Rolex was never meant to be a luxury watch brand. While today they are more known as status symbols, back then they were hardcore tool watch producers, providing watches to specialized fields such as diving, aviation, and racing. Part of the reason why the vintage Rolex market is so strong is that people love the purity and honesty of the design, utility first, design second.
While the Submariner and GMT-Master are the most famous, made for divers and pilots respectively, the lesser-known more hardcore part of Rolex lies in the Sea-Dweller. To the uninformed, it looks nearly identical to the Submariner but it is an interesting story about how it came about. This is really where Rolex gets into niche markets as the Submariner’s 200-meter depth rating was more than enough for most divers.
The Sea-Dweller was developed as a result of a need. Many divers in the SeaLab expeditions were having problems with their Submariners, where the crystal would often pop out after a dive. Mind you, these were not your average Navy divers. The SeaLab was an experimental arm of the US Navy who was trying to prove the viability of humans living underwater for an extended period of time. This was known as saturation diving, where helium was used in the breathing gas mixture.
What Rolex realized was that during decompression, built-up helium particles accumulated in the case of the watch would have to let out and as such the crystal of the watch would often pop open. The result is what you see here: the Sea-Dweller Ref. 1665. Maintaining the same diameter as a Submariner but now with a thicker profile to include a helium escape valve, this provided the watch with an easy way to decompress when the divers returned to the surface. Depth rated to 610 meters, more than double the Submariner, this was the ultimate tool watch for the most hardcore.
This example you see here is the first generation of1665 Sea Dwellers, known as the Double Reds. It is by far one of the most desirable vintage Rolexes and a grail for many collectors. As you probably already know, it is nicknamed the Double Red because of its two lines of red text on the dial that only occurred on this reference.
What makes this Rolex Double Red Sea-Dweller even more special is that it comes with military provenance and it is exactly stories like these that make collecting vintage watches so rewarding. It is the story at often times that we buy into, and with this Rolex, it really makes owning and wearing this piece that much more special.
Along with the watch, it comes with a signed letter of provenance from the previous owner that served in the Australian Army Reserve. Allen Croft, the owner who this watch spent most of its life with, acquired this piece around 1977 from a commercial diver that worked for Harry Baxter a local marine salvage operator. What was uniquely interesting about this diver and Harry Baxter, was that they were responsible for the discovery of the WWII Japanese Submariner I 124 that sunk in 1942.
With his new watch, Croft wore this during his time as a pearl diver in Broome in Western Australia and accompanied him later in life as a Combat Engineer and Officer in the Middle East. You can imagine what kind of life this Double Red Sea-Dweller has had and the stories it holds inside of it. It is really this that makes collecting so amazing and I am sure that the next owner will cherish this story as well.