Watches: Rolex Sea-Dweller 4000

By Thierry Ané on April 12, 2014

Every year at Baselworld, Rolex manages to steal the show. The buzz generated by this brand’s novelties is absolutely unparalleled. Once you have acquired a certain horological culture though, all this excitement appears slightly difficult to comprehend!

Surely these timepieces are not coveted for their watchmaking achievements: Rolex is not a brand that bothers with refined complications, unusual displays or atypical cases. The brand manufactures no-nonsense models whose primary goal remains to indicate the time in a classic and legible way (unless it is to ascertain a social status?).

Although this may be a praiseworthy objective, it does not explain how seasoned collectors can remain so passionate about the brand. From my experience, the enthusiasm for Rolex watches is a natural step in someone’s horological itinerary, but once one’s knowledge of watchmaking extends, one feels the need to direct one’s attention to something more exciting. And, the Sea-Dweller 4000 unveiled during Baselworld 2014 is the perfect illustration of my point.

Born in 1967 as a response to the expanding world of saturation diving, the Sea-Dweller was the brand’s first model capable of withstanding extreme pressure (waterproof to a depth of 610 meters — 2,000 feet — first and then to 1,220 meters — 4,000 feet) with the help of the helium valve, patented by the brand.

Discontinued for a while, this legendary professional diving watch is back in an updated version this year. Don’t expect major upheavals, though, as the revamping has been made the Rolex way: so subtle that it is virtually imperceptible to the untrained eye.

All the design codes of the original model are unscathed. The 40 mm satin brushed 904L steel case maintains the same proportions as the original and also features the iconic helium valve on the case band. The unidirectional rotating bezel always exhibits the 60-minute graduations. This time around, however, it is made of black Cerachrom (the brand’s patented ceramic) and the inscriptions have been coated (PVD) with a thin layer of platinum. The immediately recognisable black dial hosts large Chromalight-filled indexes and white gold hands for a perfect legibility even in the dark. The Oyster bracelet is equipped with the “Oysterlock” safety clasp with the “Glidelock” extension system (20 mm in increments of 2 mm).

The watch houses the same Rolex 3135 calibre as the Submariner Date Reference 116610. COSC-certified, this self-winding movement features a paramagnetic blue Parachrom hairspring and offers 48 hours of power reserve. All in all, there is no denying this is an extremely well-made timepiece with a very reliable in-house movement for a price tag of just CHF 9,900.

But, as I stated before, this is merely an evolution and definitely not a revolution justifying all the ink that has been spilled about it. The timepiece looks too similar to previous versions and other models for me to understand the general excitement about this newcomer. I think that Rolex could have at least increased the case size to a more contemporary diameter of 42 mm. Not only would this have placed this model between the 40 mm Submariner Date and the 44 mm Sea-Dweller Deepsea, which would have made more sense to me, but it would have made the changes slightly more perceptible.

For a technical description of the timepiece and additional pictures:

Additional timepieces mentioned in this article: