Rolex’s massive new watch is built to go to the bottom of the sea

A new Rolex of any kind is cause for celebration. And usually we get those moments in the spring when the macke-daddy of watch brands rolls out his slate of pieces for the year. (Remember the new black-and-green destro GMT?) Today, however, Rolex released the Oyster Perpetual Deepsea Challenge – a watch that, even on day one, is already breaking records with its mega-massive proportions. This Rolex is a particularly big deal, and I mean that literally and figuratively.

Rolex’s new release sets the depth rating record for a commercial watch by many crowds. The deepest diver in Rolex’s catalog until today was the Deepsea, which can reach a relatively shallow 3,900 meters (12,800 feet). Today’s Rolex is rated to go three times deeper, to 11,000 meters (36,090 feet). (Maybe now collectors can stop worrying about whether it’s okay to take this watch in the shower or a dip in the pool.) To put into context just how big a leap (or dive?) Rolex is taking, think that the previous world record for a commercial watch was set just six months ago. Earlier this year, Omega released the Seamaster Ultra Deepwhich can dive 6,000 meters (19,685 feet) underwater – Deepsea almost doubles that number!

To meet its new possibilities, this Rolex huge. The watch is 50 millimeters in diameter and 23 whopping millimeters thick. (The Luminor from Panerai, the king of big-boy watches, measures 44mm wide and 4.5mm thick.) All that extra heft and thickness is purposeful, though. While those outside the watch world may see the crown as a maker of delicate luxuries and jeweled beauties, collectors who follow the brand know that Rolex’s foundation is in tool watches: the Oyster Perpetual on the wrist of Mercedes Gleitze as she swam across the watch. The English Channel or OP Sir Edmund Hillary wore when he became the first person to summit Everest in 1953. The new OP Deepsea Challenge comes with an even more famous story.

The development of this watch can be traced all the way back to 1960. The back of the new watch is engraved with the phrase “Mariana Trench”, the deepest point on earth, and two dates: “23-01-1960” and “26- 03-2012 .” Let’s start with the former. In 1960, Rolex developed the Deep Sea Special, a watch with a domed bubble-like crystal built to withstand the immense pressure of a deep deep sea. So when oceanographer Jacques Piccard and US Navy Lieutenant Don Walsh boarded it submarine-like Trieste (technically a bathyscaphe) and plunged 35,814 feet to the bottom of the ocean, what was attached to the outside of the ship?Rolex’s Deep Sea Special, which was in perfect condition when the Trieste rose from the sea.

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