When the Rolex Sea-Dweller reference 16600 was taken out of production at the Rolex facilities in Geneva, a lot of admirers probably shed a little tear. Rolex announced the Deepsea Sea-Dweller 116660 as the successor of the Sea-Dweller but many fans of the former model(s) just more appealing than the new bulky 43mm Deepsea. I urged the people who had a weak spot for the former people to get one while they still could in a little article (here). In 2009 I wrote “One of the few things that gives me hope, is that they went from reference number 16600 to 116660 instead of using 116600. Will there be a 116600?”. Now in 2014, there is a Sea-Dweller reference 116600. And yes, it is 40mm.
I will not go into detail about the history of the Sea-Dweller as we have written on this watch many times in the past. Instead, we focus on the new Rolex Sea-Dweller 4000 reference 116600. You could say that Rolex came up with the Sea-Dweller in 1971 (but already developed in 1967) as the first diver’s watch for professionals. The Submariner was already there of course, and could also be used by professional divers, but was also more or less a nice sports watch that you could wear when you weren’t getting near any water (except the occasional shower or bath).
The Sea-Dweller was meant for those who also wanted to do deep-sea dives. Rolex came up with the helium escape valve in the 1967 prototype Sea-Dweller models already, which releases the helium from the watch case as the gas expands during decompression after deep-water saturation dives. It prevents the watch from damaging but still preserves the water resistance of the watch. COMEX (Compagnie Maritime d’Expertises) chose the Sea-Dweller as the instrument for their divers after having worked with several other companies as well to co-develop a professional diver’s watch (an example is the Omega Seamaster PloProf, which was also developed with input from COMEX).
It seems that the new Sea-Dweller meets the same specifications as the former model, reference 16600. A 40mm case, a titanium helium escape valve, water resistance to 1220 meters (4000 feet), caliber 3135 movement and using 904L stainless steel for the case and bracelet. The major differences are the updates that we also saw on the Rolex Submariner 116610 and GMT-Master II 116710 models and variations: ceramic bezels with Cerachrom inserts, use of Chromalight for hands and hour markers and thicker case lugs. Although the lugs seem to differ per Rolex sports model. The bracelet also changed in recent years. The Sea-Dweller 116600 comes on the well-known Oyster bracelet with Glidelock extension system and a fliplock extension link.
Having owned a Rolex Sea-Dweller 16600 for 10 years myself, I was very interested in trying on the new Rolex Sea-Dweller 116600 as the Deepsea Sea-Dweller 116660 did not do it for me. The 43mm case is something I can (easily) handle, but the weight is just not comfortable for me. I felt a big relief when I tried on the new Rolex Sea-Dweller 4000. A perfect fit – like the former model – and all the new technology that Rolex has put into it is a big bonus.
In terms of looks, it seems to me that Rolex has actually listened to their followers. Many people prefered the old Sea-Dweller models with the matte finish dial compared to the later 16600 (and Deepsea), and now Rolex made sure to have such a dial fitted into the new 116600.
Trying to compare the Rolex Sea-Dweller 16600 versus the 116600, I actually felt that I was almost looking at the same watch. There was nothing that should have been differently in my honest opinion. The bezel has become scratch resistant, the bracelet has an easier adjustment system and the watch appears to be a bit bigger due to the lugs (but isn’t). What I didn’t like about the Rolex Sea-Dweller 16600 compared to the Sea-Dweller 116600 was how it appeared on the wrist some times. Even though both watches have a 40mm case diameter, the 16600 just appeared to be a bit too small compared to the other Rolex sports models. The beefy lugs fixed that.
Perhaps this is just the perfect modern Rolex sports watch again. No fancy polished center-links like the GMT-Master II and no cyclops as seen on the Submariner Date model. The price? € 8500.- Euro including taxes.
More information can be found here.