In April 2016 Miltons was contacted by a friend in the watch trade who did not specialise in vintage Rolex.
He had a client, the former boss of a FTSE250 house builder, looking to sell a Rolex Sea-Dweller model 1665.
The 1665 was Rolex’s first Sea-Dweller model, first made in the late 1960s and found in many versions of varying levels of desirability, most often affected by the specific dial fitted.
The model number is found between the lugs at the 12 o’clock end of the case as shown here, (and inside the case-back, as illustrated later in this thread) :
Today we think of Rolex Sea-Dwellers as being distinct from Submariners and all other models in that they have a Helium Escape Valve (a feature designed to prevent explosion when surfacing after saturation diving). While there were a very, very few early 1665s Sea-Dwellers made without HEVs and there were conversely a small number of 5513 and 5514 Submariners made with helium escape valves for the French diving company COMEX, it is otherwise correct to say that in the late 1960s the 1665 introduced the HEV to the mainstream market.
In its early form, as shown below on this watch, it had quite a crude but effective design :
On the left hand side of the following image you can see what this basic, early HEV looked like on the inside of the case :
Let us turn to the feature around which so much interest always falls with this model : the DIAL. Can we tell what dial this watch would have been fitted with when new ? What can we say about the dial fitted in it now ?
Sea-Dweller 1665s with case numbers starting from around 535xxxx (circa 1977) up until the last examples with case numbers over 800xxxx were originally supplied with dials whose text was all white. Recently (perhaps also alluding to the model’s chunky case) these watches have become known to collectors as “Great Whites.”
This watch has all white text on its dial……but it is not a straightforward “Great White.”
Its case number is 40899xx (approx 1975 manufacture), as marked both between the lugs at six o’clock . . .
. . . and inside the matching case-back :
It is interesting to note that this case number puts our watch adjacent in manufacture to a batch of the extremely desirable SUBMARINER model 5514s which Rolex supplied to COMEX, that were so unusually fitted with similar HEVs.
Such a case number also shows that this watch precedes the “Great White” era and in fact belongs to a time when the dial fitted when it left Rolex Geneva would have been a “Double Red” — that is, with two lines of text in red writing as seen here on another of Miltons’ watches :
. . .whose dial text looks rather similar to what we can see in this 1970s Rolex main agent sales cue-card :
Our watch also has a case-back with the word ROLEX written in a straight line :
Our records (consistent with those of Ed Delgado, of whom you will read more below) indicate that ALL 1665s with straight ROLEX text on the case-back were originally supplied with red text on the dial. Later watches had the word ROLEX written in a curved shape to follow the line of the circular case-back and there was a transitional period in the early 5xxxxxx range of case numbers where 1665s with curved ROLEX text were also correctly fitted with Double Red dials, but from around 538xxxxx the switch to dials with all white text was complete.
When questioned about his watch, the former owner of our new purchase remembered the dial having had red text before it went for service at Rolex UK.
The watch’s case-back interior bears a Rolex UK service mark which is consistent with our database of their work and indicates that they serviced it in early 2004 :
It appears that significant work was carried out at this time. The Rolex 1575 calibre movement (with correctly marked “1570” bridge) would of course have been serviced as a pre-requisite :
You can see (below) the movement’s unique number, the prefix D indicating that it has the DATE complication.
It should be noted that it was not until the later 16660 model Sea-Dweller with its 3035 calibre movement that the Date function came with “quick-set” feature, so to change the date on this watch you simply turn the hands forwards or backwards 24 hours.
The watch was also fitted with a new 93150 Oyster Fliplock bracelet with 585 end links. These marks in the clasp show that it is a Service replacement that was manufactured in April ( 4 ) 2002 ( DT )
A thin-font service bezel insert was also fitted :
Finally, and most importantly, a service replacement dial and hands were fitted :
There are a number of ways to identify the dial for what it is. Note the simple “SWISS” text at the foot of the dial (rather than SWISS – T < 25), there being no luminous tritium used in such a modern part :
These modern, service parts saw tritium replaced with various alternatives such as Luminova. Here we show the dial excited under a UV lamp . . .
. . . and then immediately afterwards, the luminous parts retaining a clear, pale green glow for a short while.
We must point out that if this watch still had its original “Double Red” dial it would be worth a multiple of what we are asking now. It would be wonderful if a correct dial could be found, but that is extremely unlikely and it would still not be the original one for this watch, even if found in the correct variant.
Anyone interested in the Double Red 1665 and indeed the Great White 1665 which followed may like to visit the website of my personal friend Ed Delgado in Florida, whose research and classification of its variants is widely accepted as the go-to resource : here . It is an honour that I am credited as a contributor to his website — in fact, in relation to this very watch and dial !
© Haywood Milton, July 2023.
Miltons in Liverpool and Chester are always looking for interesting Rolex, especially rare professional or sports models from the 1950s to present day. Please feel free to email Haywood Milton with pictures and details of anything you might consider selling, on firstname.lastname@example.org