Tuesday, November 01, 2022

The New 2022 Rolex Deepsea Challenge in Titanium



...A New Rolex in Titanium

to Explore the Abyss...


"Explorer, this is Cab Three, starting our descent along the umbilical.
- Roger that, Cab Three. Good luck.
- Luck is not a factor.”

—The Abyss (1989)

"Luck is not a factor" is probably something Jean-Frédéric Dufour, CEO of Rolex, could say on the immense success his company has had under his tenure. After Omega released the Planet Ocean Ultra Deep in March, and Apple in September introduced us to the Apple Watch Ultra, it's now Rolex's turn to give us their most extreme watch ever offered to the public. It enlisted the help of filmmaker extraordinaire James Cameron.

Rolex released today a new Deepsea Challenge in all-titanium, touting the highest depth rating ever on a watch available for sale. At less than two months from the holiday season, this surprise drop feels very much like a Steve Jobs’s “One more thing.” 

Every year when I click through Rolex's website on release day, and perfect renderings of their nouveautées fill my screen, I have to admit, my pulse quickens a bit. As I click on each picture, I am probably making the same wide-eyed face as Mr. Cameron did on March 26, 2012, when he piloted a submersible alone to the bottom of the Mariana Trench, the deepest-known place on this planet. I am discovering something new — the birth of the next-level Rolex watch.

It's highly unusual for Rolex to make a second release event the same year; I can't find any such example in the past decade. So this is something very special. Or it's something we might see done more often in our digital world.

But today's drop can handle the pressure on its own. What we are seeing here is pure Rolex: the narrative is about ocean, dive, adventure, milestones and an Oscar-winning film director turned record-breaking oceanic explorer. He is presenting a watch with the highest depth rating ever to be available to the public: 11,000m (36,090ft). Straight from the headquarters of the most reputable brand in the world.

Water resistance has defined Rolex for almost a century. And, except for the Cellini, the word “Oyster” is now printed on all its dials, indicating your watch has a bezel, case back and crown that are hermetically screwed down against the middle case. Then we heard words like “Twinlock” and “Triplock” crowns, and the “Ringlock” system, innovations to protect further the inside of your watch.

The Rolex Deepsea Challenge unveiled today pays tribute to two historic dives into the Mariana Trench: that of oceanographer Jacques Piccard and U.S. Navy Lieutenant Don Walsh aboard the Trieste in 1960; and James Cameron’s solo descent in DEEPSEA CHALLENGER in 2012. Both expeditions took experimental Rolex watches with them.

The new Deepsea Challenge is engraved with the words “Mariana Trench” as well as the dates “23-01-1960” and “26-03-2012” on the case back. This is the most a Rolex design has ever paid tribute to its history. Sure, we’ve had “Air-King” in the old-style font or “Sea-Dweller” written in red letters, shy nods to the past. But never had Rolex engraved the case back with a historical reference. It is joining Omega in reminding the world of a watch’s professional accomplishments.

Omega released a watch earlier this year based on an Omega watch that went down to the Mariana Trench with Victor Vescovo in 2019. But the model available for sale to the public does not have nearly the resistance to make a trip down the deepest point on Earth, missing about 5,000m of water resistance. This is why the new version of the Rolex Deepsea Challenge is such a game changer. As Jake phrased it to me, it's the return of the King of the Deepsea. 

But while the Deepsea Challenge attached to the manipulator arm of Mr. Cameron’s submersible in 2012 was rated to an eye-popping 12,000m, I noticed the rating of the 2022 model had been reduced by 1,000m, to 11,000m. I asked Rolex the reason for the change. “The depth of 11,000 meters was chosen to be consistent with that of the Mariana Trench,” Rolex told me. “This choice also made it possible to ensure that the watch would have a reasonable size and guarantee its comfort to wear.” 

Rolex was able to reduce size and thickness to make it more wearable. The new Rolex Deepsea has a size of 50mm, a reduction of 1.4mm from its 2012 experimental version. 

While Rolex never publishes watch thickness on its website or brochures I was able to get the data straight from Geneva: The thickness of the Deepsea Challenge was reduced from 28.5mm to 23.3mm, or 18%, when compared to the 2012 experimental version.

Rolex also reminded me that the Deepsea Challenge was tested to an additional safety margin of 25%, meaning that it is subjected to a water pressure equivalent to 13,750m. (To test the waterproofness of each Deepsea Challenge, Rolex called an old friend, COMEX, and developed together the ultra-high-pressure tank.)

But the most glaring difference between the old and new version is the absence of a date window on the dial. This is the first watch from the Sea-Dweller family without a date complication. Rolex is using the 3230 calibre with the standard precision of –2/+2 seconds per day. I applaud the symmetry of the dial and more-professional look of the new watch, something I had argued for in September

Before I get to the most important part of this release — the alloy used to make the case  I want to quickly mention a design detail in the lugs I have not seen since the five-digit referenceschamfers. Chamfers are the polished edges of a lug, and they have been absent in Rolex modern cases. 

Rolex said because this Deepsea in titanium has a particularly visible grain in the satin finish on the case, it made the decision to chamfer and polish the top edges of the lugs to highlight the lugs’ curved profile. The Deepsea Challenge is now the only watch in the Professional line to have chamfers. Will we see more of them in future Rolex models?

The 2022 Deepsea Challenge is the first Rolex available to the public made in titanium, making the watch 30% lighter than the experimental model of 2012. Rolex admitted the experimental watch posed a wearability problem due to its weight, as it was made from 904L. Both case and bracelet of the new Deepsea Challenge are made in grade 5 titanium.

The 2022 Deepsea Challenge reference number is 126067, with the “7” indicating RLX titanium. The last digit of a six-digit reference always indicates the case material, and until today, we were missing a number. Rolex had left the “7” space blank.

0 – Stainless Steel
1 – Everose Rolesor (Stainless Steel and Everose Gold)
2 – Rolesium (Stainless steel and Platinum)
3 – Yellow Rolesor (Stainless Steel and 18k Yellow gold)
4 – White Rolesor (Stainless Steel and 18k White gold)
5 – Everose
6 – Platinum
7 – RLX Titanium
8 – 18k Yellow gold
9 – 18k White gold

A year ago I spotted competitive sailor Sir Ben Ainslie wearing a titanium Yacht-Master prototype and contacted Rolex and Sir Ainslie about it. But I was disappointed to see no titanium Rolex announced in the following Watches & Wonders. Today’s drop from Rolex was so important and held so many firsts the Maison did not want to dilute it with other releases. Watches & Wonders 2022 was about the air — the Air-King and the GMT-Master II with the crown on the left. 

Mr. Cameron is a month away from releasing the long-awaited sequel to “Avatar,” which heavily features underwater scenes. “Avatar: The Way of Water” is due in theaters Dec. 16, 2022, 13 years after the first installment. 

Why did he take him so long? Mr. Cameron told The New York Times he was "blowing off the movie for a few years while indulging his passion for deep-sea exploration." That's when he went down to the Mariana Trench, in 2012. Sigourney Weaver, one of the main characters in "Avatar," said she and the rest of the cast were concerned for his safety though maybe for selfish reasons. 

“We kept thinking, ‘I hope he survives to make a new movie,’” she told the Times

If Mr. Cameron is nominated for an Oscar, we'll see him again in March at the 95th Academy Awards in a familiar pose: A trophy in one hand, a Rolex on the wrist. 

Rolex told me the 2022 all-titanium Deepsea Challenge will be available for sale at launch and carry a price tag of $26,000.