The Rolex Sea-Dweller 4000 (116600) has the Hallmarks of a Future Collectible

Posted by Charles Tian on September 30, 2019

What makes a watch collectible? Certainly brand equity, rarity, and history are part of the story. Design and collector tastes also play a role. Many times, it is the unique combination of such factors that apply to a particular model that make it viable as a long term store of value. Such is the case, I believe, for the Rolex Sea-Dweller 4000 reference 116600.

I’m far from the first to make this case, as the Sea-Dweller 4000 has seen a surge in collector interest in recent years. However, this interest and the resulting growth in valuation is not necessarily retained over the long term as collectors’ tastes change and fads go in and out of style. To understand why the Rolex 116600 is more than just a flavor-of-the-month, we must evaluate the model’s position within the Sea-Dweller’s lineage and Rolex’s overall lineup.

The Sea-Dweller 4000 reference 116600 was a short-lived model that spanned just three production years, between 2014 and 2017. It was preceded by the reference 16600, which had a long production run from 1989 to 2009. It was succeeded by the present-day Sea-Dweller 43, reference 126600.

Concurrently, these Sea-Dweller models were also produced alongside the chunkier and more robust Deepsea references. The Deepsea 116660 was produced starting from 2008, and replaced by the 126660 in 2018.

So across all these modern Sea-Dweller models, what makes the Sea-Dweller 4000 stand out? First, of course, there is the factor of rarity. Rolex has a very concise model lineup compared to other mainstream competitors such as Omega and Breitling. They also do not lightheartedly refresh that lineup; as mentioned above, the predecessor reference 16600 was produced for 20 years (albeit with small updates throughout that time) before it was discontinued in 2009. A modern Rolex with a three year production period is rare indeed.

Just as importantly, I would also argue that from a design standpoint, the Sea-Dweller 4000 is the quintessential modern Sea-Dweller. And with the Sea-Dweller being Rolex’s toughest, most robust, and water resistant collection, perhaps even the quintessential modern Rolex.

Here’s the crux of it: the Sea-Dweller 4000 is the last Sea-Dweller that retains the traditional design language defined by its predecessors. Most obviously, it is the last Sea-Dweller with a 40mm case – the new 126600 has grown to 43mm and also gained a half millimeter in thickness, a controversial move that frankly makes the watch unwieldy on many wrists.

It is also the last Sea-Dweller without a cyclops magnifier over the date window – a way to distinguish it over a Submariner-with-date and a better design decision in my opinion; one cares much more about the time than the date when diving to great depths.

The new 126600 has many collectors hesitant over its controversial shift away from classical Sea-Dweller design, with its larger case size and cyclops date window. Further sweetening the package of the 116600 Sea-Dweller 4000 are modern luxuries such as a Cerachrom ceramic bezel, Maxi dial, Glidelock clasp, and Chromalight lume. Put it all together, and you get a watch that receives the approval of the purists while also offering modern Rolex quality and amenities. Or, as one might say, the quintessential modern Sea-Dweller.

Rolex Sea-Dweller 4000 price trend, 30-day moving average

So far, the market seems to agree. Although the watch originally retailed for $10,400, prices on the secondary market fell quickly to the mid-$7000s while the watch was still in production. Many felt the Sea-Dweller 4000 did not do enough to distinguish itself from the Submariner. However, opinions quickly shifted once the watch was discontinued and the new 126600 was announced.

Currently, the market value has nearly doubled from its lowest point and the watch is trading above its original MSRP. You can find more market information on the Sea Dweller 4000, complete with listing data and additional charts, by clicking here.

Such a shift in perception and valuation is difficult or impossible to predict without insider knowledge. I suspect the market response would have been much less bullish had the new Sea-Dweller 126600 been a marginal upgrade, perhaps with just the new 3235 movement, rather than a complete redesign.

One parallel can be drawn with the Rolex Yacht-Master Rhodium dial, reference 116622 versus reference 126622. The 116622 with Rhodium dial was also a short-lived production, announced in 2016 but quietly replaced by 2019 with the 126622. However, the 126622 retained almost all of the same styling as the 116622, with only a movement upgrade (once again, caliber 3235 versus 3135) and slight dial modification (the addition of a small Rolex crown between the words “Swiss Made” at the bottom of the dial) taking place. So far, 116622 prices have remained relatively flat.

So what threatens the viability of the Sea-Dweller 4000 as a long-term collectible? Most obviously perhaps is the re-introduction of a 40mm Sea-Dweller without a cyclops date window. This seems unlikely though, as Rolex is moving in the exact opposite direction with its recent Sea-Dweller and Deepsea releases.

From a marketing standpoint, making the Sea-Dweller larger makes sense as it attracts wrists that may find traditional Rolex sports watches too small, and visually distinguishes the Sea-Dweller from Rolex’s other offerings.

What do you think about the Sea-Dweller 4000 (reference 116600) as a future collectible or investment? How do you think the market will move? Leave your thoughts and discussion in the comments below.

Featured image courtesy of oyster__certified via Instagram.

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