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Rare Watches: Voyage to the bottom of the sea: Part 2: Rolex Deepsea Challenge

With hands-on live photographs, commentary and facts about the historic dive.
by Peter Chong on September 23, 2016
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Voyage to the bottom of the sea: Rolex Deep Sea Challenger

Last week, we had a rare hands-on session with the Rolex Deep Sea Special and talked about its groundbreaking and amazing story of the first manned dive into the bottom of the Mariana Trench in 1953. Today, we continue with the story. This time, Rolex repeated the feat with a watch which is much more wearable, and whose trickle down technology made improvements to the Rolex Deepsea Sea Dweller. The watch is the Rolex Deepsea Challenge. The dive was made in 2012, in a special submarine with legendary Canadian filmmaker legend James Cameron as pilot. This is the story.

 

Essential reading: Part 1 of the Voyage to the bottom of the Sea: Rolex Deep Sea Special.

 

The Rolex Deepsea Challenge. This is a Rolex made Display Model of the watch which was strapped to the outside of the DSV Deep Sea Challenger submarine with James Cameron as the solo pilot.

The Rolex Deepsea Challenge. This is a Rolex made Display Model of the watch which was strapped to the outside of the DSV Deep Sea Challenger submarine with James Cameron as the solo pilot.The photograph is of a Rolex Display Model.

 

The second dive. 26 March 2012. DSV Deepsea Challenger. Rolex Deepsea Challenge.

 

Rolex sponsored another expedition to the Mariana Trench, this time with Canadian film director James Cameron who made a solo manned dive on board the DSV Deepsea Challenger to the bottom of Challenger Deep on 26 March 2012. The descent lasted 2 hours 36 minutes to a recorded depth of 10,898.4 metres (35,756 ft). He spent a total of 2 hours and 34 minutes on the ocean bed, and began his 90 minute ascent.

 

Cameron said: “I landed on a very soft, almost gelatinous flat plain. Once I got my bearings, I drove across it for quite a distance … and finally worked my way up the slope.” The whole time, Cameron said, he didn’t see any fish, or any living creatures more than an inch (2.5 cm) long: “The only free swimmers I saw were small amphipods”—shrimplike bottom-feeders.”

As the DSV Deepsea Challenger was equipped with dual HD cameras, Cameron was able to return with footage of the bottom of the ocean. To view the videos, please follow this link.

 

Scale model of the DSV Deepsea Challenger which was piloted by Cameron to the deepest part of the ocean. The experimental Rolex Deepsea Challenger was strapped to one of the robotic arms outside the submarine.

Scale model of the DSV Deepsea Challenger which was piloted by Cameron to the deepest part of the ocean. The experimental Rolex Deepsea Challenger was strapped to one of the robotic arms outside the submarine.

 

Strapped on the robotic manipulator arm, outside of the DSV Deepsea Challenger was a Rolex Deepsea Challenge watch. As with the Deep Sea Special in 1960, the Deepsea Challenge endured the full depth of the dive, nearly 11,000 m, and was fully operational with no signs of its adventure when the submarine surfaced. But unlike the 1960 dive, Cameron also wore another Deepsea Challenge on his wrist for the dive.

 

 

 

Rolex undertook to build the Deep SeaChallenge in just 53 days, as they had already considerable know how to make water proof watches. The DeepSea Challenge was up-engineered from the existing Rolex DeepSea. It uses the Deepsea’s dial and movement, and a new case which is has enlarged dimensions calculated to resist the shock of the 1,500 bar pressure test. At a depth of 15,000 metres, the load exerted on the crystal is 17 tonnes and on the case back nearly 23 tonnes; the equivalent of about 10 SUVs piled on the watch.

Let’s take a closer look at the watch.

 

Rolex DeepSea Challenge hands-on

 

The Rolex Sea Dweller 4000 Ref. 116600, the Rolex Deepsea Sea Dweller Ref. 116660) both cetified to 3.900 m, and the experimental Rolex Deepsea Challenge rated to 12,000 m. Case size: 40mm, 44mm, 51mm.

The Rolex Sea Dweller 4000 Ref. 116600, the Rolex Deepsea Sea Dweller Ref. 116660) both cetified to 3.900 m, and the experimental Rolex Deepsea Challenge rated to 12,000 m. Case size: 40mm, 44mm, 51mm.

 

Dial, Case, Hands

As mentioned, the dial and hands are taken from the existing Rolex Deepsea Sea Dweller Ref. 116660.  (DSSD) which is rated to 3,900 m. The dial looks to be the same size as the regular DSSD but as Rolex did not release data on the dial, it is our educated guess. The only difference is the markings “39370ft=12000m” in italics under the “SEA-DWELLER” which differentiate it from the regular DSSD. The font used is also larger than on the standard DSSD, and is the same size as the Rolex logo.

To fit the regular sized dial into the enlarged case (51mm diameter vs the DSSD’s 44mm), a huge ring with the markings “DEEPSEA CHALLENGE” at 12 o’clock and “RING LOCK SYSTEM” at 6 o’clock is fitted.

A special Cerachrom insert was also made to fit the larger diameter of the bezel.

 

The dial remains largely unchanged except for markings to denote this is not your regular Deepsea Sea Dweller but the Experimental Deepsea Challenge.

The dial remains largely unchanged except for markings saying “39370ft = 12000m” in italics (including the equal sign) to denote this is not your regular Deepsea Sea Dweller but the Experimental Deepsea Challenge.

 

The hands remain unchanged from the DSSD. As are the hour markers which remain gold appliqués filled with Chromalight, so it glows in a cool blue in the dark.

The biggest change is in the case and sapphire crystal. The engineers have re-calculated the pressures required, and significantly enlarged the case dimensions. The diameter of the case is 51.4 mm, with a thickness of 28.5 mm. The case is built using the Rolex Ringlock system, comprising of the the thick sapphire glass crystal, the 904L middle case and bracelet, the nitrogen-alloyed steel for the Ringlock System ring, and grade 5 titanium for the case back. Interestingly, although the regular Sea Dweller and the Deep Sea Sea Dweller has an automatic helium escape valve fitted to the case side at 9 o’clock, the Deepsea Challenge does not have a helium escape valve.

The sapphire glass itself is a massive 14.3 mm thick, but much less than the high glass version in the Deep Sea Special used in the 1960 dive.

 

The crown is massive and is laser engraved with the crown logo and the three dots which signifies a 904L Stainless Steel case with Triplock.

The crown is massive and is laser engraved with the crown logo and the three dots which signifies a 904L Stainless Steel case with Triplock.

 

The screw down crown is a critical component of the waterproof features of the Deepsea Challenge. Instead of the usual relief stamped logo of the Rolex crown with three large dots, these markings are made by laser engraving.
The bracelet is made in the Rolex prototype workshop and formed using the regular Rolex 904L Stainless Steel which is made for Rolex by a supplier. Although Rolex is one of the few watch companies to own and operate their own metal foundries, the in-house foundry is used to make precious metals like their proprietary Everose gold. Steel, especially the 904L used by Rolex exclusively in all their stainless steel products is so specialized that it is made by from a supplier. The supplier works under strict specifications from Rolex. For the Deepsea Challenge, the bracelet is also larger, and are hand made at the prototyping department. And the deployant buckle is also based on the same design for the DSSD, but enlarged appropriately.

 

The patented Rolex Glidelock extension system allows divers to adjust the length of the bracelet for a secure and comfortable fit over a diving suit, without using any tools. A robust toothed panel under the clasp cover provides an extension of up to 20 mm in 2 mm increments.

The patented Rolex Glidelock extension system allows divers to adjust the length of the bracelet for a secure and comfortable fit over a diving suit, without using any tools. A robust toothed panel under the clasp cover provides an extension of up to 20 mm in 2 mm increments.

 

The case back is made from Grade 5 titanium and like almost all Rolex watches is not marked.

The case back is made from Grade 5 titanium and like almost all Rolex watches is not marked.

 

 

A Rolex graphic comparing the Deep Sea Challenger, the regular Deep Sea Sea Dweller and the Deep Sea Challenge.

A Rolex graphic comparing the Deep Sea Challenger, the regular Deep Sea Sea Dweller and the Deep Sea Challenge.

 

Movement: Rolex C.3135

The movement is the standard Caliber 3135 used in many Rolex watches including the Sea Dweller and the Deep Sea Sea Dweller. Nothing fancy, but a reliable, sturdy and tough movement which is certified to COSC and Rolex’s Certified Chronometer level to +2/-2 seconds a day accuracy.

 

Further thoughts

The Rolex Deepsea Challenge is a huge watch. As noted the 51.4 mm case diameter and 28.5 mm thick case makes it massive. But it is wearable. James Cameron wore it inside the DSV Deepsea Challenger during the dive, and here the author tests it on his 7.5 inch wrist. It does feel a little large, and heavy, but certainly a wearable watch. Of course, Rolex has no intention to make the watch for sale. They still label the watch as an Experimental Professional Diving Watch. We opine that if Rolex does make it for sale as a small limited edition, it would be snapped up by collectors in double quick time.

Instead, Rolex offers the Deepsea Sea Dweller and a special D-Blue special edition as practical alternatives.

 

The Rolex Deep Sea Challenge on the wrist of the author.

The Rolex Deep Sea Challenge on the wrist of the author.

 

Invitation to see the Rolex Exhibition

The scale model of the DSV Deepsea Challenger and the Display Model of the Rolex Deepsea Challenge experimental diving watch is showcased at the Rolex Exhibition situated in the Rolex Boutique in Marina Square, Singapore. On behalf of Cortina Watches and Rolex Singapore, we take great pleasure to invite you to visit. Say that you read about the exhibition from Deployant and claim a free soft drink at the bar within the Exhibition. Also when you visit, you will also find that the boutique is fully stocked with nearly all the watches in the current Rolex catalog. Have fun!

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