The 60s was the decade of exploration: of space, our psyche, our politics, and lesser known – the ocean floor. What does that have to do with Rolex? Everything. In conjunction with the U.S. Navy, diving legend Jacques Cousteau and COMEX, a French company specializing in deep water diving ventures, research was underway in discovering how humans could live in extreme ocean depths (1,000 feet below sea level) for an extended period of time without having to frequently come to the surface to decompress. During these submerging exercises, the divers breathed a gas composed of both helium and oxygen inside the sea dwellings—which proved successful in helping the divers avoid “the bends” (decompression sickness) after spending almost one month on the sea floor. This was a breakthrough in the world of deepsea diving and exploration, but one perplexing and cumbersome problem arose: when divers came to the surface, any excess helium that seeped into their watches would expand and blow the watch crystal clear off the timepiece, essentially destroying the watch.
Enter in Rolex. COMEX enlisted the company to tackle the problem, and they, in turn, expanded upon their already formidable Rolex Submariner, a diving watch that was the first of its kind to be water-resistant up to 100 meters (330 feet). (It must also be noted some experts say that although Rolex has received most of the credit for this invention, many concede the valve was also simultaneously invented by another Swiss watch company, DOXA, while yet others claim U.S. Navy SEALAB diver Robert Barth was responsible for the design.) The new Rolex product was called the Sea-Dweller, designed with a thicker crystal to combat pressure. In 1967, Rolex launched yet another Sea-Dweller model, fitted with an innovative helium escape valve. These watches could be used up to depths of 2000 feet. The Sea-Dweller was sold until 2007, after which it was discontinued in favor of the updated Rolex Sea-Dweller DeepSea. This monumental timepiece debuted in 2008 at the BaselWorld watch and jewelry show, and boasts a water resistance of up to a staggering depth of 3,900-meters.