the caseback ring. Notice how the caseback gasket rests precisely on the titanium caseback.

The caseback gasket is thicker and larger in diameter than a Submariner.

Here is the movement sitting inside the Ring Lock. Visible are the winding rotor, Parachrom hairspring, and the Delrin gasket. Rolex DeepSea Red

The winding rotor is removed so the movement can sit inside the Rolex movement holder.

The titanium caseback holding the two rotor assembly screws, and the rotor assembly are in the background.

Rolex DeepSea Red
This is the hand setter used to press the red second hand. Rolex DeepSea Red

The DSSD is cased up and pressure tested and...

Voilà

Apologies for the fingerprints but the red second hand sits pretty.

Rolex DeepSea Red

In Early August, Rolex released the D-Blue dial. There were numerous surprises with this non-Basel release, including the dial, and the movie/exploration connection with James Cameron.

From my Fourtané Post:

"What perhaps throws most longtime Rolex followers is something that my wife pointed out to me when she saw the dial. She pointed out that the dial is an “ombre” blend from sky-blue to black obviously representing the decent down to the deep ocean. She showed in Google images how ombre blends are prevalent in the fashion world from hair to clothing. Finding an ombre blend on a watch face is very rare. Most watches have high contrast dials (eg. Rolex Paul Newman dial), or pop-colors found on

Rolex DSSD D-Blue

Swatch watches, but rarely is there a blend like the D-blue watch face. A close examination of the D-blue dial shows how the blue fades inconsistently into black, just as a cross section of an ocean. Most Rolex fans are used to consistent dials, especially on a specially designed watch such as the DeepSea. Despite the noise in the Internet forums, we at Fourtané think this is a great watch and the commemorative colors make the watch even more special."

I have more information posted on the Fourtané blog here.

Update

After wearing the DSSD for almost a year as my daily wearer, I traded it for a SeaDweller 4000 (ref 116600). The SD4000 is a great watch that I probably would have purchased over the DSSD if it were available at that time. When I purchased the DSSD, the SD4000 was not yet announced until later in the spring. The DSSD is wearable on a 6 5/8th wrist, but after weeks of wearing it, my wrist started to feel fatigued and I resorted to wearing my much lighter Explorer II 216570.

I have a comparative review of the SD4000 and Explorer II 216570 posted here.