The Owners Perspective: With The Rolex Sea-Dweller 50th Anniversary “SD43”

by Matt Clymo

Why I Bought It

  • It was different to a Submariner
  • I like slightly larger watches
  • All the Rolex heritage with a modern look

The Ownership Reality

  • It would help if you had a medium-sized wrist to pull it off
  • Not great with a suit and cuff
  • We need to part with over $4000 more to own vs a Sub with a date!

Overall rating: 8.25 /10

Value for money: 7/10

Wearability: 8/10

Design: 9/10

Build quality: 9/10

I was never a Rolex lover. There I said it. I thought Rolex was a brand for people that wanted to show off and tell people they had money and didn’t really know about watches. For some people, this is still probably the case, but this all changed for me many years ago once I started delving a lot more into the watch world, brands and their history, as well as their manufacturing techniques. And when I started researching Rolex a little, I started to understand just what made them tick, so to speak (yes, bad pun intended!) Now, I have a lot of respect for The Crown, what they stand for, and the processes and materials they use. The fact that they are one of the very few brands that develop and make their watches fully in-house, end to end, including metallurgists who develop the specific properties and proprietary blends of metals that go into them, including a foundry, I was a convert.

These days I see Rolex for what Hans Wilsdorf originally intended – a tool watch that is able to handle whatever you throw at them and is designed for specific industries and occupations. Whilst most of us will never dive to 1220m, it’s great to know that I could! But more realistically, I love the fact that I’m able to wear a Rolex around in the day casually, from heading to the beach to go surfing, playing with the kids in the sand, then heading out for dinner and still be wearing the same watch without missing a beat, all the while looking the part on my wrist in each of the aforementioned scenarios. And in my case, the watch in question is the Rolex Sea-Dweller 50th Anniversary, which came out in 2017, with the updated 3235 movement with 70hr power reserve, a bigger case and that classic red ‘Sea-Dweller” writing on the dial.

A nod to the original 1967 Sea-Dweller with the classic ‘Red Line.”

After a long three-year wait, I was finally given a chance to purchase the Sea-Dweller mid-last year through my AD, and whilst many others are lusting after Submariners, I loved the thought of the SD43, standing out from the sub crowd, so to speak!

Seven months on, and it’s still on the wrist, being worn more often than not, and standing up to whatever my life has thrown at it, and this is my experience…

How it wears

It’s the big question on everyone’s wrist; I mean lips. As the trend of watch sizes is getting back to a more reasonable 40 mm or so size, the Sea-Dweller at 43 mm is in the larger size. Couple this with the bulk due to its 1220m depth rating and Oyster case; on paper, it would suggest it’s bulky and not great wearing. However, it’s the complete opposite. Whilst it does wear slightly thick due to the raised caseback, making the whole case approx 15-16 mm thick (depending on the callipers or ruler used), it does actually sit well on the wrist. Adding to this the shorter lug to lug for this sized watch of 49mm with the tapered end links, it does hug the wrist nicely. Note, my wrist is about 18 cm / 7 inches in circumference on average, so not huge, but not overly small either.

The SD43 also comes equipped with the brushed steel Oyster bracelet, including the glide lock clasp and additional 5 mm divers extension to make it easy to adjust on the fly and also over a wetsuit. If I’m being totally honest, I removed the diver’s extension to get the exact right fit on my wrist, but as I’m not a diver, I’ve not missed it yet. The glide lock is great as my wrist does shrink and expand depending on the weather, and in summer, being hot and humid, my wrist can expand up to 1cm, so the ability to adjust a few clicks on those hot days makes a massive difference in the comfort levels.

The other fact that I do like is that Rolex’s designs are functional for the most part, meaning no superfluous things, like embossed case backs or weird screws and three-dimensional designs that irritate the wrist. Love that or hate that fact, it means that you have a perfectly smooth and flat surface to sit flush to the wrist, and unlike other sports watches, I’ve tried on and even owned, no irritation after hours of wear or on hotter days.

The Design

Classic sums up the SD43 design. Let’s face it, Rolex isn’t a brand that strays from tradition, which in my opinion, is one of the many reasons it’s stayed so relevant for all these years. Luxury brands are quite often timeless, and Rolex is no different. Over the years, they have upgraded their materials and innovated with metals and finishing to make a better quality product and more robust, but the essence of each line is more or less the same. Pick up a Submariner from the 60s and it looks very similar to today’s models. Even Tudor takes its design queues on the Black Bay 58, 41 Heritage and GMT from the original Subs of the ’50s. Put a Black Bay 58 next to a 1950’s Rolex Submariner, and other than the hands (snowflake vs Mercedes), the rest of the watch looks pretty much the same – oyster style riveted bracelet, big crown with no crown guard, small knurled dive bezel with graduated minute markers to 15 etc. But I digress…

The modern Sea-Dweller of today has taken its design queues from the original Sea-Dweller dating back to 1967 (hence the 50th Anniversary Edition), albeit now more modern, more robust and a bigger case design to assist in setting it apart from its smaller sister, the Submariner.

Place both vintage and new models together, and the similarities are obvious. Rolex has taken the ‘67 Sea-Dweller and basically given it an overhaul. Bigger, bolder, and more robust with everything we expect from modern materials – 916L Steel, Cerachrom bezel with Platinum inserts, the Chromalight lume and white gold hands and indices. As a nod back to the ’60s, Rolex re-introduced the Sea-Dweller in red on the dial, but only a single line compared to the 2-liner of the ’60s, letting you know it was a “Sea-Dweller Submariner”.

The 1967 Sea-Dweller (Left) vs The 50th Anniversary SD43 (Right). Image courtesy of Rolex

The other differences I’ve come to like are the minute markers on the dive bezel, allowing for slightly more accurate timing, setting the bezel design apart from the Submariner and the introduction of the Cyclops on the crystal – one design element that polarised Rolex lovers.  The original model never had the cyclops, and neither did the Sea-Dweller 116600 “SD4K” which enjoyed a limited run for three years leading up to the 2017 release of the SD43, now coveted by collectors worldwide. But my experience is this – it’s grown on me. I never liked the idea of the Cyclops lens over the date window, but after owning and wearing this for over seven months now, I must admit, I like it! Without the cyclops, the symmetry of the dial with the date window is slightly off, not quite balancing out the rectangular marker at 9 O’clock. The cyclops fixes this, making the date window bigger, balancing out the nine marker and doing what it’s meant to – making the date highly legible. Again, another aspect I’ve done a 180 degree on and turned into a convert!


Rolex is known for its accurate and sturdy movements. The 3235 is no different. A Superlative Chronometer running at -2/+2 seconds a day, adjusted in 6 positions and tested once cased to ensure this accuracy, has all the hallmarks of Rolex. The paramagnetic blue Parachrom hairspring makes it effectively a-magnetic, and the high-performance Paraflex shock absorbers mean that its high shock tolerance can handle some of those rougher activities you may engage in.

My experience with the movement is just as advertised. I’ve only had to adjust the time when travelling between time zones, and it has basically kept perfect time for as long as I’ve had the watch. At the time of writing this article, it’s running approximately 25 seconds fast compared to when I reset the time about four weeks ago, which I did so I could track the accuracy. So pretty damn good if you ask me. The only other watch I’ve owned that comes close to this accuracy was my Omega Seamaster Professional Diver 300, which is METAS certified and ran on average to about +1 second a day or so.

I’ll say I’ve never tested the 70-hour power reserve, so I’ll have to take Rolex on their word, but if my experience with the watch holds up to all other claims, then I’m inclined to believe this one as well. The longest I’ve had it off my wrist with no watch winder to keep it running is probably two days, and it was still running perfectly, so I can’t really comment or complain here. And let’s face it, for a watch of this quality and at the price point of just under $19,000 AUD; it had better have 70 hours in the tank!

Final Thoughts

One rule I live by when deciding on what watch to buy next, or if it’s replacing one in my collection, is this simple question: “If this is the only watch I had, and I had to wear it every day, would I be happy to do that?” If the answer is YES, then finances allowing, I get it. Interestingly, the state of play with Rolex over the past few years meant that up until recently, when ADs and boutiques started getting ‘Display only” models to try on, the ability to walk into a store and try it on and really see if the watch suited you was limited. In my instance, I was able to try on a two-toned version of the Sea-Dweller, but I’ve always found these look and wear bigger than their standard steel cousins. Thankfully, I tried to look past this and concentrated on the feel and how it wore for that 2 mins on the wrist, and when the standard model came in, the answer to THE question was yes!

So, wrapping up, if I had to purchase this watch again, I would. Is it perfect, no? But no watch is in my mind (I’m still 50/50 on the helium escape valve on the side as I think it detracts slightly from the polished case, but that’s just my opinion). It’s a great watch to wear casually and even dressing it up, but it may not be best for those more formal occasions, but steel sports watches, in general, are not. It could be a little thinner, maybe somewhere between this and the 12 mm of the Sub, but this is a minor quibble, and me being picky. 

The truth is, there is a place in the collection for both the Sea-Dweller as well as a Submariner, and maybe next time I’ll get the call for a sub-126610LV “Starbucks”, and I can compare both on their own merits, putting them through their paces equally. But for now, this will grace my wrist at least several days a week, in rotation with my other pieces, and most probably getting a greater share of wrist time. The SD43 is a modern take on a classic that’s had several iterations over the past 50 years, and whilst many purists opt for the SD4k, I feel in the years to come, the 50th-anniversary Sea-Dweller will be, in its own right, a classic collector’s piece.

A future modern classic? Only time will tell…

Reference: Sea-Dweller 126600


  • Case: 43 mm, 16mm thick and 49mm lug to lug at the taper
  • Case Material: Brushed Oystersteel
  • Dial: Matte Black dial with Chromalight indices
  • Crystal: Sapphire crystal with anti-reflective coating 
  • Water resistance: 1220 metres, screw-down triplock crown and oyster case
  • Movement: Rolex 3235 – automatic self-winding perpetual accurate to -2/+2 seconds per day
  • Power reserve: 70 Hours
  • Bracelet: Integrated steel bracelet interchangeable with dial matching blue rubber with quick change system
  • Warranty: 5 years factory warranty 


AVAILABILITY: See your local Rolex Authorised Dealer

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