Swimming With a Gold Rolex? It's More Common than You Think

Swimming With a Gold Rolex? It's More Common than You Think

Rolex’s new yellow gold Deepsea was met with mixed reactions. Pricing aside, many questioned the practicality of solid gold deep-diver. Honestly, I don't blame anyone for raising this question. When I picture a hyper-capable dive watch, I picture one in steel or titanium. These metals are often associated with utility while gold is almost exclusively viewed as luxury. However, when it comes to swimming and diving, some simple science and a few notable figures put this notion to rest. Before getting to the fun bits (those notable figures I mentioned), let’s go over the science behind taking your gold Rolex (or any other watch) for a dip.

Can You Swim With a Gold Watch? (And Should You?)

Rolex Gold Deepsea

The simplified answer is yes. As the noblest metal on the periodic table, pure gold is among the least reactive metals there is. Oxygen and water pose virtually no risk to pure gold. In clean water, gold will not tarnish nor will it rust. That said, most watches aren’t made of pure gold and most bodies of water are not clean. Gold watches are made of alloys containing metals like silver and copper. These metals are much more susceptible to corrosion than pure gold. Furthermore, if you’re swimming in a chlorinated pool, your gold watch is exposed to a suite of chemicals that are far more reactive than just water. While gold is still somewhat resistant to chlorine, it will have a tougher time in a pool than it will in the ocean.

In short, you should probably only swim with watches made of high-gold-content alloys (18k), and depending on the water you’re swimming in, you might want to give your watch a rinse afterwards. But don’t take science’s word for it (something I’ve never said and will never say again); some of the most important figures in diving perpetually wear gold Rolexes. 

Bret Gilliam and his Gold Rolex Submariner ref. 1680

Bret Gilliam and his Gold Submariner

Image Source: Hodinkee

Bret Gilliam was a true pioneer in the world of diving. For decades beginning in the early 1970s, Gilliam dedicated his career to advancing SCUBA safety techniques and making the sport widely-known and accessible. He’s one of the most prolific authors and photographers in diving history, authoring or co-authoring 72 books on the topic and upwards of 1500 articles. The man is a legend, and if you’re interested in his story, you need to read Cole Pennington’s The Man With The Golden Sub (linked above).

Bret Gilliam's Gold Sub

Image Source: Hodinkee

In 1980, Rolex offered Gilliam a discounted 18k gold Rolex Submariner ref. 1680, the first Submariner reference available in gold. Rolex offered Gilliam the discount so he would wear the watch in an upcoming documentary on humpback whales. Needless to say, Gilliam took them up oin the deal. However, he didn’t just wear the gold Sub for the movie; he put it through the wringer for decades to come. This gold Sub survived a shark attack (with a bezel chip to tell the tale, pictured in the header) and accompanied Gilliam on two record-setting deep dives breathing compressed air (1990 and 1993). While he's now known as the man with the golden sub, there's another person out there that frequents the Ocean in a gold Rolex.

Dr. Sylvia Earle and her Gold Rolex Datejust ref. 178248

Sylvia Earle Gold Datejust

Image Source: Jason Heaton via Hodinkee

Dr. Sylvia Earle is yet another legend, not just in the world of diving, but the world at large. The marine biologist has made countless discoveries to help further our understanding of marine life. Earle's advocacy work has made a permanent impact on ocean conservation. She is, in many ways, the face of marine conservation.

Earle was named the first-ever Time Magazine Hero for The Planet in 1998. She founded Mission Blue in 2008: a non-profit dedicated to conserving and exploring our ocean’s ecosystems. She received the TED Prize in 2009, multiple Lifetime Achievement awards, and two honorary doctorates. She’s been inducted in the National Women’s Hall of Fame and Diving Hall of Fame. There’s quite literally not enough time in the day to fairly sum up Dr. Earle’s accomplishments as a scientist and conservationist; I urge you to read more on her work.

Sylvia Earle Diving in Gold Rolex Datejust

Image Source: Jason Heaton via Hodinkee

Dr. Earle began diving in 1951 and still dives to this day. In an interview for ScubaPro, Earle famously said “I still breathe, so of course I still dive”. Having witnessed the sport’s evolution over more than half a century, Earle has also witnessed the evolution of dive watches as we know them. However, as of 2017, her go-to dive watch is what most would consider a dress watch: the 18k yellow gold Datejust ref. 178248. Thanks to Jason Heaton's 2017 dispatch from Cabo Pulmo (linked above), where he dove with Sylvia Earle, we have pictures of the Datejust in question.

Sylvia Earle's Datejust and Jason Heaton's Sea-Dweller

Image Source: Jason Heaton via Hodinkee

The watch on the left is Sylvia Earle's Rolex Datejust 31 arabic-dial in 18k gold (ref. 178248). The watch on the right is Jason Heaton's borrowed Rolex Sea-Dweller ref. 126600. According to Heaton, Earle looked at his Sea-Dweller and said, while wearing her Datejust and a dive suit, "Ah, you're wearing the real thing . . . I've got a couple of those . . . I wear mine on expeditions,". I absolutely love this story. Dr. Earle dives so frequently that she only pulls out a proper dive watch for expeditions. The gold Datejust is just fine for everything else.

Once again, if a gold Datejust is good enough for Sylvia Earle, you can probably take a dip in your new Gold Deepsea.


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