Wednesday, February 13, 2019

PBS American Experience SEALAB Documentary

Note: I plan to keep working on this story until I feel it is complete at which time I will remove this notice.


PBS American Experience Documentary


The full-length PBS American Experience Documentary aired last night at 9PM PST in the United States. This documentary was really special for me as I was interviewed for it and contributed my research knowledge including photos. From what I understand this documentary is only viewable online if you are located in the United States, so if you can't watch it, I will do my best to share the Rolex relevant details. If you are located in the U.S. hit the play button and enjoy!!!

I thought the documentary was GREAT!!! It was extremely immersive and offered tremendous context, and as I have said so many times, "Context gives context meaning." I am already in my second decade of researching the SEALAB story and the PBS Documentary made many things clearer—particularly with timeframes. I intend to make this article my Definitive SEALAB article that puts many of the final puzzle pieces in place. I realize this is probably going to take me weeks, if not months to complete as I have so much information to add to this story.


Scott Carpenter was one of the Aquanauts involved in the SEALAB 2 Mission, and in the photo below we see Scott in 1970 wearing his Rolex SEA-DWELLER. If you look closely you will notice Scott wore his Submariner and SEA-DWELLER on a black diving strap which included a depth-gauge, as was customary for many of the SEALAB divers.

 "The Rolex Submariner & Rolex SEA-DWELLER have a cachet that is unmatched by any other watch. The Rolex brand is the most highly respected in my book. The Rolex Submariner was the preferred diving watch for U.S. NAVY SEALAB Divers." –Scott Carpenter

U.S. Navy SEA-LAB Aquanauts: Bob Barth, Wilbur Eaton & Scott Carpenter
Team 1 Preparing To Dive Down To SEA-LAB 2 Habitat [August 28, 1965]

Below we see a 1967 Rolex Submariner magazine ad which was published during the U.S. Navy SEALAB program. This is the closest vintage magazine ad I am aware of Rolex advertising the Submariner in relation to a Submarine Captain. Notice the text in the ad reads:

"You're looking at the Rolex Submariner. For many years, it's been standard gear for SUBMARINERS, frogmen and all who make their living on the seas."


This next set of images is really interesting to me. This footage shows Walt Mazzone welcoming the SEALAB 3 team members as they leave the decompression bell after the mission ended. 

I interviewed Walt Mazzone in 2010 and he mentioned he had a single red Rolex Submariner 1680, which this could be. If its not a Rolex Submariner Reference 1680 it would likely be a 5512 or 5513. I just went through my archives and found my interviews with Walt Mazzone which I plan to publish soon :-)

Rolex developed the SEA-DWELLER with SEALAB Aquanaut Bob Barth who is pictured below at the first Aquanaut to come out of the decompression chamber and we know he was wearing a Single Red SEA-DWELLER Prototype which you can see on his wrist.

The second Aquanaut who is behind Barth is also wearing a Rolex SEA-DWLLER from what I can see of the photo as it features all the tell-tale characteristics.

The third aquanaut to leave the chamber is Blackburn who also appears to be wearing a Rolex SEA-DWELLER.

The next image below was taken in the SEALAB 3 Habitat and shows Bob Barth on the right and Barry Cannon on the left checking his Rolex Submariner, or more presumably his prototype Rolex SEA-DWELLER. This image was taken hours before the accidental and terribly tragic death of Barry Cannon.

The image below is from the SEALAB Documentary and shows a SEALAB underwater photographer wearing a Submariner. There are no cyclops lenses on any of these watches as Rolex did not add the date to the Submariner until the Submariner Date was released in 1969.

The photo below is from Bob Barth's personal collection, and we see Bob located in the back row in the center, standing up with the tattoos on his arms. Notice Bob Barth and Barry Cannon (front row on far left) are wearing Rolex SEA-DWELLER prototypes in the photo. Blackburn, Myers, Reaves and Heller are wearing Doxa Diver models.

The Cousteau Connection

The only thing I didn't like about the SEALAB Documentary was I thought the it could have easily been two hours long. Also, it really glossed over Jacques-Yves Cousteau and his son, Philippe Cousteau's contribution to SEALAB, as well as Dr. Bond's contribution to CONSHELF. In this story I hope to clarify and put those final pieces of the SEALAB puzzle together. Ironically, it was Jacques-Yves Cousteau who first turned Scott Carpenter on to the U.S. Navy SEALAB program while Scott was still at NASA.

Let's take a look at the three high-res screen grabs below from the SEALAB documentary which show footage from Jacques-Yves Cousteau's 1966 Academy Award winning Documentary named "World Without Sun." The first thing we see is that Jacques-Yves is wearing what has all the telltale signs of being a Rolex Submariner 5512 or 5513 as seen in the three pictures below.

Cousteau wearing this Submariner is something I first documented a decade ago in 2009, but with these new images we can see more detail, which is great.

I would not call this evidence unequivocal, but I would say there is a 99%+ chance it is a 5512 or 5513.

It is an established fact Jacques-Yves Cousteau wore a prototype Rolex Submariner in 1953 which his Calypso team tested for Rolex and we see Commander Cousteau in the image below wearing his Submariner in 1953. This photo was taken 13 years before the photos above, so I doubt it is the same Submariner model.

The close up photo above of Jacques-Yves Cousteau shows him wearing an early Rolex Submariner with pencil hands that looks like the similar vintage model seen below.

The document below confirms Jacques-Yves Cousteau and his team were testing Rolex Submariner prototypes in early 1953.

The letter below is from Jacques-Yves Cousteau to William Culpepper regarding the design of the SEALAB II habitat with recommendations from J.Y.C.

The drawing below shows Jaques-Yves Cousteau's recommendation for the layout of the SEALAB II habitat. Special thanks to my right hand man, Jose from for providing these historically significant images which he got when he traveled to Panama City in Florida to the SEALAB Museum.

In the next image below we again see Philippe wearing his Rolex SEA-DWELLER.

 The photo below, is of Jacques-Yves Cousteau's son, Philippe Cousteau, and it was taken while he was preparing for a dive during SEALAB III. 

Notice the dive assistant pictured on the left is wearing a Rolex Submariner.

Philippe Cousteau's Double Red Patent-Pending SEA-DWELLER is pictured below in a recent photo from an Antiquorum Auction. The caseback on this watch has an interior date stamp from the fourth quarter of 1967 that reads IV.67, with the serial number of 1,602,920. Philippe Cousteau's Rolex SEA-DWELLER sold on September 30, 2014 for $183,750 @ Antiquorum Auction House in New York. It is believed, based upon its serial number, this watch likely began its life as a Single Red-Sea-Dweller that ended up getting its dial replaced with a double red device dial.

In this next photo from the PBS Documentary we see another SEALAB Topside team and we see Morey wearing a Submariner.

The Special Thanks screenshot below is from the end of the SEALAB Documentary and you will notice my name on the list which is really cool as I shared everything I could with their production team.