James Cameron Took a Rolex Into the Mariana Trench. It’s Now Ready for Weekend Wear

Rolex’s sea monster of a diving watch, the Oyster Perpetual Deepsea Challenge, is here.

Article by Luke Benedictus

James CameronJames Cameron with equipment from his record breaking journey. Photography by Duncan Cole.

Rolex’s Oyster Perpetual Deepsea Challenge is a significant release for multiple reasons, but the real headline-grabber is its record-breaking depth rating. It’s water-resistant to a mind-boggling 11,000 metres, which is about as deep as anyone can go on this planet.

The world’s most remote subaquatic location is, after all, the Mariana Trench, which lurks 11,034 metres below the Pacific Ocean’s waves. To put that into perspective, if you set Mount Everest at the bottom of the trench, the peak would be two kilometres below sea level.

The watch is essentially a civilian adaptation of the prototype that Rolex made for the film director James Cameron’s historic deep-sea adventure. In 2012, the maker of the Avatar movie series completed a solo dive into the Mariana Trench in a submersible and Rolex attached an experimental version of the watch to the outside. A decade later, the Deepsea Challenge is now available to buy. 

The main reason the timepiece can survive such terrifying depths is due to Rolex’s patented Ringlock system. This consists of an inner ring made from stainless steel that’s sandwiched between the crystal and the caseback. Designed to reduce stress on the case, it moves pressure away from the crystal at depth and locks it into the ring (hence the name). 

Given such hardcore durability, the Deepsea Challenge is not a slinky watch that will slide under the cuff of a dress shirt. It measures a whopping 50 millimetres in diameter and is 23 millimetres thick — of which, the sapphire crystal comprises 9.5 millimetres. This makes it the biggest watch that Rolex has ever made commercially.

Oyster Perpetual Deepsea Challenge
The Oyster Perpetual Deepsea Challenge, $36,700, rolex.com. Photography by Alain Costa.

These titanic proportions lead to another point of interest: the Deepsea Challenge is also Rolex’s first all-titanium watch. It’s made of Grade 5 titanium, an alloy that includes aluminium and vanadium. This choice of material makes sense given the watch’s hulking size. Titanium is about 40 per cent lighter than steel and prevents the timepiece from becoming a wrist-bound anchor that would drag you towards the ocean floor. Instead, the Deepsea Challenge weighs a surprisingly manageable 251 grams.

Titanium is the logical material to use, and the fact that Rolex has finally conceded this illustrates a broader horological trend. The metal offers manifold benefits to a watchmaker, being lightweight, strong and corrosion-resistant. But the luxury watch world has taken a while to fully embrace it. This hesitancy may stem from a belief that consumers are psychologically attuned to associating weight with quality. Not only do we talk about “light entertainment”, “heavy hitters” and “weighty matters”, psychology researchers from the University of Amsterdam have conducted studies that show how the weight of an object affects our perception of its importance. 

Recently, however, the watch sector seems to be shaking off this prejudice. One of the most well received watches of 2022 came from the Rolex stablemate Tudor in the form of the Pelagos 39, another titanium dive watch. Meanwhile, some of the most prestigious brands around — A Lange & Söhne, Audemars Piguet and Patek Philippe — have delivered titanium releases in the past year. That Rolex, the world’s biggest watch brand, is ready to join the party is proof of titanium’s acceptance. The watch world, it seems, is finally ready to lighten up.

This is an extract from an article that appears in print in our eleventh edition, Page 44 of T Australia with the headline: “Deep And Meaningful”