DOXA SUB750T COMPARED TO A ROLEX SEA-DWELLER

© Dr. Peter McClean Millar - April 2006



OK I'll admit it, I sold out to 'The Man'. 'The Man' in this case being the mighty Rolex. For years I have scoffed at the people who have spent up to 4,000 dollars on a Submariner and Sea-Dweller. I kept telling myself that they must be crazy to spend that much money on a watch. I was more than happy to wear my Doxas and know that I had one of the best dive watches around and it cost less than half what a Rolex did. When I wanted a change I would wear my Breitling Superocean or Dreadnought (reviewed here), safe in the knowledge that they too were top notch dive watches which were also a fraction of the cost of a Rolex. It's not that I was anti Rolex. On the contrary, I have had a Rolex Air-King for almost 15 years which my wife took a fancy to and suddenly became hers! She started doing the same thing with my Doxas some time ago too. It's just that I never felt that the Submariner or Sea-Dweller were worth the money.

 

So what happened to change my mind? Well, amazing as the Dreadnought is, I seldom wore it. It is a limited edition of 200 and is a fairly big and bulky watch and because of that I was always conscious of damaging it, so it lived in my watch box along with my rare vintage Doxas which also get worn infrequently. I was considering selling it when someone posted on the Timefactor's forum that they would trade a Sea-Dweller for one. I jumped at the chance and traded the Dreadnought and some cash for the Rolex. I had previously bought a replica Sea-Dweller to do a comparative review of several fake watches I used to own and was quite impressed by the weight and feel and wearability of the Rolex case and bracelet. That review can be found here. There is no denying that Rolex has a certain mystique and untangability that goes with their name and watches and until you own one it is hard to understand what it is. I thought it would be a good idea to try to compare the Sea-Dweller with my usual daily wear watch; the Doxa SUB750T, to see if it would bring out what makes the Sea-Dweller, arguably, the best dive watch there is. I have previously done a review of the SUB750T here which goes into greater detail than is presented in this review.

 

The first thing that I noticed on opening the Rolex box was that the Sea-Dweller seemed very small. I think was because I had gotten used to wearing my 750T. Look at the first picture in this review again. The big orange dial of the SUB750T looks like a dinner plate compared to the Sea-Dweller. But when you compare the Rolex to other watches you can see that it is definitely not small at all. The above photo shows the Sea-Dweller compared to a Breitling Superocean and a vintage SUB 300T .

 

The photo shown above this text is also interesting because all 3 watches have a Helium Release Valve (HRV). While Rolex hold the HRV patient and it is known that Doxa and Rolex were working on a HRV around the same time, the SUB 300T Conquistador holds the distinction of being available to the general public in 1969, 2 years before the Sea-Dweller was officially released. Breitling didn't bring out the Superocean until the late 1970's and then the HRV was a screwed release valve similar to the one used on the Omega Seamaster. Breitling later changed the HRV to the internal non return valve mechanism which is used today and is similar in operation to that of the Doxa Conquistador and Rolex Sea-Dweller.

 

Even though the 750T looks to be substantially bigger than the Sea-Dweller, as can be seen from the table below, when comparing the length from lug to lug the Sea-Dweller is actually longer than the 750T by 1mm. Other differences are found in the width and dial diameter. In reality there really is only a millimeter here or there between the Doxa and the Rolex, yet the 750T just looks much bigger. Part of that has to do with the case shape. The traditional Doxa Tonneau case shape is more rounded overall and it is that extra mass of metal which together with the slightly larger dial and bright orange colour, gives the SUB750T the impression of being much bigger.

 

WIDTH (inc crown) LENGTH HEIGHT LUG WIDTH DIAL WIDTH WEIGHT
SEA-DWELLER 43.6 48 14.5 20 29 146
SUB 600T 45 44.5 13 20 28 150
SUB 750T 48 47 14 21 30 163

 

Both the 600T and 750T are bigger than the Sea-Dweller in the weight department and it is not only the heads that are a bit heavier, it is also the bracelets. The SUB bracelets are 20mm over the complete length, whereas the Sea-Dweller bracelet tapers from 20mm to 17mm at the clasp. The center links of the Rolex bracelet are also hollow which again reduces the overall weight. Both bracelets use screwed pins to join the links. For Doxa this is a recent change as they used to use a pin and collar arrangement, which I personally preferred, and believed to be more secure.

 

One of the major criticisms of the Sea-Dweller for a number of years has been the clasp. And it is the clasp which really lets the Sea-Dweller down in my opinion. The gauge of the steel is thin and the whole assembly rattles and just feels cheap. The Doxa clasp feels slightly more substantial but it also has a way to go to match the Seiko Orange Monster or Omega Seamaster clasp. Several people have resorted to swapping the original Sea-Dweller / Submariner clasp for the Yachtmaster and Dayton version. Both the Rolex and Doxa clasps have a divers extension built in and both function perfectly. I like the way the Sea-Dwellers springs out when you press the link with the small O stamped in it. Doxa's extension is the normal 'hook with a fingernail and pull' version.

 

Both watches use 120 click bezels and both turn very smoothly and have a distinct lack of sloppiness although the Sea-Dweller definitely feels and sounds 'nicer' to turn. It is a bit stiffer and the click is more muted. In the Flying Doctor, Patent Pending, Turn The Bezel With A Thick Glove test, the 750T is a definite head and shoulders above the Sea-Dweller. The extra thickness and ridges of the Doxa bezel make it far easier to manipulate. And that brings me to the actual bezel design itself. Doxa patented the classic non-decompression dive table bezel and it is still valid in today's age of dive computers. The Rolex dive watches use the traditional 60 minute marker bezel. Both are perfectly functional and give an added piece of security to compliment the electronic wizardry that virtually all divers use now. The other difference in the bezels is that the Doxa version is a solid one piece affair, whereas Rolex use a more 'standard' hollow bezel with replaceable metal insert.

 

Like most other watches the SUB750T uses 316L stainless steel. This offers excellent corrosion protection and is tough yet readily machinable. The Sea-Dweller uses a different stainless steel: 904L. It is the same hardness as 316L and has the same corrosion resistance but is significantly more expensive. It also has a higher nickel content which can cause an allergic reaction in some people. It is not known why Rolex chose to use 904L over 316L.

 

Unlike other Rolex sports watches, including the Submariner and Daytona, the caseback of the Sea-Dweller has writing on it. It says. 'ROLEX OYSTER ORIGINAL GAS ESCAPE VALVE' and also has 2 Rolex coronets. New watches come with the recognizable holographic sticker with the 16600 model number on it. As my watch is 5 years old, the sticker has long since gone. The 750T caseback is the most literary of the Doxa range ever and has the following writing; LIMITED EDITION - PATENTED BEZEL US 3505808 - SWISS MADE - WATER RESISTANT 750 METERS - 2460 FEET - DIRK PITT EDITION XXXX/5000 - "SAHARA" MOVIE 2005 - DESERTLANDS ENTERTAINMENT LIMITED.

 

Forgetting about the outward signs like the dial, bezel and case, it is what is under the caseback which really differentiates the Sea-Dweller from the SUB750T. The thing that sets the Rolex apart from most other watches is the fact that it uses an in-house movement, the Rolex caliber 3135 which has a frequency of 28,800 vph and 31 jewels and automatic winding in both directions. This movement is COSC rated and in the week I have had it is keeping -2 seconds a day. That's pretty impressive in my book and isn't surprising given the fact that the 3135 was built for accuracy, longevity and ease of servicing. The SUB750T uses the same ETA 2824-2 found in the 300T Reissue and 600T. The complete specifications for it can be found here. The ETA 2824-2 has the same frequency (28,800 vph) as the 3135 and has 27 jewels and like the 3135 is automatic. The power reserve of the ETA is 42 hours which is less than the 3135's reserve of 50 hours. Doxa also make a SUB750T which has a COSC ETA 2824-2 movement and it should be capable of matching the Sea-Dweller's excellent accuracy, however, my non COSC SUB750T is maintaining +5 seconds a day and I think that is amazing for a mass produced, workhorse movement. Even though the Rolex 3135 movement is an in-house, specially designed and constructed movement, lets not forget that ETA have been in existence almost 50 years longer than Rolex and produce movements which are the base ebauches for many of today's Swiss watch manufacturers such as Breitling, Omega and IWC.

 

The Rolex winding crown uses the famous Triplock system to ensure there is no water ingress into the movement. The crown carries 3 small dots below the Rolex coronet to signify the Triplock system which utilises an extra o-ring on the stem tube. The crown screws and unscrews very smoothly and all the functions of winding, date and hand setting are very precise in operation. The same can be said for the SUB750T with the slight difference that due to the shape of the case and crown protectors on the Sea-Dweller, the Rolex crown is slightly easier to grip and turn.

 

Many people wouldn't care if their watch came in a brown paper bag, but for me the packaging is all part of the buying experience and from this point of view both Rolex and Doxa deliver the goods. The Rolex packaging is certainly more comprehensive. The cardboard outer box contains a nice leather cased wooden box with the watch and a leather wallet with several 'goodies'. The 'goodies' are a Rolex anchor, the Buehlmann dive table ,a bracelet / springbar tool, a spare wetsuit extension and a two-year pocket calendar. There were also a Submariner (not Sea-Dweller) instruction booklet, COSC translation booklet and a 'Your Rolex Oyster' booklet. Rounding off the package was the guarantee and 2 hang tags. As my watch is from 2001, I can't guarantee that a new Sea-Dweller will have exactly the same things in the box. I do know that the box has changed slightly and the anchor is no longer included.

 

The SUB750T comes with the now standard brushed anodized Aluminium tube and foam insert which contains a high quality Bergeon bracelet removal tool. The packaging also includes a plastic credit card style guarantee and a CD with the user manual and instructions for sizing the bracelet. For many people the packaging will be consigned to a drawer or box once the watch is sized and on the wrist, but for me it is about the initial opening of the package and finding the watch inside. I think both the Doxa and Rolex packages do their job admirably.

 

OK. Enough of the technical stuff. What are they like to wear and use on a daily basis? The Rolex 'disappears' when it is on. Compared to the 750T it is a bit lighter and you just don't know it is on the wrist. That's not to say that the 750T is so heavy it drags your wrist down. It doesn't. Yes is it heavier than the 600T but it also happens to be one of the most comfortable watches I have ever worn. It has been my daily wear almost constantly since I got it and it will continue to be so. Whereas the Sea-Dweller is sort of muted opulence, the 750T just shouts at you. All it needs is a little piece of the dial sticking out from under the sleeve and you look at it. The Rolex is definitely a nice watch to wear, even the rattly thin clasp is forgotten once it is on the wrist but the Doxa definitely has more presence. I initially found myself looking at the Sea-Dweller thinking; "Holy crap! I have 4000 bucks worth of watch on my wrist". Now I kind of cover it up because; "Holy crap!I have 4000 bucks worth of watch on my wrist". The Sea-Dweller certainly makes you think about getting mugged far more than the Doxa does. Ultimately, the Sea-Dweller is a Rolex. It gets noticed because it says Rolex on the dial. The Doxa gets noticed because it is a big, orange, unusual watch and it is an eyecatcher. People comment on my orange Doxas all the time. I'm not sure they have even noticed I'm wearing a Rolex. I'm still convinced that the Sea-Dweller doesn't get as much notice because it doesn't have the signature Rolex magnifier on the crystal. For me that's a good thing. There are also certain intangiables that come with each watch. With the Rolex it is knowing that you are wearing a watch from a company that is known the world over and is associated with the 'I'm wearing a Rolex, therefore, I have reached the big time'. Maybe that's one of the factors as to why Rolex watches are probably the most copied in the world. With the Doxa you are wearing a watch that is actually quite rare and there is never any doubt as to whether it is genuine or not.

 

Lately there has been a lot of questions on the Doxa forum concerning the size of the SUB750T compared to the older 600T. Many people seem to think that the 750T is huge compared to the 600T. It is strange how the 750T is considered a monster yet the Sea-Dweller is considered 'normal' size. As has been shown here, the Sea-Dweller is actually 1mm longer than the 750T and if it had a completely sold bracelet, it would certainly be almost the same weight. I have to put down the misconception as to the 750T's King Kong status as a factor of the larger orange dial. The Sea-Dweller dial is only 1mm less but the jet black colour seems to shrink the watch whereas the Doxa orange causes a virtual magnification.

 

When I started writing this review I wanted to make sure that it didn't turn into a 'my watch is better than yours' type essay. I hope I have been able to remain objective even though I am a confessed 'Doxa nut'. I know that many people reading this are asking themselves "OK then which do you prefer, Pete?". Well if you were to give me the choice of only one watch to keep, it would actually be neither the 750T nor the Sea-Dweller. It would be my vintage Doxa 300T Conquistador with the original HRV. However, that is an unfair answer to an unfair question. My Conquistador is not a daily wear watch because it is virtually irreplaceable. If I had to choose just one watch to wear every day what one would I pick? Well, from a pure money no object point, it would have to be the Sea-Dweller. But being realistic, $4,000 for the Sea-Dweller represents a serious chunk of change. The SUB750T is significantly cheaper to buy and maintain. The ETA can be serviced by almost any competent watchmaker. The same cannot be said for the Rolex. Servicing and replacement costs are also a major investment, so from a purely practical point of view the 750T has to be a more logical choice. Unfortunately as everyone reading this knows, since when did watches and logic ever share the same bed?

Note that even though I have used photos of the SUB600 T-Graph in some instances, the case size is the same as the SUB750T. It is however, thicker to allow for the chronograph buttons and is therefore heavier than the 750T. A review of it can be found here.




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Dr. Peter McClean Millar