Rolex Submariner Dials Guide

rolex submariners
With a life span of almost 70 years, the Rolex Submariner literally has dozens of dial configurations today. The iconic dive watch has undergone a number of aesthetic changes through decades, giving us a whole spectrum of Submariner dials that vary in color, text, size, and materials.

Rolex isn’t known to make drastic changes to its core models, so the difference is often barely visible – such as changing the lume from tritium to Luminova, to jumping from two to four lines of text. It can be a lot to remember, especially for someone new to collecting Submariners. To start with, here’s an overview of the four main dial types of the Rolex Submariner.

 

 

THE GILT DIAL

This is the first type of dial that appeared in the Submariner line. Produced by Rolex from the 1950s to 1967, the term “gilt” refers to the gold tone of the text and other printing, against a mirror-like, glossy black surface. Gilt dials can be seen in vintage Rolex sport dials, including the Explorer and GMT Master.

What makes this dial so special, aside from its sheer beauty, is that it was achieved using a highly technical skill called galvanization. At the time, many watch manufacturers would simply paint over the text and markers on the dial, but Rolex opted for the more complex route. Gilt dials are actually gold-plated brass plates underneath, peering through the black gloss.

The brass metal simply reflects light in a way that paint or ink cannot match, giving gilt dials their much coveted charm. Gilt production fell out of favor in the late 1960s; and due to their relatively short production run, gilt dials are the most valuable and sought after among vintage Rolex dials. (photo: Catawiki)

 

Submariner

 

THE MATTE DIAL

In the late 1960s, Rolex shifted from warm gilt dials to the matte dial. Matte dials have a flat, grayish black surface with painted on tritium markers and white text. While they are also found on vintage Rolex watches, matte dials tend to have a more contemporary and utilitarian look than glossy gilt dials.

Several iconic Rolex Submariner references have the matte dial, including the Rolex Red Submariner ref 1680 (seen above) and the first Submariner with crown guards, the ref 5512. They were eventually phased out in the mid-1980s and replaced with gloss dials.

 

 

THE GLOSS DIAL

Rolex sport models from the mid-1980s onwards sport the gloss dial, which is characterized by white text and applied white gold hour markers. Look closely and you’ll see white gold surrounds on the hour markers, giving the timepiece a more luxurious appearance.

In the transition from matte to gloss dials, Rolex also unintentionally created a sub-category – the Spider dial (seen above). As Rolex experimented with new materials, and have not yet perfected the lacquer finish used in gloss dials, it resulted in crazing or a spider web-like pattern in some models. These unique dials are certainly interesting and considered collectible.

 

Submariner Ceramic

 

THE MAXI DIAL

The latest generation of Rolex Submariner watches are equipped with the Maxi Dial. The term “Maxi Dial” was first introduced in 2013, together with the green 50th Anniversary Submariner ref 16610LV or the Kermit. Compared to previous generations, Maxi Dials have larger markers and hands to improve legibility.

Today, Maxi Dials continue to be found on current production, 6-digit reference Submariners with Cerachrom ceramic bezels. They are also now paired with the “Super Case”, which has fatter lugs, a wider bezel, and an overall beefier look on the wrist.

 

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