Rolex Predictions 2024: The Sea-Dweller's Return To 40mm

Rolex Predictions 2024: The Sea-Dweller's Return To 40mm

It’s hard to believe that almost seven years have passed since Rolex released the Sea-Dweller ref. 126600. This generation ushered in a larger 43mm case diameter, cyclops date lens, and for the first time since the 1970s, red dial text. With the exception of a two-tone variant in 2019, we haven’t seen any amendments to the core Sea-Dweller line since its 2017 refresh, and frankly, no one is complaining. This is by most accounts a stellar iteration of Rolex’s deep-diving chunker. That said, there’s part of me (my wrist, to be specific) that would greatly appreciate a smaller size. After all, every preceding Sea-Dweller measures just 40mm across. Would Rolex go back to this OG diameter? It’s definitely not far-fetched, especially as an added option alongside the current 43mm version. One of Rolex’s 2023 releases points to a potential shift toward size optionality.

Pick a Size, any Size (Probably Just 2, Actually) 

Rolex Explorer 36mm vs. 40mm

Image Source: Rolex Forums

Rolex’s recently-renovated Explorer collection – now offered in a traditional 36mm as well as a “modern” 40mm – is the result of 13 years of tinkering. In 2010, Rolex dramatically increased the Explorer’s 36mm diameter to 39mm: the only size change in the model’s 56 years of existence. This change was very unlike Rolex. The brand is famous for their slow-and-steady approach to design evolution, especially within their core collection. In 2021, the brand effectively changed their mind, returning to a 36mm Explorer. While this flip-flop could easily be perceived as indecision, it was more so a result of industry trends (which, to be fair, Rolex doesn’t usually fall victim to). The 2000s and 2010s will undoubtedly go down as “the big watch era” thanks to brands like Panerai and Hublot. However, trend or not, the big watch era isn’t over: at least amongst buyers. By introducing a 40mm Explorer alongside the 36mm version, Rolex showed us that real markets exist for both sizes.

With the modern Sea-Dweller, Rolex could skip the line, so to speak. Learning from their 13 years of back-and-forth with the Explorer’s sizing, they may as well just introduce a traditional 40mm Sea-Dweller alongside the current 43mm version. Before you say it in the comments – yes – this would be a move in the opposite direction as the Explorer. Why would Rolex decrease the size of the Sea-Dweller if they chose to increase the size of the Explorer? At the end of the day, all paths lead to optionality, and as Malaika Crawford points out, proportionality. By offering multiple sizes within one model, brands not only make watches accessible to more people, they save themselves the time, money, and effort associated with aligning diameters to the “en vogue” size of the moment.

What Would an Updated Rolex Sea-Dweller Look Like?

Rolex Sea-Dweller 126600

Image Source: Monochrome Watches

I truly don’t think much will change here, nor do I want it to. The ref. 126600 pays homage to the Sea-Dweller’s history with its eye-catching red text. It integrates Rolex’s modern design elements like the Cerachrom bezel, super case, and maxi dial proportions without presenting as a whole different watch. It marries the iconic cyclops lens with one of the Rolex's beloved models. Sure, I’d love to see a return to the slimmer lugs, smaller indices, and an aluminum bezel, but that's obviously out of the question (and what Hidden Gems is for). Aside from a 40mm case, proportionally-sized dial furniture (I’ll leave those specifics to IDGuy), and the obligatory mechanical upgrade from the caliber 3235, a new 40mm Sea-Dweller shouldn’t change that much.

Will We See A New Rolex Sea-Dweller in 2024?

Rolex Sea-Dweller ref. 126600

Rolex Sea-Dweller 126600 on Curved-End Rubber Strap

As I’ve written upwards of 20 times since February, no one knows what Rolex will release this year. More accurately, no one ever knows what Rolex will release at any given time. Secrecy is their superpower and they’re really (really) good at it. Don’t believe the “leaks”: they happen every year and they're never real. Whether or not a 40mm Sea-Dweller comes out this year, you won’t be able to get one. The point of this article isn’t to guess a release date, but to observe and question Rolex’s release strategy. Their decision to offer the Explorer in two sizes is a historically-significant one. I find it hard to believe that this sort of optionality will start and end with the Explorer. A 40mm Sea-Dweller is a great opportunity to capitalize on this approach, and I hope to see one this spring in Geneva.

Header Image Source: Hodinkee

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