Rolex describes its new release, the Deepsea Challenge, as “a watch that defies the limits.” That means the limits of depth and atmospheric pressure in addition to engineering, since the Deepsea Challenge is designed to be able to function up to 11,000 meters—almost 7 miles—underwater. But you’d be forgiven for concluding it means the depths of logic also. Rolex already offers a watch rated to 3,900 meters (the $12,950 Deepsea Sea-Dweller), which vastly outstrips the possibilities for human survival (the deepest-ever ocean outing for a saturation diver, in 1988, bottomed out at 534 meters). What, then, could be the rationale for almost tripling a capability that can only ever be experienced in theory, necessitating a watch so big that it pushes another limit—that of wearability?
The answer Rolex could reasonably give is: because it can. But also, because it had to. The Deepsea Challenge is the pinnacle piece in a succession of ultra-deep watches that began in 1960, when the company sent an experimental watch, the Deep Sea Special, attached to the Trieste bathyscaphe on its epochal descent to the bottom of the deepest place on Earth, the Mariana Trench in the Pacific, reaching a depth of 10,911 meters (the watch, sporting a huge, bulb-shaped dome of glass above its dial, performed perfectly).
In 2012, the filmmaker James Cameron made his own dive to the bottom of the trench in the Deepsea Challenger submersible, with another, rather more modern, experimental Rolex attached outside. In one sense, the new watch could be seen as a slice of unfinished Rolex business: Based on the watch that plumbed the depths with Cameron, it finally makes commercially available what was for six decades purely experimental. As an expression of engineering competency, that really can’t be beaten.
For a while, though, it looked as if it had been. Even if it invented the concept, Rolex is hardly alone in making barely fathomable depth capabilities of watches the ultimate technical flex. While a raft of brands offer watches with a rating of 1,000 meters or more, battle was truly joined by Omega in 2019 when it sent its own experimental Seamaster watch to the bottom of the Mariana Trench, affixed to the submersible of adventurer Victor Vescovo. Not only did this give Omega victory in having the deepest-traveled watch—reaching 10,916 meters, pipping Cameron (10,908 meters) by 8 meters—but Omega developed a commercially available model, too. The Seamaster Ultra Deep Pro, priced at £10,350 (around $11,883), arrived earlier this year, but with a depth rating of 6,000 meters—an achievement that Rolex has now trumped by almost double.