It was a few months ago when I learned that Rolex, that most incomparable, secretive and often misunderstood of watchmakers, is so vertically integrated that it’s reported to own its own steel foundry. Yes, even buying in ready-made steel to turn into cases and bracelets is not enough – when it comes to manufacturing, the only way to really ensure quality control is to make it yourself.
This fact is illuminating in two ways. First off, on knowing it, it’s easier to get your head around that feeling of utmost quality when it comes to wearing a Rolex – compared even to some of the best brands in the watch game, and particularly noticeable when you handle the bracelet and clasp. More broadly, though, it backs up the fact the Rolex, as a brand, doesn’t really do things by halves.
But then, one look at its new diver is probably enough to figure that out. There’s a dichotomy in dive watches at the moment: an ongoing infatuation with smaller, wrist-friendly options – spearheaded by Rolex’s own Submariner model and the Black Bay series by its sister company Tudor – against some true monsters of the deep; watches built to sustain insane water pressure, clad in titanium shells and with ingenious combinations of materials and engineering.
In case it wasn’t immediately obvious, the 50mm Deepsea Challenge falls into the second category, and boasts some broadly ridiculous specs: the brand’s Ringlock system, adapted from the Sea-Dweller, combines with a case and bracelet wrought in proprietary RLX titanium (naturally), a helium escape valve and extra-thick sapphire crystal to provide 11,000 metres of water resistance.
To put it into context, that’s 11 times the theoretical depth a human being can survive underwater. Needless to say it won’t let you down no matter how deep you dive – and nor will the calibre 3230, a movement shared with many of the brand’s time-only big hitters that brings precision and durability in equal measure.
Another facet of the Rolex brand that makes it so loved by its fans is a long history of watch collections originally created to kit out professionals, be they polar explorers or the first woman to swim the English channel, Mercedes Gleitze, for whom the first waterproof watch – the Oyster Perpetual – was originally built.
The Deepsea Challenge carries on this tradition: the words ‘Mariana Trench’ and the two dates emblazoned on its caseback reference two historic dives by Rolex wearers, one by oceanographer Jacques Piccard and another by filmmaker James Cameron. The latter, aboard the Deepsea Challenger vessel, provided the inspiration for this watch, when the experimental version created for the dive successfully handled the lowest point in the ocean. Professional? Yeah, just a bit...