World famous deep sea diver and Rolex ambassador Dr Sylvia Earle
World famous deep sea diver and Rolex ambassador Dr Sylvia Earle
Image: Supplied

When Rolex founder Hans Wilsdorf set up his now famous watchmaking operation in 1905, it was at a time when wristwatches were still regarded as fragile accessories.

But the world was changing and Wilsdorf believed fervently in the future popularity of the wristwatch. He soon went one further and proceeded to create the world’s first waterproof wristwatch – naming it after that sea creature in which mother nature had perfected the tightest of seals: the oyster.

The Rolex Oyster was the first timepiece to swim across the English Channel on the wrist of a young Englishwoman, Mercedes Gleitze in 1927. The watch made history when it emerged from the waves in perfect working order after 10 hours and also marked the start of Rolex’s ongoing relationship with explorers, athletes, artists – all those pushing the boundaries of mankind’s existence.

Expeditions to the highest and deepest points on the planet also led to the development of a professional range of Rolex watches, accessories that were so much more than timepieces or fashion statements. They were reliable tools to serve those embarking on the world’s most challenging endeavours.

The professional range has included a series of Oyster Perpetual models such as the Explorer and Explorer II, the Cosmograph Daytona, the Submariner and the Sea-Dweller.

This year a new version of the Oyster Perpetual Sea-Dweller was launched at the Baselworld watch and jewellery exhibition. It perpetuates the heritage of the ultra-resistant professional divers’ watch designed by Rolex exactly 50 years ago, in 1967, to accompany deep-sea diving pioneers on the underwater missions and living experiments taking place at the time.

The Rolex Sea-Dweller, as it looked in 1967
The Rolex Sea-Dweller, as it looked in 1967
Image: Rolex

The Sea-Dweller has always played an important role in marine conquests. Its Oyster case was first waterproof to a depth of 610 metres, then to 1220 metres in 1978, and was fitted with a decisive innovation developed and patented by Rolex: the helium escape valve.

This ingenious safety valve, set in the watchcase, allows the Sea-Dweller to safely decompress, just as the diver wearing it must also decompress following a dive at great depths. The Sea-Dweller’s functions therefore responded perfectly to the needs of saturation diving: a new, more technical and more demanding type of diving that opened the way to the deep.

In 2017, the new Sea-Dweller is equipped with a 904L steel case enlarged to 43mm, and with Rolex’s latest-generation mechanical movement, calibre 3235, at the forefront of watchmaking technology and guaranteeing the highest standards of precision and reliability.

For the first time, the crystal of the new Sea-Dweller is fitted with a cyclops lens at three o’clock – a key characteristic of Rolex watches. In reference to the first model created 50 years ago, the name “Sea-Dweller” is inscribed in red on the dial.

The model is still at the cutting edge of technology in 2017, just as it was in 1967, incorporating all of Rolex’s latest technical developments: A case and bracelet in highly corrosion-resistant 904L steel; a unidirectional rotatable bezel with a Cerachrom insert in ceramic, that is virtually impervious to scratches and ultraviolet rays; a Chromalight display with long-lasting luminescence for optimum legibility in the dark; a Triplock winding crown with triple waterproofness system; an Oysterlock safety clasp that prevents accidental opening; and the Rolex Glidelock and Fliplock extension systems which, together, allow divers to extend the bracelet without the use of tools by a total of 46mm in order to wear the watch over diving suits of up to 7mm thick.

For all this new technology, the new Sea-Dweller is still equipped with the famous helium escape valve that made history all those years ago.

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