Life begins at forty for a legend
Let me say right now I wish I was 40 next year. Not for all the usual vain reasons of a desire to reverse the ageing process or because I particularly yearn to fulfil a uniquely vivid ‘bucket list’ of ambitions before it’s all too late. Truth be told, there is rarely a day goes by I don’t wish I was still ‘only’ forty, but for the last week or so that fervent longing has been stoked by the latest piece to cross my desk. I promised Mrs Watch Collector some time ago that I would stop collecting and concentrate on dealing and that nothing would dissuade me from my quest to share the extraordinary pieces that I’m lucky enough to come across. I meant it at the time, I really did.
"There is a symmetry to the face of the Mark ll, sharing as it does the same layout as the original Comex, which just feels absolutely right. The Rail Dial formation of text is, as far as I'm concerned, perfection and makes this particular Great White so rare a find."
But next year it is 2018. And that means it will be exactly 40 years since this rare example of a 1978 Rolex Sea Dweller Great White Mark ll Rail Dial watch was issued. This was probably the nascent moment for the Sea Dweller brand, the point at which this stunning series fully came out of the shadow of its forerunner the famous Double Red Sea Dweller (DRSD) which
bore the Submariner brand and the moment in my mind where the Sea Dweller became a separate entity to the Submariner. And all the better for it. If I was forty next year I might, just might, have a case for hanging on to this absolutely stunning piece of history. This is almost why I became a collector in the first place. But I’m not forty or a significant age of any kind. So
this is a review and an insight into my passion i’m almost hoping you don’t read!
It wasn’t a cheap watch to buy and it won’t be a cheap watch to sell. But these mark ll Great White Rail Dial (GWRD) pieces are, to my mind, the very best versions of the Sea Dwellers and, in my view, this is perhaps the very best example of that unique watch currently available in the UK today.
Bold claims I know. But consider the virtues of this particular variant and the fact that it has worn the last 40 years so lightly. (would that we could all make such a claim!). There is a symmetry to the face of the Mark ll, sharing as it does the same layout as the original Comex, which just feels absolutely right. The Rail Dial formation of text is, as far as I’m concerned, perfection and makes this particular Great White so rare a find. But lets not ignore the heritage of the Great White and pay full homage to its red brother the Submariner with which it shares the stunning caliber 1575 movement and case construction of the highest grade steel at the time.
A distinguished heritage
Yet what distinguishes the GWSD for me is the authentic heritage of its formation. I’ve always had a somewhat unhealthy obsession with authenticity. I think it’s what marks we collectors out from other (normal) people. But the development of the Sea Dweller which evolved from the Submariner as a direct result of the collaboration with French deep sea diving company
COMEX just screams authenticity and I love it for that reason. The Submariner had already carved a place in history as the definitive dive watch, but then Rolex just went and made it better!
The result was to take an icon in dive watches and develop the first commercially produced helium escape valve enabling this watch to be the first to gain a depth rating of 600m+ (2,000ft). Rolex understood the mechanics of diving to such great depths and how that affected the inner workings of a watch. These were literally, uncharted waters for not just watch makers, but human beings! The increased domed crystal and increased thickness of the marine grade steel was just the final dressing for what was, indisputably, the creation of a legend.
Function meets form – beautifully
And here it is now, sat on my desk (at sea level!) challenging me to send it on its way. Having worn it on a few occasions I can testify to the subtle differences of the Sea Dweller from the Sub. A slightly prouder profile and a little more substantial on the wrist. A fine hint of the practical tool about it and an insistence on use rather than fashion. The fact it remained practically unchanged for 30 years after being created should tell you everything you need to know about the Sea Dweller from a design and construction point of view. Why changed something that pretty much invented the concept of ‘doing the job’.
It will live at a dinner party or conference venue. It will glide effortlessly through corridors of power or international travel. But really this is a watch that wants to be sat in a decompression chamber at 2,000ft with men of action, ready to take on the most extreme environments imaginable. Perhaps at the end of the day that’s as good a reason to sell this watch. It deserves better!
"But really this is a watch that wants to be sat in a decompression chamber at 2,000ft with men of action, ready to take on the most extreme environments imaginable."