This is an iconic watch from Rolex. You can read about the history of the model here. I will just recap. Sea-dwellers were meant to cater to the niche market of the saturation divers, that is people who needed something more robust than the submariner (that has already been in existence for about fifteen years at that time). Rolex first created the so called triple red sea-dweller as a prototype. It was roughly similar to the watch we are looking at today, but it had three red lines on the dial, not two. Only eleven were ever made and were gifted to professional drivers. At least two were destroyed. The last existing ones fetch insane prices (in the millions).
The first mass produced sea-dweller was the 1665 double red (1967-1978) or DRSD as it is lovingly called. They featured triple water resistance of the submariner. They had no date window (cyclops), had a so called superdome acrylic crystal, and the iconic Rolex 1575 movement (which initially did not hack, but the hacking modification was introduced in 1976). The double red SD was later replaced with an all white dial, which was dubbed ‘The great white’.
I came across a member to member sale on a particular replica forum I frequent, and was intrigued. First of all, this is a watch that would be about my age if it was a genuine one. I cannot afford the genuine DRSD (the prices start at about $17000 and climb up to about 40-50K for well preserved ones). Even replicas are not exactly cheap, they cost more than some of my genuine watches. They are usually heavily modified from stock (as this one is). It has a case that was reshaped by a Vietnamese metal worker who does everything by hand and is a stickler for historical accuracy. From that perspective the watch was quite a bargain, actually, the case itself would usually fetch two or three times the price of this whole watch. That is, if it was really modified by this guy. I don’t know, I am not enough of an expert to determine, however, other forum members, some very knowledgeable (looking at you, Trip), did not raise a fuss about this claim. Therefore, I assumed it was as claimed. I mean, even if it wasn’t, these watches are very rare, replica or genuine. I paid and waited. There were plenty of things I wondered about – would it be water resistant, the condition of the movement, the dial and hands, the way to disassemble and reassemble the watch etc. I looked for the crystals and gaskets. I already have a spare Yuki DRSD dial and hands, so I figured I would use the one that I liked better. And I waited.
And so it arrives. Well packed, from the UK. Took about 12 days.
The seller specified that they would add an additional insert that was not as faded and an additional crystal that was not as domed as the one on the watch. I figured I would certainly keep the insert, because I like the bluish hue, but would swap in the less dial distorting Tropic 39 crystal (which I preferred). But I would only do this if the watch would not prove to be water resistant out of the box because then I would need to disassemble it anyway. Otherwise I would wear it for a while and then play around.
This reluctance to play with an acquisition is not usual. I suppose the price influenced this. I wanted to get some mileage out of the watch before I broke it and write off a substantial amount of money. I mean, with replicas you never know. Parts might fit, or they might not. The reps might accept genuine parts, or they might not. You remove a part of the case, relying on using a generic or genuine spare and it turns out that the Chinese folks have created a one-of-kind part that is just slightly different from all the parts you can source, and this rep has been out of production for years. And you are completely and royally screwed, because the part you removed is no longer fit for purpose (you broke or scratched or distorted it when you removed it). Sometimes it is better to be content with what you have. So, I figured I would wait to see how WR testing goes.
This is my pet peeve, by the way. I really, really dislike watches that have no water resistance. Especially diver’s watches. I mean, what is the point of this? You can only dive with them without getting them wet? I want, no ifs or buts, to be able to swim with my watches. Even if I take them off when washing dishes, I want this to be choice, not neccessity. I still want to be able to be caught in a downpour without immediately running for cover and spending the next few days cleaning and servicing the movement. I would find it hard to use Any watch as a daily beater without WR.
I opened the watch up. As advertised, it has a genuine ETA movement, originally from a Tissot watch. It was supposedly serviced a bit less than a year ago and changed to low-beat (21600 beats perhour; bps). The ETA 2834-2 that is used here runs at four ticks per second (that is 28800 beats per hour) out of the box. The DRSD originally ran at 19800 bps, but no movements now ticks that slowly. The best you could get is 21600 bps or 3 ticks per second. Therefore a valid argument would be that since the beat rate is incorrect anyway, one might as well go for 28800. The seller advertised this as a “modified” low beat (21600) movement. I went and read about this a bit and figured we shall see whether the movement will really be low beat and if it was, how well it behaves. It is possible to lower the beat of the ETA 28xx movements by replacing three specific parts, but that usually results in severely degraded performance and accuracy. I’ll need to see what is going on on the timegrapher. However, the good news is that dial feet positions and dimensions of the hands are the same across all the ETA 28xx and 29xx movements. So I could always swap the 2384-2 for a high beat ETA. I have at least three mint ones in my parts drawer at the moment. And about ten movements in various states of disrepair waiting to be seen to. Anyway.
The movement is out. I’ll grease the seals and put the case in the tester. In the mean time, I will check out the two dials I have, and pick one.
The watch is in the tester. Needs to be in for about 20 minutes or so. We’ll see how it goes. In the meantime, Let’s look at the dials.
Yuki on the left (I have the hands to go with it). The one previously inside the DRSD on the right. This is, reportedly an MBK dial, relumed by an accomplished relumer. It is true that the Yuki dial lume has no glow whatsoever. It is also true that the MBK has plenty. I am unsure whether this is ok or not. It is very convenient for me, because when I wake up in the middle of the night, I want to know what time it is, without turning on the light. It is not historically accurate, though. If this watch was actually 45+ years old, the lume would be shot. Anyway, for now, I prefer the MBK.
I tinker a bit, do some actual non-watch related work, and then submerge the case. The watch fails miserably. It does not blow the crystal, but it is not water resistant at all. Bubbles everywhere. Dang. Ok, I’ll swap the crystal then.
I dissemble the watch and it turns out it is actually quite like the genuine one (except the helium valve is just for show). I change the crystal, grease the seals with silicon grease, push in the bezel ring, put it into the water tester and there you go. We have a full crystal blow-out.
I dry everything out and look at my options. I figure there had to be some sort of gasket between the case and the crystal in the genuine watch. I look for gaskets and I do not have ones that would be tall enough. The thin ones just slide down with the crystal. Fairly pointless. By the way the inside diameter of the gasket that would fit should be 27.9mm, Should also be quite thin. And less than about 3 mm tall. I do not have a gasket like that, and I do want to wear the watch… I’ll glue the crystal in, but then source a new crystal and gaskets. So, when I wanna swap properly, I can.
Bezel completely disassembled. Notice that the bezel is not unidirectional as is usual on a modern dive watch. This is historically accurate. At that time neither the submariners or sea-dwellers did not yet have a uni-directional bezel. There is no clicking or anything of the sort. The more you distort the washer (seen above, on the top left), the harder it is to turn the bezel.
I begin by cleaning the old glue from the case. I use Goo Gone, which is totally amazing at this kind of thing. See the red arrows. This is the old glue. There is a groove on the outside of this rehaut (the steel rimg protruding from the case). I tried putting in a rubber gasket, but the crystal dislodged it.
I shall be using UV resin glue. This has several really cool features: It is completely transparent, and can be (and actually is) used to glue the cyclops on the crystal. Plus, before the uv light is directed at it, it is completely non-stick. This is awesome. you can position it at will and wipe of the excess and only then cure it. In case this was not already apparent, I really like UV glue.
Crystal positioned. Excess glue wiped off. Now to cure it.
The website says 5-20 seconds exposure to UV is enough. I did at least a minute, to be safe. The crystal does not seem to be moveable afterwards.
I push in the retaining ring and the bezel ring. Lube everything and in to the water tester it goes.
Where it fails. Again. However, not exactly as before. No bubbles emerge from around the crystal. but they do emerge from the crown. I take the case out. Re-lube the crown tube, change the seals, try again. No success. Still get a stream of bubbles from around the crown tube. When I take the watch out, it hisses, and when I unscrew the crown it shoots out! I give up for the day. Figuring it is splash proof, but not water-proof. I inwardly curse Athaya crowns. It also seems the tube is pushed in, not screwed in. It also does not have the rolex hexagon inside, so I cannot easily unscrew it. Damn.
Anyway. I can play about with the movement at the moment. I make a note on the inside of the case, that the watch is not water-resistant and turn towards the timeographer.
Well, this sucks. Low amplitude, three quarters of a minute per day slow. This is a total let down. It was advertised as “being serviced earlier this year”. Who serviced this? And why do they call it service? A watch that was probably not worn every day. I suppose this is the result of the transformation to low-beat. I’ll see what I can do.
Slightly better, but still very low amplitude. 180 degrees. What is this crap?
A bit more tinkering later. This is completely fine. +4s/d, 262 degrees amplitude and 0 beat error. What about face up?
I suppose it is ok. I mean it is all fine, except that the graph is all over the place (it should be two parallel, straight lines. There is substantial body of work describing how these timeographers work. This is out of scope for this post. Just trust me. The lines are not great, everything else is).
this is acceptable too, for crown left. Not brilliant because of the beat error, but otherwise ok.
In practice, it turns out that on the wrist, the watch is about 7 seconds fast per day. OK, I guess.
Here is the DRSD next to the current generation submariner (116610LN, Noob v7 case, gen crystal, Noob dial, ARF hands, VR3135 movement). Like long lost siblings. Funnily enough, they are both 40mm cases, but the sub looks far more substantial.
Oh well, time to resize the bracelet on the 1665, set the time, and be quietly annoyed about water-resistance.
During the night, it occured to me that I should use the UV glue on the crown tube too. Perhaps that would help. I will also change the seals on the crown and tube (Note to self: I need to buy spares).
See how crappy the old seals appear? all mangled up and thinned out. That sucks a bit. I’ll swap these later.
Clean out the gunk, the old silicon grease and glue residue. Clean completely with goo gone, then go over everything with alcohol.
Use an old needle to add the uv glue onto the crown. Liberally smear all over and then wipe up, before UV light hits it.
I put a little bit of tape under the bezel, so that I don’t glue the bezel to the case by mistake. Then the UV light.
I reseal everything, put in gaskets, add silicone grease and put the case into the WR tester.
This time it passes! Wooho! Water resistance restored. Can go swimming with it.
Now only two things remain. (1) One is to find whether another caseback that I have fits the DRSD (for reasons that will become clear shortly) and (2) polish the acrylic crystal with some Polywatch. I’ll need to do the (2) later (I just ordered some Polywatch online, but hasn’t arrived yet).
Why do I need to do (1)? Because I want to paint the caseback lettering and I would like to wear the watch in the meantime, while it dries (takes about 24 hours). I do not want to completely restore the black back
paint. That is not realistic on a 40 year old watch. I want to just add the flourishes.
A noob v7 116610 fits. Ok, then. Screw it on the 1665 and start painting the back.
And then set it to one side and let it dry. Will return to it on day 3.
The only thing I can do today is scrape off the excess paint and wear :).
This works for me. Not like new, but like a 40 year old watch (the serial number on the case dates it to 1979, so 40 years exactly in 2019). I might, at a later date, paint it some more, but for now I am content. Let’s finish this by a few wrist shots.