To understand the history and development of the Rolex Sea-Dweller (a deep-diving version of the Submariner), one has to understand the history and development of commercial diving. Largely in response the United States’ increasing need for gasoline (and subsequent energy crisis) oil companies began to go deeper below the ocean’s surface than ever before in search of oil reserves. Special deep sea divers developed techniques for reaching these depths – saturation diving was born. Parallel efforts by the U.S. Navy, the French commercial diving firm COMEX (the French diving company who developed the decompression chambers and employed all the divers training in saturation diving) and diving legend Jacques Cousteau were developing a way for man to live on the ocean floor by breathing a gas mixture made up of a majority of inert helium combined with oxygen.
“Saturation diving” as the new method was called, greatly increased possibilities for living underwater by removing the need to frequently come to the surface to decompress. Instead, saturation divers would spend time in a decompression chamber in order to regulate their bodies back to life above sea level. COMEX approached Rolex to help solve a unique problem divers were experiencing during decompression – the crystals of their watches were blowing off upon decompression at the end of their time on the seabed. Helium atoms (which are small enough to permeate a watch crystal) were passing through the watch crystal and collecting in the space between the watch crystal and dial. During decompression, the helium would slowly build in pressure until the watch crystal literally blew off. A new dive watch was needed, and Rolex responded with the now-legendary Sea Dweller.
|1967||Rolex patents the one-way gas release valve. The valve was fitted to a small number of 5513 Submariners made for COMEX by Rolex. Later that same year, COMEX requested added production and Rolex officially produces a small number of Ref. 5514 Submariners with COMEX dials. and the added helium escape valve. By mid-1967, Rolex began producing the Ref. 5514 for the public and re-named it the Ref. 1665 Sea-Dweller.|
|1971||Rolex releases the “Double Red” Sea-Dweller Ref. 1665 variant which continued until 1977.|
|1978||Rolex releases the 16660 Sea-Dweller with a sapphire crystal and an improved water resistance rating of 1220 meters (2000 ft.) and a larger, improved helium gas release valve.|
|2008||Rolex discontinues the Ref. 16660 Sea-Dweller and replaces it with the Sea-Dweller Deepsea.|