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Rolex Submariner History: Everything You Need to Know

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rolex submariner history

In 1953, Rolex unleashed the Submariner, a watershed moment in dive watch history that drew upon innovations like the 1926 Oyster case and the 1931 Perpetual movement. 

Conceived by René-Paul Jeanneret, it rapidly evolved from a diver’s tool to an iconic status symbol, inspiring legendary Rolex models such as the Rolex Explorer and Daytona.

Through decades of technical refinements, including surviving extreme depths and earning cinematic fame as the ‘Bond Sub,’ the Submariner has become the epitome of luxury sports watches. Its intricate history is a compelling journey through precision, durability, and elegance—a tale worth exploring further.

The History Rolex Submariner

1953: Rolex unveils the Submariner diving timepiece.

1959: The case size expands to 40mm, accompanied by the addition of crown guards.

1967: Transition from gilt dials to matte-finished dials takes place.

1969: Rolex introduces the Submariner Date, marking the debut of a gold Submariner.

1979: The first Submariner watch with a sapphire crystal emerges.

1984: A shift from matte dials to gloss dials featuring white gold markers is observed; the inaugural two-tone Submariner is introduced.

1988: The transition from 316L to 904L stainless steel is made for the Submariner.

2003: The first Submariner boasting a green bezel (ref. 16610LV) is unveiled.

2010: The Cerachrom bezel and the Super Case design make their debut.

2020: The case size expands to 41mm, accompanied by a redesign of the lugs.

The Birth of an Icon

Rolex introduced the Submariner Date in 1969 with the reference 1680, marking the first time a date function appeared in the Submariner series, complete with the iconic “Cyclops” magnification lens.

This addition marked a turning point for the Submariner, as it began to transition from a purpose-built dive watch to a symbol of status. 

Critics argued that true divers had no need for a date function, but the Submariner had always been favored by non-divers. The brand embraced its status symbol image with the ref. 1680, especially the Red Sub variants with red Submariner text on the dial. In addition to stainless steel, Rolex introduced the 18k yellow gold 1680/8 with a blue dial and bezel option.

In 1979, the Submariner underwent significant changes with the introduction of the ref. 16800. It featured the updated Caliber 3035 movement, a unidirectional bezel, and a scratch-resistant sapphire crystal. The water resistance increased to 300 meters (1,000 feet), matching the current Submariner models. The 16803, released in 1984, became the first two-tone Submariner.

Rolex adopted 904L stainless steel (now called “Oystersteel”) for Submariner production, known for its exceptional corrosion resistance and polished finish, setting Rolex apart from other brands.

The Significance of Bond’s Submariner

Sean Connery wearing submariner ref. 6538 in Bond film

In the inaugural Bond film, “Dr. No,” Sean Connery sported the “No Date” Ref. 6538 Submariner. This iconic model continued to grace his wrist in “From Russia With Love,” “Goldfinger,” and “Thunderball.” George Lazenby also opted for the Ref. 6538, along with the “No Date” Ref. 5513 in “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.” Roger Moore, too, embraced the same reference in “Live and Let Die” and “The Man with the Golden Gun.”

Timothy Dalton wearing submariner ref. 16610

In a remarkable return, Timothy Dalton is believed to have worn the “Date” Submariner Ref. 16610 in 1989’s “Licence to Kill.” Bond’s choice of timepiece not only captured the admiration of countless men but also underscored the Submariner’s ability to complement both action-packed exploits and stylish appearances. If Bond can seamlessly transition from diving beneath a yacht to gracing a casino in a tuxedo with the Submariner, surely an insurance broker can wear it to the office.

This narrative reveals that the Submariner’s enduring success can be attributed to three pivotal factors: its highly functional yet instantly recognizable design, its boldly masculine appeal, and its versatility, in part due to the availability of “Date” and “No Date” options.

Rolex Submariner Date vs. No Date 

rolex submariner date vs submariner no date

In late 2020, Rolex unveiled a new 41mm Submariner lineup, featuring seven fresh Submariner Date variants alongside the single “No-Date” Submariner, the Ref. 124060.

All Submariner Date or No Date are driven by the Calibre 3235 (“Date”) or 3230 (“No Date”), each providing a 70-hour power reserve and incorporating Rolex’s reliable Chronergy escapement. This escapement, constructed from corrosion-resistant nickel-phosphorus, is impervious to magnetic fields.

Both movements also employ an optimized blue Parachrom hairspring, offering tenfold precision compared to traditional hairsprings when subjected to shocks. The Parachrom hairspring, with a Rolex over-coil, guarantees consistent performance in any position. Additionally, mounting the oscillator on Paraflex shock absorbers enhances shock resistance, showcasing Rolex’s unwavering commitment to technological excellence in watchmaking.

From an aesthetic standpoint, the Submariner “No Date” is notably versatile, boasting a subtler dial design compared to its vibrant “Date” counterparts. Those seeking a bold and modern Submariner may opt for the latter. Some individuals appreciate having a date function but are not fond of the Cyclops lens. This underscores how a small detail can make a significant impact in the world of watches.

In essence, the “No Date” Submariner represents a symbol of history and purity, favored by watch connoisseurs for its uncomplicated design and original purpose. While the Submariner “Date” serves practicality in daily life, the enduring appeal of the “No Date” Submariner, rooted in its heritage, makes it a timeless choice.

Review: Understanding the Submariner

This iconic timepiece has evolved from a dedicated dive watch to a versatile everyday companion. Its water resistance, date function, and other professional features make it a true workhorse. Over time, it has seamlessly transitioned from the depths of the ocean to the boardroom, adapting to the diverse needs of its wearers.

Case

rolex submariner case

The Rolex Submariner’s case is typically made from high-quality stainless steel. Rolex uses a specific type of stainless steel called “Oystersteel” for many of its watches, including the Submariner. Oystersteel is known for its exceptional resistance to corrosion and its ability to maintain a beautiful finish over time. This material ensures the watch’s durability and longevity, even in challenging environments like underwater diving. In some special editions of the Submariner, Rolex may also use other materials like gold or two-tone combinations of steel and gold for the case, offering a range of luxurious options for collectors and enthusiasts.

Dial

rolex submariner different dial colors

The Rolex Submariner boasts a rich array of dial options, each with its own unique charm and appeal. While the classic black dial remains a fan favorite, Rolex has introduced captivating alternatives over the years, including the striking blue dial, often referred to as the “Smurf.” For those seeking a bold and distinctive look, the green dial variants, such as the “Hulk” and “Kermit,” have gained legendary status among watch enthusiasts. These playful nicknames not only reflect the Submariner’s diverse personality but also highlight its enduring popularity in the world of luxury timepieces.

Bezel

rolex different bezel variants

The Rolex Submariner boasts a rich array of bezel options, each with its own unique charm and appeal. While the classic black bezel remains a fan favorite, Rolex has introduced captivating alternatives over the years, including the striking blue bezel, often referred to as the “Smurf.” For those seeking a bold and distinctive look, the green bezel variants, such as the “Hulk” and “Kermit,” have gained legendary status among watch enthusiasts. These playful nicknames not only reflect the Submariner’s diverse personality but also highlight its enduring popularity in the world of luxury timepieces.

Bracelet

rolex submariner bracelet

Constructed from Oystersteel, it boasts corrosion resistance, a vital feature for a watch designed to be worn in water. Beyond its practicality, the bracelet complements the watch’s aesthetics perfectly. Its design, comfort, and adjustability make it an integral part of the Submariner’s overall appeal.

Movement

The heart of the Submariner lies in its movement, and Rolex has spared no effort in ensuring precision and reliability. The Calibre 3235 and Calibre 3230 movements power this iconic watch, offering a remarkable 70-hour power reserve. The incorporation of the Chronergy escapement and Parachrom hairspring sets the standard for accuracy and durability. In real-world scenarios, these movements shine, underscoring Rolex’s commitment to excellence.

Collectibility and Investment Value

The Rolex Submariner stands as a pinnacle of watch collectibility, ranking as the second most popular collection in the Rolex brand. With 43,281 listings on Watchcharts in just the last year, its prominence in the watch market is undeniable. The Submariner’s enduring appeal makes it not just a timepiece, but a tangible asset.

Watches within this collection have shown to be a solid financial investment, with private sales ranging from S$12,413 to S$52,448. The Rolex Submariner is not merely an accessory but an appreciating asset that withstands the test of time, both literally and figuratively.

If you’re looking to invest in a timepiece that combines innovation, durability, and aesthetic appeal, the Submariner should be at the top of your list. Its high desirability and strong resale values make it more than just a purchase; it’s an investment in enduring excellence.

Rolex Submariner Watches From Vintage to Modern

rolex submariner watches
  • Ref. 6204 (1953-1955): One of the earliest Submariners, with variations in appearance, featuring pencil hands and a gilt dial.
  • Ref. 6200 (1953-1954): Produced for only one year, it had a bubble back movement, old-style bezel insert, and a big crown without guards.
  • Ref. 6205 (1953-1955): Similar to the 6204 but slightly larger and with a different crown. Early models were not very waterproof.
  • Ref. 6536 and 6538 (1955-1959): Both featured the revolutionary Rolex Caliber 1030 movement, with differences like waterproof depth and crown size.
  • Ref. 6538 “James Bond” (1956-1959): Known for its appearance in James Bond films, it had a red triangle at 12 o’clock and Mercedes hands.
  • Ref. 6536 (1954-1958): Introduced a smaller crown and the first bi-directional automatic movement for Rolex.
  • Ref. 6536/1 (1954-1958): An updated version of the 6536 with Rolex’s officially certified caliber 1030.
  • Ref. 6538 (1957): One of the big crown models, worn by James Bond, with variations in text on the dial.
  • Ref. 5508 (1958-1965): The last Submariner with a small crown and no crown guards, featuring an automatic movement.
  • Ref. 5510 (1959): A rare, short-lived model with a thicker case and limited production.
  • Ref. 5512 (1959-1978): Introduced crown guards and eventually featured a chronometer-certified movement.
  • Ref. 5513 “Bart Simpsons” (1962-1990): In production for around 30 years, it underwent various changes, making it interesting for collectors.
  • Ref. 5513/5517 “Milsub” (1972-1978): Military Submariner models with fixed bars, a tritium “T,” sword hands, and a 60-minute bezel.
  • Ref. 5514 (1972-1978): Made for COMEX, featuring a helium escape valve.
  • Ref. 1680 “Red Submariner” (1966-1981): The first Submariner with a date function, featuring Rolex’s Cyclops magnifying bubble.
  • Ref. 16800 (1977-1987): A transitional model with a sapphire crystal, high-beat movement, and various elements collectors appreciate.
  • Ref. 168000 (1987): Produced for less than a year, it introduced 904L steel to Rolex watches.
  • Ref. 16610 (1987-2010): A modern Submariner with the iconic rotating bezel and white gold markers.
  • Ref. 16803 (1983-1988): The first two-tone Submariner, with a blue dial and rotating bezel.
  • Ref. 14060 (1990-2002): Essentially the same as the 16610 but without a date function.
  • Ref. 14060M (2002-2012): A no-date Submariner that later became a certified chronometer.
  • Ref. 16613 “Sultan” (1988-2010): Another two-tone Submariner with a blue dial and bezel.
  • Ref. 16618 (1990): The first solid gold Submariner with variations in dial and bezel colors.
  • Ref. 16610LV “Kermit” (2003-2010): A 50th-anniversary model with a green bezel.
  • Ref. 116610LV “Hulk” (2010): Featuring a date function, the classic rotating bezel includes minute markers extending to 15 minutes. Its production was ceased in 2020.
  • Ref. 114060 (2012): A no-date version of the 116610LV with a larger case and Cerachrom bezel.
  • Ref. 116610LN (2010): Similar to the 114060 but with a date function.
  • Ref. 116613LB “Bluesy” (2010): A two-tone model with a blue dial and bezel, powered by the caliber 3235.
  • Ref. 116613LN (2010): Similar to the 116613LB but without a date function.
  • Ref. 116619LB (2010): A full 18ct white gold Submariner with a blue dial and bezel.
  • Ref. 126610LN (2020): An upgraded version of the 116610LN with a larger case and the caliber 3235.
  • Ref. 124060 (2020): An upgraded version of the 114060 without a date function.
  • Ref. 126613LB (2020): A two-tone Submariner with a blue dial and bezel, powered by the caliber 3230.
  • Ref. 126613LN (2020): Similar to the 126613LB but without a date function.
  • Ref. 126618LN (2020): A full 18ct yellow gold Submariner with a black dial and bezel, powered by the caliber 3235.
  • Ref. 126618LB (2020): A full yellow gold Submariner with a blue dial and bezel, powered by the caliber 3235.
  • Ref. 126610LV “Starbucks” (2020): Presenting an upgraded version of the 116610LV with a black dial rather than a green sunburst dial.
  • Ref. 126619LB “Smurf” (2020): The first Submariner in white gold with a blue dial and bezel, offering a luxurious twist on the classic design.

Celebrities Wearing Rolex Submariner

The Rolex Submariner’s broad appeal extends to celebrities known for their discerning taste. 

tom hardy wearing submariner ref. 116610LN

Actor Tom Hardy sports a Submariner ref. 116610LN featuring a black ceramic bezel and dial. 

Jack Black wearing submariner ref. 116619

Meanwhile, comedian Jack Black opts for a luxurious 18k white gold Submariner ref. 116619 with a blue Cerachrom ceramic bezel and a contrasting blue dial.

Marl Wahlberg wearing rolex submariner ref. 116618

Mark Wahlberg, another avid Rolex collector, has been spotted with multiple Submariner models, including the Rolex Submariner date yellow gold 116618LN with a black ceramic bezel and dial, as well as the 116613LB model with a blue bezel and dial.

David Beckham and Nick Jonas sported wearing rolex submariner watch

Not to be left out, David Beckham wears a classic Rolex Submariner 5513, and musician Nick Jonas chooses the Rolex Submariner Steel Yellow Gold 16613 for his collection.

Where to Buy a Rolex Submariner

Rolex Submariner

Deciding between an authorized dealer or a grey market dealer? Each option has its pros and cons, from cost to quality. The table below outlines the key differences to help you choose.

FeatureAuthorized DealerPreowned
PriceRetail PriceDepending on the Market Condition
Investment PotentialMore Predictable, Usually AppreciatesVaries, Depends on Model and Condition
WarrantyManufacturer’s Warranty IncludedIn-House Warranty of 12 Months
Watch AvailabilityLimited, Especially for Popular ModelsWider Selection, Discontinued Models Available
QualityNew, Untouched, Comes with CertificationNew, Pre-Owned, Mint, Etc.
WaitlistOften Required for Popular ModelsUsually None, Immediate Availability

Final Word

The Rolex Submariner isn’t merely a watch; it epitomizes precision, innovation, and elegance. Beyond its horological prowess, what endears it to enthusiasts are its hallmark features – its unmistakable rotating bezel, classic design, and impeccable water resistance. For aficionados, the Submariner is more than just a timepiece; it’s a testament to unmatched craftsmanship and enduring value.

Key Takeaways

  • Introduced in 1953, the Rolex Submariner set the standard for Rolex dive watches, continually evolving in both technology and style.
  • Ranging from S$12,357 to S$52,560, the watch consistently appreciates in value, making it a sound investment.
  • High-profile individuals like Tom Hardy and Jack Black have sported the Submariner watches, further boosting its allure and status.

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