Rolex Introduces the Deepsea Challenge Ref. 126067 Rated to 11,000 Metres

The first Rolex in RLX Titanium.

In a surprising off-season debut, Rolex has debuted the record-setting Deepsea Challenge. Evolved from the experimental dive watch of the same name presented in 2012, the Deepsea Challenge is the first serially-produced Rolex wristwatch in titanium. And its rating of 11,000 m, or 36,090 ft, means it clinches the title of the deepest-rated dive watch ever.

Initial thoughts

Conceived as “the ultimate watch of the deep”, the Deepsea Challenge has nevertheless “been crafted with everyday use in mind”. In other words it’s gigantic at 50 mm in diameter and over 20 mm thick, but wearable because both the case and bracelet are titanium, making it relatively lightweight.

It is tempting to imagine Rolex will roll out other titanium watches, though I expect that won’t happen since the use of the alloy for the Deepsea Challenge is primarily for lightness, something less important for conventionally-sized Rolex watches.

As with other Rolex sports watches the technology behind the watch is impressive – in fact the technology within the watch makes it one of the most interesting Rolex sports watches – but it also incorporates details that enthusiasts will appreciate like the chamfered lugs that bring to mind vintage Rolex cases.

In short, it’s a little over the top but extremely cool. It’s somewhat pricey at abut 70% more expensive than the standard Deepsea, but arguably worth it for something that is essentially an experimental watch refined into something wearable.

Rolex’s historical dive watches, including the Deepsea Special (third from left) and next to it, the Deepsea Challenge concept watch

A record-breaker

The original Deepsea Challenge was a concept watch put together in a matter of weeks so that it could accompany filmmaker James Cameron on his expedition to the deepest point on earth, the bottom of the Mariana Trench at 10,912 m (35,800 ft).

Strapped to the outside of Mr Cameron’s submersible, the experimental watch was tested to 15,000 m and naturally survived in the journey in perfect working order. But it was immense at over 51 mm in diameter and almost 30 mm thick.

The production Deepsea Challenge retains the same water resistance – it’s rated to 11,000 m but tested to 13,750 m – but in a more compact case. Both the case and bracelet are made of RLX Titanium, a grade 5 titanium alloy that leaves it 30% lighter than the experimental watch.

The titanium case is first stamped before it is milled and polished

Finished with a matte brushing on most surfaces, the case has a polished bevel along its top edge, a detail reminiscent of vintage Rolex sports watches. According to Rolex, this was done to “highlight the curved profile of the lugs”. Though it was once standard on all Rolex sports watches, the case chamfer is now unique to the Deepsea Challenge.

The secret to the incredible pressure resistance lies within the titanium case, literally. The patented Ringlock system (European patent EP1916576B1) within the titanium case consists of a hardened steel compression ring that surrounds the movement. A flexible titanium case back screws into the base of the ring, while the top of the ring connects to the sapphire crystal.

Both the back and crystal flex slightly inwards under pressure, increasing the force on the gaskets between them and enhancing the sealing of the case. And the steel ring serves protects the movement and dial.

To ensure that the Deepsea Challenge lives up (or down) to its ambitions, Rolex tapped on the expertise of saturation diving specialist Comex (short for Compagnie Maritime d’Expertises) to develop a pressure-testing chamber.

This tank subjects the watch to pressure equivalent to 13,750 m (45,112 ft), or 25% more than the depth rating of 11,000 m in order to provide a margin of safety.

In terms of design the Deepsea Challenge sticks to the typical Rolex design code for dive watches, although the omission of a date is notable. The experimental model had a date, but the Deepsea Challenge does without out, resulting in a clean and symmetrical dial.

Also unusual is the matte, “intense black” dial that contrasts with the glossy finish found on most Rolex sports watches.

As expected for the top-of-the-line Rolex dive watch, the Deepsea Challenge is also kitted out with all of the brand’s bracelet innovations.

The bracelet is also made of RLX Titanium and equipped with a clasp that incorporates the Gridlock ratcheting extension as well as a Fliplock extension link.

And the movement is the cal. 3230, a latest-generation calibre that boasts most of the latest Rolex movement tech including the highly efficient Chronergy going train and skeletonised escapement parts made via lithography.

Key facts and price

Rolex Oyster Perpetual Deepsea Challenge
Ref. 126067

Diameter: 50 mm
Height: Unavailable
Material: RLX Titanium
Crystal: Sapphire, 9.5 mm thick
Water resistance: 11,000 m

Movement: Cal. 3230
Functions: Hours, minutes, and seconds
: Automatic
Frequency: 28,800 vibrations per hour (4 Hz)
Power reserve: 70 hours

Strap: RLX Titanium bracelet with Glidelock extension clasp and Fliplock extension link

Availability: At Rolex retailers
Price: CHF24,800

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Interview: Christian Selmoni, Style & Heritage Director at Vacheron Constantin

The man who embodies the brand.

Recently in Singapore for The Anatomy of Beauty, an exhibition dedicated to Vacheron Constantin’s watchmaking over the decades, Christian Selmoni has an encyclopaedic knowledge of the brand. Now the brand’s Style & Heritage Director, Mr Selmoni joined Vacheron Constantin (VC) in January 1992. His tenure of almost 31 years has given him an innate sense of the brand and its philosophy as well as a wide-ranging perspective on its timepieces over the years.

We had a chat with Mr Selmoni to hear more about the brand’s most interesting creations, ranging from the 22”’ observatory-certified tourbillon movements of the 1920s to the modern-day Celestia grand complication.

The interview was edited for length and clarity.

SJX: The Singapore exhibition has a good selection of the complicated, historical, and artisanal. What’s your favourite out of all that?

Christian Selmoni (CS): It’s a tricky question, but one that immediately comes to my mind – the 22”’ tourbillon because I love this this calibre. VC made the movement in the 1920s; around 20 movements were sent for observatory contests.

Once the contests were over, the movements were put in a tray somewhere. Then at the beginning of the 1990s, we made six or seven pocket watches with 22”’ tourbillon movements that had been totally refurbished and decorated. They were made for John Asprey in London. All of the [Asprey pocket watches] were unique, either in material or decoration, and some were set with gems as well.

One of the 22”’ tourbillon pocket watches made for Asprey in the early 1990s

SJX: One of them sold at Phillips not too long ago…

CS: Yes, that’s the one. I love them because they bring us back to observatory contests, which few people remember these days.

The watchmakers who were regulating the movements for the contes were just like Formula 1 drivers. They had their secret recipes for their their own mix of oil since lubrication was key for accuracy. Some preferred to die with their secrets rather than give the recipe to someone else.

But back to the story of the 22”’ movements. Some of them were sold during in the 1920s as finished watches and I’ve seen the records listing the clients, Henry Graves, the Maharajah of Patiala – all great collectors. The movement is something special.

SJX: Do you have any more of these movements left?

CS: Ah… yes, we do. We still have some 19”’ and 22”’ calibres.

SJX: So what are your plans for them?

CS: We haven’t planned anything, but rediscovering such movements from the past, then making cases and dials for them is a good thing if you fully respect the movement. It could be a great initiative to extract something from the past and to make it alive again. But on the other hand, you will have people will say well, what’s the point with this?

A closeup of the tourbillon regulator in the 22”’ movement

SJX: On the topic of custom made watches, every year VC launches a collection of unique Les Cabinotiers watches. Which of those in recent memory was the most interesting?

CS: There are several watches that are really phenomenal, but I absolutely need to start with the Celestia. It is mind blowing.

The Celestia has three gear trains – for mean time, solar time, sidereal time –  23 complications on two faces, while having incredible thinness. And not to forget the quality of the design.

Just so you know, the designer who designed the Celestia was the same one who did the 57260. Emilie [Vuilleumier], who is not with us anymore, was absolutely brilliant because she had a deep understanding of translating watchmaking into clear displays, a rare skill.

The Celestia Calibre 3600

And the Celestia is also special to me because that was the last watch where I was in charge of the development. It’s kind of mad love affair with an absolutely amazing watch.

Did you have others in mind yourself?

SJX: A few comes to mind. One is the 1921 perpetual calendar. It’s not complicated, but I find it an interesting design.

CS: That was not a unique piece, it was a series of 20. We made them in platinum for the Geneva boutique and later in rose gold. It was controversial at the time because we took a model from the past that was never a perpetual but made it a perpetual. It was a strange initiative, but the result was great.

The 1921 perpetual calendar in platinum

SJX: Why don’t you do this more often and add something new to a vintage design?

CS: With the Historiques collection we are paying tribute to the past. We think that it’s better to translate them into the 21st century but respect them in terms of functionality.

SJX: You could do a 222 perpetual.

CS: Yeah, I was thinking of that. Or we can do a Cornes de Vache automatic.

SJX: Exactly [laughs]. Or Cornes de Vache split seconds.

CS: That’s a good discussion to have, to confirm what others like yourself think. I’m not myself too rigid that I don’t change my position. But why not?

SJX: I look forward to that – Cornes de Vache split seconds.


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