Rolex Submariner vs. Sea-Dweller | A Brief History and Comparison


The Submariner and the Sea-Dweller are
both iconic watches from Rolex and epitomize what a dive watch should be.
For more than 50 years they have been industry leaders thanks to subtle
refinements in design and advancements in technology, but before we focus on the
current models let’s start with a brief history. The Submariner debuted in 1953,
followed shortly by the Sea-Dweller in 1967. Rolex created the Sea-Dweller to
meet the needs of elite saturation divers. These divers can spend weeks on
end underwater and require a specific oxygen mixture that includes helium. When the divers resurface the presence of helium in their watch would cause the
watch to explode. Rolex solved this by adding a one-way helium escape valve to
the middle of the case. This has become a distinguishing design element of the Sea-Dweller. Another distinguishing element of the Sea-Dweller is the lack of the
date cyclops. Because the watch could reach greater depths the cyclops could
not be securely attached to the crystal. Fast-forward to today, and the
contemporary offerings of the Rolex Submariner 116610 and the Sea-Dweller 126600. The 116610 Submariner hit the market in 2010 and
was one of the largest departures from the original design. The watch maintained
its 40 millimeter diameter and roughly 13 millimeter case thickness, but the
case became bulkier. Thicker lugs and thicker crown guards resulted in what
has been called the “Super Case”, and the changes didn’t stop there. The watch got
a maxi dial with proprietary luminescence called Chromalight. Rolex
also replaced the aluminum bezel with a much more durable ceramic, and redesigned the rotating mechanism to be more secure and precise. The bracelet was completely
redesigned gaining solid links throughout and a milled clasp with the
easy adjust Glidelock feature. One of the only unchanged elements was the
movement. Rolex continued supplying the Submariner
with the caliber 3135. It was an instant classic, but not without flaws. One of the
most notable gripes was the bulkier Super Case. Nevertheless, it is an easier
watch to wear than the Sea-Dweller because of its more modest size. In 2018
Rolex updated the Sea-Dweller and it came with some big changes. For
the first time the size increased from 40 to 43 millimeters, and the case
thickness increased to 15 millimeters. Rolex also updated the movement to the
new caliber 3235. It was a completely new Rolex caliber, which continues to
replace the 3135 in other models. And the updates didn’t stop there. The dial
gained a matte finish and red text reminiscent of the original Sea-Dweller.
This is such a great addition. The matte dial isn’t as matte as a true vintage
Rolex, but side by side with the Submariner you can clearly see it’s a
much lighter dial with a nice texture to it and the red text feels like Rolex is
actually listening to what people want. A great way to give a nod to the original.
You can see how much larger the Sea-Dweller is than the Submariner. Not
only is the case larger and thicker, but the bracelet is also 22 millimeters
creating a greater wrist presence. The increased size does help with the
proportions of the Sea-Dweller. Regardless of where you stand on the
cyclops it is less obtrusive on the Sea-Dweller because of the watch’s larger
size. The lugs also taper to a physically thinner size than the
Submariner. They’re also proportionally thinner. Just look at the difference. Even
though the Sea-Dweller just received an update the Submariner is no slouch. The
one word we would use to describe the Submariner is impressive. When the 116610 Sub debuted it was such an advancement for the Sub that it truly
felt like a modern tool watch, and now the Sea-Dweller feels like it’s paving
the way for the next chapter of the Submariner. With the Sea-Dweller’s growth
in size, and the addition of the cyclops it feels even more like the big brother
to the Submariner, and hopefully it gives us a glimpse into what may be in store
for the future. At the end of the day these two watches
feel as unique as they are similar. If it comes down to style the Sea-Dweller wins,
but for an everyday wear the Submariner is probably a better option for most
people. We would love to know what you think about the new Sea-Dweller versus
the Submariner, and let us know which you prefer and why. And thanks for watching.

Comments 8

  • love my sd43 – the red text is what make it for me

  • Submariner all day everyday. It’s a better all around watch suited to more occasions. The thickness is truly on spot for a 300 meter dive watch. The SD just seams too bulky for everyday wear and also I’m not a fan of the helium escape valve.

  • you missed the sdk4

  • Sea Dweller 116600 for the win

  • I have both and I agree with your description and commentary on the watches. You nailed it, well done.

  • Could watch reviewers start including the standard weight with all links added on as it is a major driver for watch buyers to flip / sell off to another model (ie Ceramic Seadweller 4k 116600 is 173grams which is uncomfortable / top heavy and main reason why no date sub is more day to day wearable (134 grams).

  • Blancpain Fifty Fathoms 5015 for the win.
    Better Design; Higher Horology; First Diver To Market
    BONUS: Nobody asks you if it is fake. Nobody asks you how much it costs. Strangers that ask about the watch are quality watch people. Rolex gives you none of that when on the wrist.

  • 1665 rail dial…

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