In short, the answer is yes.

The longer answer is, it’s complicated. Today’s Rolex watches are designed to be robust and withstand a wide variety of conditions. But different models have been built for specific purposes, and as a result the expected capabilities should take those functions into account. But generally speaking, Rolex watches are waterproof.

This also requires specifically determining what is meant by “getting wet”.

In this article, we’ll discuss the different types of watches you might come across and what considerations to take into account. But first, we’ll look into some baseline elements to think about.

Watches, in many ways, are like cars. Not just in the fact that both are machines and require deft maintenance, but also in the fact that there is a wide range of variables involved in a timepiece’s accumulation of wear and tear. One person’s idea of “reasonable wear” might be to have their watch on during a night out with friends on the town, another would be to wear it to work and using heavy machinery (in fact, I once saw a Submariner come in with holes blasted in the bracelet by a MIG welder).

The water resistance of a watch goes hand in hand with the wear it endures. Chips on the crystal, even seemingly inconsequential ones, can cause the hermetic seal to become compromised. The same is true of hits on the crown which can misalign the thread or even crack the tube that secures it to the case. So Rolex watches are waterproof when they are not damaged in a way that takes away their ability to be waterproof.

What we’ll talk about is the ideal situation and expectations of a modestly worn watch–something with as much as some minor surface scratches, but no major hits or damage.

This is something that needs to be clarified, because many articles will simply repeat the factory guidelines for waterproofing, but experience as a watchmaker shows that the reality is more nuanced. At the end of the day, the best advice is to remember that a Rolex is a luxury piece and that should be the baseline consideration when deciding how to treat it, whether that means water or not. So, it makes sense that expensive pieces like Rolex watches are waterproof.

Basic Models: Datejust, Oyster Perpetual, etc.

The short answer is that every basic Rolex model outside of dress models like the Cellini are rated for 100 meters (330 feet) of water. In most cases, this will be more than a casual user will ever ask of their watch, but it is just the way of Rolex to go above and beyond to cover more than enough.

This also generally means that normal wear and tear, even if it would marginally compromise the integrity of the watch, will often not do so to the point that issues would be experienced under normal conditions.

There are also some assumptions made about the usage of the watch. In this case, the primary one being that the crown is kept screwed down when not in active use to wind or set the watch. Even unscrewed, there is a degree of water resistance, but the protection offered by the addition of another gasket in the closed position ensures the best possible result. So Rolex watches are waterproof when the crown is screwed down.

The other assumption is that the watch will be subject to the recommended service intervals. While movement wear and lubrication is the main cited benefit of regular service, it is important to note that the condition of the gaskets is vital to the water protection. While Rolex strives to innovate on materials and their stability, certain elements are still ultimately consumable.

Diver Models: Submariner, Sea-Dweller, Deepsea

The diving models of Rolexes are significantly more robust in water resistance. More specifically these Submariner diving Rolex watches are waterproof not just water resistant.

The Submariner is rated to 300 meters (1,000 feet), the Sea-Dweller to 1,220 meters (4,000 feet), and the Deepsea Sea-Dweller to 3,900 meters (12,800 feet).

Unless something has gone seriously wrong, the depth of your local swimming pool or lake is no match for these watches. The main thing to take into account with these models lies less in the worry about their depth rating, but just being sure to understand what comes with it.

If you are planning to actually use yours as a dive watch–which you absolutely could–the pragmatic watchmaking side would tell you that there are other risks than water intrusion into the watch. Again, Rolex watches are top of the line for quality alloys and materials that withstand corrosion and wear, but salt water is uniquely aggressive for even steel parts. Additionally, waterborne grit and sand can get underneath parts like the rotating bezel, leading to premature wear.

If you do decide to wear your watch in the water, be sure to rinse it with fresh water as soon as you can upon exiting, and as for sand, it’s not entirely escapable but just avoid digging around in it with your watch on if possible.

At the end of the day, think of it again like a car; a Submariner is like a Range Rover. It is made to be robust and excel in a fairly taxing environment, but the choice of engaging in that environment comes with a certain amount of maintenance and upkeep.

What about the Cellini?

As stated above, all modern watches other than the Cellini are rated at 100 meters. Technically, the Cellini is rated to 50 meters (about 165 feet). While this may strictly speaking be true, then you have to consider outside factors as well. If your watch is on a leather strap as many dress pieces are, then the best practice is to avoid water as much as possible. So although Rolex watches are waterproof, from a case and movement standpoint, sometimes the accessories we use on them are not so waterproof.

If it is a bracelet, that is safer, but it is still important to consider that many dress watches have thinner cases that are susceptible to damage from impact, so it still would be wise to exercise caution if partaking in more strenuous activity.

In conclusion, a watch is a tool and meant to be used. However, something of the quality of a Rolex, treated well and maintained properly, can be passed to future generations with minimal loss of function and quality.

Introducing water always presents risk, and it is ultimately up to the end user to decide if that risk is worth it. I remember back to the story a customer told where he was surfing while wearing a 16628 yellow gold Yacht-Master. He ended up getting slammed on some rocks and the bracelet broke, sending the watch into the water. Even today years later, that same model is worth $20,000 to $25,000.

As a proponent of the quality of Rolex watches, it’s easy to recommend them and have confidence about their capabilities. But as a watchmaker, it is also vital to recommend that it be treated like the fine piece that it is.