The following article was researched and written by Charlie Jarman after he came into the possession of possibly one of the rarest Rolex Sports watches. It is reprinted here with Charlie’s kind permission and all copyright is retained by the original author. I will let Charlie take up the story.................
Anyone who has done any research knows that the ‘single red’ Sea Dweller was long a myth among collectors. A few pictures have been seen, but only five other "single red’s" have had testimony of existence published or told. First, there is a Japanese website on the internet that shows this very watch. Second, an Italian collector emailed me saying he saw one last year in Italy (although that one may have been faked). Third is a UK collector who says he has owned two ‘single red’ Sea Dweller’s in the past. Fourth, Mr. Dowling notes he has seen one real ‘single red’ approximately five years ago (he also mentioned seeing one fake a couple of years ago). The only other known (the 6th) ‘single red’ Sea Dweller is now available for review here.
After acquiring the watch from the estate of a former professional diver, I set about to find out the answers to three questions
The following is a synopsis of what I have learned...
First and foremost, I thought it best to contact Rolex directly regarding the authenticity of the watch. I called the Rolex Watch Company USA in hopes I could verify the watch as genuine. Erica from Rolex service (the group that authenticates watches) verified the existence of the type #1665 Sea Dweller you see on this page. In a follow up telephone conversation Erica again confirmed the piece. She and one of the watchmakers discussed the description you see here prior to confirming the watch as genuine.
Although Erica could not authenticate the watch I have in hand (authentication cannot be done over the phone), she has three times verified the fact that this exact Sea Dweller (with 500m/1650ft dial) was produced. The serial number on this watch is 1,820,xxx -- which is in the correct range for this piece. The serial number has been further verified by Rolex Geneva, via fax, as that of a 1968 Sea Dweller (though authentication was not otherwise verified). When asked, a UK Rolex expert said that the most important factor to authenticating this watch would be to know it’s history. I believe that the answer to question #2 further substantiates the genuine nature of this piece.
I approached this question from two angles. First, I was keenly interested in learning the history of this particular model of Sea-Dweller. Second, as a matter of verification, I needed to know who owned the watch and what kind of background might lead that individual to own an early Rolex Sea Dweller.
First point - as for model history, I can offer my theory. Rolex made ‘pre-Sea Dwellers’ during 1966. They gave these watches to COMEX, other dive companies and high level professional divers -- for testing, depth trials, etc.
Since we all know that Rolex developed the first Sea Dwellers from the Submariner, the early ‘prototypes’ were Submariner cases with ‘gas escape valves’ fitted. My theory is that the very first of these pre-Sea Dwellers were dialed 500M/1650FT.
Due to information I have found regarding later COMEX orders, I believe up to a few hundred pieces might have been made with the ‘single red’ dial. As the watches were actually tested in real world situations, they proved to be waterproof (complete with correct decompression ratings) at depths greater than the original 500 meters.
As these Sea Dweller / Submariners were sent in to Rolex for service, everything was upgraded -- dials, hands, etc. (This is an established fact, widely known among the collecting community.) As such, the watches were redialed with new 600m/2000ft dials inscriptions. I personally believe the reason the Sea Dweller / Submariner 2000 has red lettering is to distinguish it from the real original Sea Dweller, the Submariner 500M - 1650FT.
Single Red Sea-Dwellers case back - Unusualy there is an enscription around the edge.
Furthermore, I believe the reason very few of these 500M dials still exist is that most were ‘upgraded’ during service. If I am correct, then at least some of the Sea Dweller / Submariner 2000’s were originally Sea Dweller / Submariner 500M/1650FT’s. Wouldn’t that be ironic?!? For whatever reason, this one and very few others were never ‘upgraded’. I may be totally wrong, but the pieces of the puzzle I’ve found point me to this theory.
Second point - the history of the original owner of this watch. The gentleman who originally purchased this watch was none other than the world renowned Dr. Ralph W. Brauer, former professional diver and marine scientist. Dr. Brauer has a long and distinguished resume -- with several references to his work in the field of deep sea diving and marine science. As a member of the Marine IOMED Research Institute, Dr. Brauer was a host for Our World - Underwater Scholarship Society. He held the distinction of Professor Emeritus of Marine Physiology with the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. He was also one of the primary persons responsible for establishing the Center for Marine Science Research, along with the Wrightsville Marine Biomedical Laboratory at UNCW.
Upon his death Dr. Brauer donated his estate to the local university. I acquired the watch indirectly through the university. The facts relating to Dr. Brauer’s extensive history and accomplishments in the field of SCUBA and deep sea diving add as much credibility to the authenticity of this Sea Dweller as a letter direct from Rolex.
Think about it -- For several years, Dr. Brauer held a world record for diving depth. Would he have worn a faked Rolex? The only sensible answer is NO.
Although I no longer think them necessary, I have included a few other notable references to the ‘single red’ Sea Dweller for your review...
The book entitled Rolex 2421 Uhren, by Kesaharu Imai, shows a ‘single red’ Sea-Dweller on page 77. It is a case reference number 1565; waterproof to 500 meters/1650feet. Could the case reference number of 1565 have been a typo? I don't know.
Inside the case back showing model number ‘1665’ and date of production ‘IV 67’.
Marcello Pisani (respected Italian collector) wrote:
"I have personally checked at Geneva an SD with case number around 1.71x.xxx, and Rolex confirmed that it was sold in 1967. Some very early watches had the outside of the back signed ‘gas escape valve patent pending’, that means that the patent was already asked but not still obtained. I have also seen a ‘single red’ SD with depth signed ‘1650 ft=500 m.’ (in capital letters instead of small), but there is no official record of this dial, so I have many doubts about it."
Mr. Pisani has found reasons to believe that ‘pre-Sea-Dwellers’ were supplied to companies such as COMEX and not handed out to official dealers:
" ... There also seems to be a rare version around with only the name SEA-DWELLER printed in red and not like the later versions which says SEA-DWELLER SUBMARINER 2000 ... "
Since the early publication of this webpage, several notable collectors have seen this Sea Dweller up close. Three noted UK Collector/Dealers have all emailed me saying that they have examined the watch and believe it to be 100% authentic and original.
There is a fair amount of documentation showing that Rolex first produced ‘double red’ Sea Dweller / Submariner 2000’s during the fourth quarter of 1967 and into 1968. There is little to no evidence that any Sea Dweller was manufactured prior to 1967, though. If this is indeed true, it would be logical to conclude that the predecessor (500M-1650FT dial) would have been made less than one year since the only references found thus far indicate a manufacture date of 1967. The big question - Why are there so few examples of the 500M-1650FT dial?
Exposed movement showing date disk.
One feasible idea was presented in a recent conversation a friend of mine had with one of the principals of Italy’s Siapem corporation. Siapem is in the business of oil & gas pipeline contracts. They have used COMEX as one of their dive contractors in the past.
This gentleman reminded my friend that Rolex serviced the early Sea Dwellers every six months -- always overhauling and upgrading them to the latest standards of Rolex excellence.
This meant new casebacks, dials, hands -- even movements. [Some of the noted experts of Rolex history have mentioned this fact on watch forums and other venues].
One conclusion that could be drawn from these facts is that possibly the few remaining 1650FT dialed pieces were never ‘upgraded’. I was told that Dr. Brauer was a man who always purchased the best, "but didn’t always have things serviced like he should". It is possible that Rolex gave Dr. Brauer this Sea Dweller for testing (or maybe he purchased it), but he never returned it for servicing. Thus his watch was never ‘upgraded’ -- making it very rare and totally original. We don't know the facts, but it does make sense.
The Saipem official also stated that Rolex was not above doing special favours for certain divers -- possibly even keeping an ‘old’ dial on a watch when servicing it. This fact was confirmed by a 25 year veteran of the Australian Clearance Divers Group. For those who are unfamiliar with Clearance Divers, they are Australia’s equivalent of the US Navy Seals. The Major, as I’ll call him, confirmed that Rolex did indeed do special favours for top notch divers who offered explicit feedback to the company for product development and testing. Even if Dr. Brauer had his watch serviced, could the originality of this timepiece have been the result of a ‘special favour’ from Rolex? Maybe. After all, Dr. Brauer was a forerunner in the world of SCUBA and deep sea diving.
Some enthusiasts call this piece the ‘single red’ Sea Dweller due to the fact that only the ‘Sea Dweller ’ name is printed in red. In contrast, the ‘double red’ Sea Dwellers have both ‘Sea Dweller’ and ‘Submariner 2000’ printed in red letters.
Side on 1665 showing the small helium escape valve.
Underneath the red ‘Sea Dweller ’ text on the ‘single red’ is ‘Submariner 500 M - 1650 FT’. Beneath that is ‘Superlative Chronometer’ and then ‘Officially Certified’. The top of the dial has the Rolex coronet, ‘ROLEX’ and ‘Oyster Perpetual DATE’. The watch is a case reference #1665 with the outside of the caseback stamped ‘Oyster Gas Escape Valve’ and ‘(Patent Pending)’ around the outer rim. The inside caseback is stamped ‘1665’ and ‘IV 67’ (the reported first year any watch named ‘Sea Dweller ’ was produced).
This wristwatch should also have a calibre 1570 chronometer movement, slightly domed acrylic crystal (without cyclops) and small helium escape valve on the side of the case opposite the crown. The timepiece in hand has all those features.
The Rolex Sea-Dweller.
Speaking of the crown, the early Sea Dwellers did not have a 3-dot Triplock crown (although the technology was used prior to the retail introduction) as the Triplock was not officially introduced until ~1973. Another note worth mentioning -- according to learned Rolex expert James Dowling, the ‘(Patent Pending)’ text is appropriate as these watches were manufactured before the escape valve technology patent was granted.
In my opinion, the facts presented (not including conjecture or theory) show this piece to be an extremely rare and valuable watch -- more so than the ‘James Bond’ Submariner or the #6202 ‘pre-Submariner’. Let’s face it, there are several examples of each of those watches known to exist.
Quite possibly, this Sea Dweller fits more in line in rarity and value with the original #6541 Milgauss -- of which, few examples have been seen. It's not the ‘Rosetta Stone’ of Rolex, as one collector reminded me, but it is one you may never see again.