And just like that, 2022 turned into the “year of the extreme dive watch.” The arrival of Rolex’s Deepsea Challenge marks the second ’22 launch of a crazy diver based on a previous prototype. Omega’s Planet Ocean Ultra Deep bowed earlier this year and immediately supplanted the company’s own Seamaster 1200M “PloProf” as Bienne’s flagship diving watch. Let’s take a glance at what Omega and Rolex have created for collectors with big wrists and budgets to match.
First, we need to talk about Rolex. In 2012, film director James Cameron descended to the bottom of the Challenger Deep – the ocean’s deepest point – with a Rolex Deepsea Sea-Dweller on his wrist and a one-of-five Deepsea Challenge prototype on the exterior of his submersible. A decade passed, and it appeared as though the only substantive outcome of that publicity stunt would be the colorful Deepsea D-Blue subvariant. Not so! Rolex spent the subsequent decade developing its ultimate dive watch for commercial release.
At 50mm in grade-five titanium, the Rolex 126067 Deepsea Challenge marks the first use of such a material and such a size on a Rolex watch. Previously, the only titanium component on a Rolex watch was the Rolex Deepsea Sea-Dweller’s caseback. 2022’s $26,000 Sea-Dweller packs the model family’s historic helium gas relief valve for saturation divers, but it adds an unprecedented depth rating of 11,000 meters – and Rolex tests each example to 125% of that limit. Watch buyers who believe that more is never enough will thrill to the arrival of a 9.5mm thick sapphire crystal in the Rolex catalogue.
Rolex equips the Deepsea Challenge with a clasp that will be familiar to pre-2022 Deepsea Sea-Dweller owners. For reasons unclear, the 2022 Deepsea 136660 lost the traditional Fliplock dive extension. The 126067 retains both that historic diving gear and the brilliant on-the-wrist adjustable version of Glidelock seen on the Deepsea. Rolex specifies that this permits use over a 7mm thick diving suit, but the actual fit likely depends on additional factors such as the size of the diver’s actual wrist.
Not only is the new Deepsea Challenge a production realization of the James Cameron prototype, but it’s a true successor to the original Rolex Deepsea Special. Built in a few dozen examples during the 1950s and 1960s, the Deepsea Special was defined by its mammoth Plexiglas crystal and its successful January 1960 dive to the bottom of the Challenger Deep. Fun fact: that watch’s immense crystal inspired the later Corum Bubble.
It’s hard to describe any part of a 50mm watch as subtle, but the return of beveled lugs amounts to a poetic love letter to Rolex traditionalists. Retro-grouches may find additional succor in the choice of a no-date dial format. Rolex caliber 3230 provides 70 hours of power reserve, automatic winding, and a chronometer certification, but it bears no calendar complication… hooray?
Compared to Rolex, eternal rival Omega spent little downtime between 2019’s Seamaster Planet Ocean Ultra Deep Professional and 2022’s Planet Ocean Ultra Deep. To be fair, the rapid turnaround has less to do with Swatch Group’s technical muscle than the lower bar Omega set for its consumer-grade Ultra Deep.
While the 2019 Ultra Deep prototype bottomed in the Mariana Trench and boasted a ludicrous 15,000-meter depth rating, the production model of 2022 receives a 6,000-meter limit. While that’s outstanding by pre-2022 standards, it’s not the kind of stunt-level tech statement that Rolex has made. That said, a full-bracelet Ultra Deep in steel retails for $11,600, and the titanium model – available on strap alone – retails for $12,300. Entry-level is the $11,200 steel Ultra Deep on a rubber strap.
Like Rolex, Omega’s Ultra Deep largely abandons any small-wrist pretensions with a 45.5mm diameter and a 18mm+ thickness. Incredibly, this represents a serious improvement over the Ultra Deep prototype (28mm!) and Rolex’s 23mm Deepsea Challenge. Omega’s titanium case option helps to lighten the load, but its unique lugs mean it cannot be equipped with a bracelet.
Omega’s monster diver also appears to obviate the need for a helium escape valve by securing the watch against any helium intrusion in the first place. Anyone with a legitimate interest in saturation diving is advised to ensure the Ultra Deep receives frequent factory service to preserve such extreme hermeticity.
Rolex offers its Deepsea Challenge in one configuration, but Omega gives divers and desk divers alike more choice. First, the option of textile and rubber straps exists alongside a fine bracelet for steel models. White, grey, and two gradient dials are offered; blue, black, grey, and orange bezels can be ordered.
Omega’s movement is competitive with Rolex’s. The caliber 8912 is a no-date like Rolex’s 3230, and its automatic winding energizes a maximum power reserve of 60 hours. Unlike the Rolex, the Omega includes a mobile hour hand that can vary its position without stopping the watch or disrupting the position of the other hands; it’s useful for travel.
Omega’s 15,000+ gauss antimagnetic qualities likely outstrip Rolex’s resistance to magnetism under limited extreme circumstances. And Omega’s co-axial escapement offers no clear superiority over Rolex’s well-developed Chronergy lever escapement, but the co-axial’s exotic aura and George Daniels connection remain appealing.
Can’t get your hands on the latest Rolex diver? The next installment of this extreme diver review will explore older monster diving partners from Blancpain, Hublot, and others.