Under the Loupe: Rolex Sea-Dweller 1665 "Great White"
The striking Rolex Sea-Dweller was designed and produced with an extremely niche audience in mind. Nowadays, however, vintage Sea-Dwellers have amassed a loyal following of collectors and it’s easy to see why. Here, we will take a closer look at the Rolex Sea-Dweller 1665 "Great White" and the model’s significance in the evolution of the Sea-Dweller to help you decide if this watch is right for you. We will include:
- A quick history of the Rolex Sea-Dweller
- A look at the vintage example in our shop
- What to look for when buying a Rolex Sea-Dweller Ref. 1665 "Great White"
The history of the Rolex Sea-Dweller
The Rolex Sea-Dweller has become a cult-classic watch for Rolex enthusiasts. It never reached the mainstream popularity heights of the Daytona, Datejust or Submariner, though, and many believe this is due to the fact that the Sea-Dweller catered to an extremely niche audience: saturation divers.
The watch was designed so that you could venture deeper underwater than was previously possible with the Submariner. With a tested depth rating of 2,000 feet, the Sea-Dweller was an impressive improvement on the Submariner's 600 feet.
It also solved an issue that occurred with the Submariner when saturation divers were in the decompression chamber — the glass would pop off! This was because the helium particles in the breathing gas had nowhere to escape so the pressure broke through the weakest point of the watch — the glass. Named after the SeaLab divers who spent extended periods living underwater, the Sea-Dweller incorporated a release valve for the helium on the side of the case.
The "Great White" Sea-Dweller
In 1977, the Sea-Dweller evolved with the production of the "Great White". Just like its predecessor, the iconic "Double Red" Sea-Dweller, it earned its nickname from the colour of the text on the dial — a striking white colour similar to the Rolex branding just above it.
What makes the "Great White" special to many collectors is that it was the last Sea-Dweller model to use a plexiglass crystal, which is considered by many to be a fundamental staple of a vintage watch.
Five configurations of the "Great White" were produced: the Mark 0, Mark I, Mark II, Mark III, and Mark IV. Mark 0 is by far the rarest of this group — there are very few still around and they feature circular back engravings and no case number is engraved on the inner-case back. The Mark II is arguably the most desirable with its "rail dial", which is the same style used on the 600-metre COMEX dials. "Rail dials" were created by the Stern Company who produced the COMEX Ref. 1665 Dials. They only did this for a 2-year stint, making this variant both rare and sought after.
The Mark III and Mark IV feature very small differences. The shape of the number six in '610' is slightly different, there is a positional change of the second 'S' in 'SWISS', the last 'R' in 'CHRONOMETER' looks smaller on the Mark IV and there is a difference in the position of the 'f' in the abbreviation of feet (ft). For a more detailed look at the different dial variations, we’d encourage you to visit the excellent DRSD website.
The "Great White" was the final Reference 1665 model to be made — just a year later, in 1978, Rolex began production of the Sea-Dweller Ref.16660. This watch was fitted with a larger helium release valve, a sapphire crystal and had yet another improved depth rating of 4,000 feet (1,220 metres).
Price-wise, the "Great White" is usually considerably cheaper than a "Double Red". However, as with all vintage watches, especially those of this type, a lot will depend on the dial variant, condition of the watch, where you’re buying it from and whether it has been serviced. Looking forward, we feel the "Great White" will continue to see steady growth in the years ahead.
From the shop: Rolex Sea-Dweller 1665 "Great White" Mk.IV
Now that we’ve piqued your interest, we have an exemplary specimen of the Rolex Sea-Dweller Reference 1665 "Great White" in our shop. Circa 1979, this Mark IV "Great White" is in excellent condition and has recently been fully serviced. Its case is clean and sharp, the dial is exquisitely aged and the lume has an even, creamy tone. It features a period correct Oyster bracelet, reference 93150, and this is supplied to you with an extra link.
You can read all of the information about this collector’s watch on our product page: https://timerediscovered.com/collections/vintage-watches-for-sale/products/rolex-sea-dweller-ref-1665-great-white-mk-iv-1979
What to look for when buying a Rolex Sea-Dweller Ref. 1665 "Great White"
The main thing to look for when you’re buying a Rolex Sea-Dweller Ref. 1665 "Great White" is whether the dial is original or if it has been refurbished or replaced.
As is a common occurrence with other Rolex’s when they were sent for service, Rolex would replace dials with service ones and the originals were never returned. Whilst that would have provided a new looking watch, it means the value of that watch is now considerably lower than it may have been with an original dial.
These days, it’s not just the service dials to look out for but also restored dials as well as outright fakes, the quality of which are becoming exceptionally accurate. With prices of vintage watches showing no signs of waning, the motivation to get this right only increases and we will cover this topic in a separate article.
Other things you need to watch out for are incorrect case backs, fake cases and unserviced movements. Finally, as with all pre-owned watches, we’d highly recommend running the serial number in THE WATCH REGISTER, which is a database for lost and stolen watches. Don’t think just because you’re buying from a dealer (even some of the largest) that they have done this for you, often they won’t have!
The history behind this watch marks it as one of the most significant watches in Rolex's production line and one worthy of a place in any serious Rolex collection. It was intended to serve a niche group of saturation divers, and it did that and so much more!
In recent times, the Sea-Dweller model has drifted into a more flashy territory with the addition of gold-clad options and golden accents. However, if you prefer the version with more understated class, the vintage Ref. 1665 "Great White" could be the watch for you.
If you'd like to look at or learn more about the reference 1665 "Great White" Mk.IV that we have in stock, please click here. Below we've also included some additional external links that may be of interest. Alternatively, please reach out to a member of our friendly staff by calling 0203 8156 488 or emailing us at [email protected]
Useful External Links
- The "Great White" Sea-Dweller model 1665: http://www.drsd.com/watch-info/white-seadweller/greatwhiteseadweller.html
- Reference points understanding the Rolex Sea-Dweller: https://www.hodinkee.com/articles/reference-points-rolex-sea-dweller