Rolex and water have long gone hand in hand, going all the way back to the original Oyster case that was first unveiled in 1926. A pioneer of waterproof watches, back in the day they went so far as to display watches in stores in a fish tank, as at the time the concept of a waterproof wristwatch of any sorts otherwise seemed like a pipe dream. Fast forward to present day, and the brand holds in its repertoire a healthy number of very robust and dive-capable watches on offer, though a very select few ever see time in the actual water.
Distinct Differences in 5 Deep Diving Rolex Models
Sure, these days a Rolex is much more than a dive-capable tool watch, but we’re strong advocates for wearing these watches in the water at any given opportunity–the beach, the pool, or actual dive excursions. Though more than the watches featured in this list are rated for 100m of water resistance and come equipped with a screw-down crown for added protection, today we’re focusing in on those specifically engineered with water sports in mind.
Of the pack, the Yacht-Master is certainly the most casual and low key of the brand’s dive/water friendly offerings. The Yacht-Master entered the collection as more of a “lifestyle watch” in the sense that its roots don’t go back to commercial diving or other activities. The model first hit the market in 1992, measuring 39.5mm across and cased in 18k gold. A mid-size model followed, as did offerings in stainless steel.
What remained constant is its bezel design–a feature in existence for aesthetic reasons above all else, and one that helps the Yacht-Master distinguish itself from the more utility-focused Submariner. Though it uses a screw-down crown, Rolex has maintained a modest yet very usable 100m of water resistance on this model. Of the pack, my preference is still for the reference 116655–the Everose gold model with a black ceramic bezel, not to mention the first watch to feature the brand’s over-engineered and awesome Oysterflex bracelet.
The “big brother” Yacht-Master II is an entirely different beast, though similar to its sibling that it’s a newer addition that arrived with a much more consumer focus. In this case, the hefty 44mm model features a unique yachting timer complication that allows its wearer to time countdowns of as few as one, and as many as 10, minutes. It’s a unique and complex mechanism that uses its crown, pushers, and even its bezel to set the specific flyback point, making it (arguably) one of the most complex Rolex watches in current production.
Another example that has appeared in several case materials including steel, two-tone, in yellow gold, and even white gold and platinum, I tend to gravitate toward the steel-cased reference 116680 as much from a utility standpoint as for its design. The blue Cerachom bezel provides better contrast against a steel case.
Of course the Submariner is the real pinnacle around which all other water-friendly Rolex watches were built. After some serious R&D, the first Submariner hit the halls of Baselworld in 1954 with 100m of water resistance, a twin-lock screw down crown, luminous indices and hands, and of course a timing bezel. Since then it has continued to evolve in a relatively linear fashion, adding modern niceties like a sapphire crystal, ceramic bezel, and ultra-bright Chromalight luminous material for its indices and hands.
While some are enamored with two-tone models, others favor the basic black no-date Sub. I’m not big on plain-jane black dive watches generally, but for me, it would have to be the 16800–a game changer from the late 70s that saw the arrival of the Rolex caliber 3035, and also a watch that ages very interestingly on account of its aluminum bezel insert.
When the Submariner just couldn’t dive deep enough, soon thereafter came the Sea-Dweller. In their work with the French professional diving firm COMEX, a fix was needed for the watches being used by saturation divers, whose crystals had developed a knack for popping off (due to pressure differential) during desaturation. The long and the short of it is that Rolex developed the Helium Escape Valve, and rather than fitting this into Submariner cases moving forward, the Rolex Sea-Dweller was created, with a depth rating of 2,000ft/610m.
Originally with the same 40mm case dimensions as its sibling, it has since grown to 43mm and most recently gained red dial text and a date magnifying cyclops for the first time. Though the OG is cool, this latest version would be my choice.
Of course the arrival of the Helium Escape Valve and 610m of water resistance was not the end of Rolex’s push towards greater depths; we now have the mighty Rolex Deepsea. Initially meant to be the successor to the Sea-Dweller (which was briefly discontinued and then brought back), the 2008 Deepsea set a new benchmark for the deepest diving Rolex ever; it is listed as water resistance to 12,800 feet, a figure nary a mere mortal will ever remotely approach.
Not too long thereafter in 2014, Rolex unveiled a special edition of the Deepsea dubbed the D-blue, paying tribute to James Cameron’s epic Deepsea Challenge mission that explored the bottom of the Mariana’s trench (with a Rolex prototype strapped to the outside of his submersible). Of the Deepsea models, the gradient blue to black dial of the D-blue is pretty hard to beat.