New Rolex Deepsea Challenge Touts Titanium Case, Ultra-Deep Bona Fides

In a surprising move this morning Rolex, along with filmmaker/adventurer extraordinaire James Cameron, revealed a new Deepsea Challenge in the reference 126067. Rolex enthusiasts will immediately notice something new about that number, and that’s the 7 at the very end. That last digit denotes the case material, and until now a 7 has never been used. That’s because this watch represents the first commercially available Rolex crafted from titanium. That may be a first, but this really is a reference that celebrates the past in a way rarely seen from the brand. That said, the most exciting details of this watch are what it might say about future releases. 

The first Deepsea Challenge was used 10 years ago when it accompanied Mr. Cameron to the Mariana Trench some 36,000 feet under the surface of the Pacific ocean, and this latest reference pays tribute to both that journey, and the same one made in 1960 by oceanographer Jacques Piccard and U.S. Navy Lieutenant Don Walsh. Both the 1960 trek, made within a vessel called the Trieste, and the 2012 expedition within the vertical Deepsea Challenger, took Rolex watches along for the ride, and not just on the wrists of the occupants. Each had prototype watches strapped to the exterior of the vessels used for the descent. They would go on to survive the plunge. An impressive flex to be sure, but one with little implication to the watches we wear day and day out.

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The caseback of the new Deepsea Challenge features the dates of each of those dives: “23-01-1960” and “26-03-2012” as well as the words “Marianas Trench”. A more direct nod to history on a modern Rolex escapes me, going well beyond a color choice or font selection. Fittingly, the depth rating of the new Challenge is a staggering 11,000 meters, or 36,090 feet. This is 1,000 meters fewer than the watch used in 2012, but the compromise allows for a more “wearable” case. Wearability is subjective within the realms of tools engineered to withstand the kinds of extremes that this watch is, and indeed the watch measures 50mm in diameter, which is about 1.5mm fewer than the prototype. Paired with the use of titanium, which grants a 30% weight savings over the prototype, you could indeed argue this watch is more wearable. 

The 126067 gets all the Rolex bells and whistles that we’ve seen in their deepest divers for years now. The Ringlock case architecture allows the watch to withstand enormous pressures, while the helium escape valve allows gas to escape from the watch during a diver’s decompression phase in a hyperbaric chamber. A Triplock crown provides three sealed zones around the crown stem (two interior, and one within the crown) for peace of mind. On the bracelet you’ll find the Glidelock system within the clasp and a Fliplock expansion for fitment over a dive suit. 

All that’s well and good, but ultimately far from the day to day practicality we enjoy in other Rolex tool watches. As impressive as the stat sheet of this reference may be, I certainly don’t require things like a helium release valve or 11,000 meters of depth resistance. I’d wager that you don’t, either. But there are a small handful of details about this watch that have me excited for future releases from the brand. We’re talking Rolex here, so nothing all that shocking, but if you’ve got a soft spot for the brand, there are a few takeaways from this watch that should have you excited.

The first and more prominent detail about this release (other than its extreme capabilities) is the use of titanium. Rolex is labeling it RLX titanium, though they refer to it as a grade 5 titanium alloy. This generally consists of 6% aluminum, 4% vanadium, and trace amounts of iron, and is able to withstand a broad range of environmental factors (such as seawater). It’s got a high strength to weight ratio and a host of other benefits that make it a great candidate for an over-engineered dive watch like this. This may be a first for Rolex, but they are far from the first to build a watch of the stuff. What makes RLX titanium different from other Grade 5 titanium? If there is any special sauce to this alloy Rolex hasn’t shared any of those details. 

This is the first commercially available titanium Rolex, but it is not the first they’ve produced. Last year, Sir Ben Ainslie was spotted wearing a yacht-Master 42 with a titanium case that many speculated we’d see released at Watches & Wonders earlier this year. That of course didn’t happen, but the fact that Rolex was dabbling in titanium at all was out of the bag, and it was presumably only a matter of time before we’d see it enter the realm of their production references. Now that it’s here in this reference, it seems a safe bet that we’ll see it used in more approachable references in the near future. This is a brand notorious for taking their time in making deliberate changes, and while I don’t expect there to be a titanium Sub and Explorer alongside their steel counterparts, I do think we’ll see it slowly brought into the equation in the coming years. 

Due to the graining of the titanium, Rolex have brought back a familiar looking chamfer along the lug line to bring some contrast to the case. The chamfer is of course a famous detail found on vintage and neo-vintage references, and its use here could indicate a return to that design language that would undoubtedly be a welcome addition to their more beefy modern lug design. On a similar note, the dial appears to be matte black, a hallmark of vintage (but not too vintage) references that reads very differently from the high-gloss pieces we see now.

Finally, this is the first Sea-Dweller of any kind to ditch its date complication. A small thing, but sets a precedent for the collection that could make way for a dateless variant of the 43mm 126600 (a 124600?). That means this reference is using the Rolex caliber 3230, their latest dateless movement that gets 70 hours of reserve and their ‘superlative chronometer’ rating, or +/- 2 seconds per day of accuracy. 

Testing apparatus developed with the help of COMEX

These small details are likely the most exciting elements to come from today’s release. That’s not to diminish the impressive engineering present in this watch, and I’d say the same for the recent Ultra-Deep watches released by Omega. They are immensely impressive, if ultimately beyond the abilities of the average user. But reading between the lines here, there’s plenty to be encouraged by with this release, and even more fodder with which to speculate future releases. That is, if you’re a Rolex enthusiast already. I don’t see this watch winning over many new converts to the brand, especially in light of its $26,000 price tag. 

Learn more about the new Deepsea Challenge from Rolex and James Cameron, along with a look back at his remarkable trip to the ocean’s deepest point.

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Blake is a Wisconsin native who’s spent the past decade covering the people, products, and brands that make the watch world a little more interesting. Blake enjoys the practical elements that watches bring to everyday life, from modern Seikos to vintage Rolex. He is an avid writer and photographer with a penchant for classic cars, non-fiction literature, and home-built mechanical keyboards.
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