SwissWatchExpo Ultimate Guide to the Rolex Submariner

The Rolex Submariner is considered the watch to own. While it was originally created for divers, its combination of high functionality and striking yet timeless design has earned fans beyond the sport. In fact, it can be reasonably described with various superlatives – the most important, most recognized, most emulated, and most iconic sports watch of all time.

The original tool watch design of the Submariner was fashioned in stainless steel, but its specs, materials, and features have become available in a wide variety of metals and colorways – all while keeping the fundamental design intact.

Its classic design makes the Rolex Submariner suitable for any occasion and with all levels of attire, from jeans to suit and tie. No wonder it’s one of Rolex’s most popular models, and a pop culture symbol in its own right.

Ready to add a Rolex Submariner to your collection? Get to know the history of the Rolex Submariner and the different options available to you with SwissWatchExpos ultimate guide.

Rolex Submariner Steel Yellow Gold Blue Dial Bezel Watches

About the Rolex Submariner

Part of Rolex’s ethos is to create reliable timepieces for man’s every pursuit. Beginning in the 1950s, the brand introduced a range of “tool” watches, designed not only to tell time, but to accompany its wearer even in the most extreme conditions. As professional deep-sea diving and scientific exploration of the seas began to flourish, the company created a diving watch that was not just waterproof, but also elegant enough to be worn every day – the Rolex Submariner.

Almost 70 years on, about every dive watch in the market has been influenced by the Rolex Submariner’s design, making it the undisputed reference of all diver’s watches. Here are key milestones in the history of the Rolex Submariner.

1953: Rolex introduces the Submariner. The professional diver’s watch was equipped with an automatic movement, and a water resistance of 100 meters (330 feet) – a first at the time.

1959: Rolex increases the 37mm case size to 40mm, and crown guards were added. The Rolex Submariner will remain the same size until 2020.

1967: The Rolex Submariner sees a number of design changes, such as the change from radium to tritium luminescence, and variations of matte dials with black text and gilt gloss dials.

1969: Rolex introduces the date complication, which is displayed through an aperture at 3 o’ clock. The first gold Submariner is also introduced.

1979: Three innovations were introduced that we still see in the Rolex Submariner line today: the switch from acrylic crystal to scratch-resistant sapphire crystals; from bidirectional to unidirectional rotating bezels; and lastly, improved water resistance to 300 meters (1,000 feet).

1984: Rolex replaces the Submariner’s matte dials to gloss dials with white gold markers. They also launch the first two-tone (steel and gold) Submariner.

1988: The Rolex Submariner’s construction is changed from standard 316L to stronger 904L stainless steel.

2003: The first Rolex Submariner with a green bezel is introduced with the Kermit 16610LV. This will be followed by two more green Submariners – the Hulk 116610LV (2010) and the Starbucks 126610LV (2021).

2010: The patented Cerachrom bezel is introduced, along with the Super Case and Maxi Dial design which gives the Submariner more presence on the wrist.

2020: A new range of Rolex Submariner models is introduced, this time with 41mm case diameter. The lugs have been made longer and slimmer, and the crown guards are thinner, giving it a more tapered profile despite the larger case.


 

Key Features of the Rolex Submariner

Rolex is famous for the slow evolution of its watch designs, and the Rolex Submariner can be considered one of the least visually altered models in the brand’s history. The Rolex Submariner has defined nearly all the fundamental physical elements we see in dive watches today.

Here are key features of the Rolex Submariner that can be seen across all references:


Rolex Submariner Green Kermit Cerachrom Mens Watch 126610LV 

WATERPROOF OYSTER CASE

Invented by Rolex in 1926, the Oyster case was the world’s first waterproof wristwatch case. This feat is thanks to Rolex’s patented system of hermetically screwing the winding crown, bezel and case back directly against the middle case.

The Rolex Submariner’s Oyster case is composed of a screw-down caseback and a screw-down Triplock winding crown that keeps dust and moisture out. Today’s Rolex Oyster case comes in a variety of metals, including stainless steel, steel and yellow gold (Rolesor), 18k yellow gold, and 18k white gold.

60-MINUTE BEZEL

The Rolex Submariner bezel has always featured 60-minute graduations and a distinct arrow marker at the 12 o’clock position. These graduations are meant to help the wearer to accurately monitor their time underwater. The first Rolex Submariner models featured a bi-directional rotating bezel, but these were later improved into unidirectional bezels that can only move forward. This proved helpful in avoiding the overestimation of immersion time.

LUMINOUS MARKERS

When diving, being able to read the time with absolute certainty is non-negotiable. To achieve this, dive watches are always equipped with luminous markers and hands, which makes time easily readable even under murky waters. The first type of luminescence used on the Rolex Submariner was radium, which was eventually replaced by tritium in the 1960s. Rolex then switched to Luminova in 1998, and quickly upgraded to the Super-Luminova in the 2000s. In 2008, Rolex introduced their proprietary lume called Chromalight, which glows blue in the dark and lasts longer.

OYSTER BRACELET

The Rolex Submariner has always been equipped with the three-link Oyster bracelet since its inception. The Oyster is considered the sportiest of all Rolex bracelets, and is used on the entire Professional line. In the 2010s, Rolex Submariners were updated with the Glidelock extension system, which allows the wearer to extend the bracelet in 2mm increments, for a total extension of up to 20mm. This feature allows for the watch to be worn comfortably over a wetsuit.

 


 

Generations of the Rolex Submariner

In true Rolex fashion, the Submariner has only been slowly and gently revised since its launch nearly 70 years ago. Despite the decades-long gap between each generation, they can still be easily recognized as Rolex Submariners – a testament to its timeless design.

Rolex has made subtle but significant improvements in the Submariner’s materials and technology over the decades. Below, we trace the evolution of the Rolex Submariner and the introduction of key features to the collection:

Rolex Submariner Black Dial Vintage Watch 5512

37MM CASES WITHOUT CROWN GUARDS (1953 – 1962)
Reference Numbers: 6204, 6205, 6200, 6536, 6536/1, 6538, 5508 and 5510

The earliest Rolex Submariners were made of stainless steel cases measuring 37mm. In the first five years of the Submariner, Rolex was constantly improving on the design, resulting in a total of 8 models in a short span of time.

These models can have either 100 meter or 200-meter water resistance, pencil-style hands or the now standard Mercedes handset, and different crown sizes ranging from 5.3 to 7mm Small Crowns or the 8mm Brevet “Big Crown”. All these models feature gilt dials with golden texts, acrylic crystals, and bidirectional rotating aluminum bezels.

40MM CASES AND CROWN GUARDS (1959 – 1989)
Reference Numbers: 5512 and 5513

This generation of the Rolex Submariner embodies the design that we know today. The reference 5512 has the 40mm wide case, beveled lugs, crown guards, 7mm crown, demarcated dive bezel, text at 12 and six o’clock, the 200m depth rating, and the standard Mercedes hands. Rolex introduced the crown guards to keep the winding crown from going loose.

These two references were produced for a very long time (the ref 5512 until 1980, and the ref 5513 until 1989), which saw a number of design changes. Among them was the change from radium luminescence to tritium in the mid-1960s, and variations of matte dials with black text and gilt gloss dials. The main difference between the 5512 and 5513 references is that versions of the 5512 became COSC certified.

Rolex Submariner Vintage Black Mark V Dial Steel Mens Watch 1680

INTRODUCTION OF THE DATE APERTURE (1969 – 1979)
Reference Numbers: 1680

The Rolex Submariner ref 1680 marked the introduction of the date complication at 3 o’clock. In addition to the date, it also featured the magnifying Cyclops window on the case. The earliest iterations of the 1680 also featured red Submariner writing on the dial, earning it the nickname “Red Submariner”. By 1977, Rolex changed the Submariner writing to white.

INTRODUCTION OF PRECIOUS METALS (1969 – 1979)
Reference Numbers: 1680/8

The Rolex Submariner ref 1680/8 was the first Submariner to come in solid 18k gold. This signaled the Submariner’s evolution from a tool watch to a robust luxury watch. The first 1680/8 model came with a black aluminum bezel and dial, and eventually a blue version was also introduced. These feature ‘nipple’ dial markers with slightly protruding shapes.

INTRODUCTION OF SAPPHIRE CRYSTAL & UNIDIRECTIONAL BEZEL (1979 – 1999)
Reference Numbers: 16800, 16808, 16803, 14060 (1979-1988) and 14060 (1990-1999)

The Rolex Submariner 168xx references introduced three design elements that we still see in the collection today. First is the switch from acrylic crystal to scratch-resistant sapphire crystals. They also switched from bidirectional to unidirectional rotating bezels that can only rotate counter-clockwise, preventing any accidental manipulation underwater. Lastly, the Submariner’s water resistance was also improved to 300 meters (1,000 feet).

The 16803 was also the first Rolex Submariner to come in a Rolesor variant, or a combination of stainless steel and 18k yellow gold.

The no-date Rolex Submariner 14060 was the last reference to receive the sapphire crystal, unidirectional rotating bezel, and 300m water resistance when it was launched in 1990.

INTRODUCTION OF 904L STEEL (1988)
Reference Numbers: 168000

While it was only produced for a few months, the Rolex Submariner ref 168000 marked the introduction of 904L steel to the collection. Older Submariners were fashioned in industry standard 316L steel, but Rolex switched to 904L around 1985, because it takes a higher polish than other grades of steel and provides greater corrosion resistance.

INTRODUCTION OF CALIBRE 313X (1988 – 2012)
Reference Numbers: 16610, 16618, 16613, 14060

Rolex introduced the 3135 (date) and 3130 (no date) movements in 1988. These automatic movements are used in a large number of watches from Rolex and is now considered a base movement. They feature the Parachrom hairspring, which allows for greater resistance to shocks and temperature variations.

The 166xx series also marked the change from tritium markers to Luminova then Super-Luminova markers.

In 2003, Rolex also introduced the first green Submariner – the Rolex “Kermit”. This model commemorated the 50th anniversary of the Submariner model by introducing the first green aluminum bezel.

INTRODUCTION OF CERACHROM CERAMIC BEZEL & SUPER CASE (2010 – 2020)
Reference Numbers: 116610, 116613, 116618, 116619, 114060

The six-digit Rolex Submariner references signal the introduction of the “Super Case” and the Cerachrom ceramic bezel to the line. The case remained at 40mm but featured broader and squarer lugs, and wider crown guards that give it a beefier look. The bezel was also upgraded to Rolex’s patented Cerachrom ceramic insert, which offers greater resistance to scratching and fading.

In addition to these improvements, Rolex also introduced solid center links to reduce stretch, and a Glidelock extension system which allows the wearer to increase bracelet size up to 20mm without the use of tools.

In 2008, Rolex also introduced its first 18k white gold model. The grey-gold finish was paired with an all-blue Cerachrom bezel and glossy blue dial, earning it the nickname “Rolex Smurf” after the cartoon character.

INTRODUCTION OF 41MM OYSTER CASE & CALIBER 323X (2021)
Reference Numbers: 126610, 126613, 126618, 126619, 124060

In 2021, the Rolex Submariner line was updated all at once with a 41mm case. Despite the 1mm increase in case size, Rolex dropped the “Super Case” and instead featured longer and slimmer lugs, thinner crown guards, and an overall look that’s more similar to vintage Submariners.

They also feature the new generation in-house caliber 3230 (non-date) or 3235 (date). These movements result in increased power reserve of 70 hours (from 48 hours), and have been updated to a precision of -2/+2 seconds per day.


 

Popular Rolex Submariner Models

There is a wide range of Rolex Submariner models to suit every taste, with various materials, and dial and bezel colors available. Here are the most sought after of them all:

ROLEX SUBMARINER STEEL BLACK DIAL – 16610, 116610 and 126610

Since its launch in 1953, the Submariner family has grown into many different designs and colors, but the most versatile one remains the stainless steel and black model.

The most recent versions of the steel and black Rolex Submariner are: the ref 16610 (produced from 1989 – 2010) which has an aluminum bezel; the ref 116610 (produced from 2010 – 2020) which features a Cerachrom bezel and a Super Case; and the latest 41mm version with a Cerachrom bezel, the ref 126610LN. These three appear very similar and are usually the top choices when choosing a stainless steel Submariner model.

The Aluminum bezel has a softer, matte and more toolish look that vintage Rolex fans like, but the disadvantage is that it can still be scratched or dented. The first Cerachrom ceramic bezel version (ref 116610) was unprecedented, because it is impervious to scratching and fading brought about by UV rays and chemicals. The current version (ref 126610) combines both worlds with a wider 41mm case, a Cerachrom bezel, but with a tapered profile that is reminiscent of vintage Rolex Submariner watches.

ROLEX SUBMARINER GREEN WATCHES – KERMIT, HULK AND STARBUCKS

Green watches are all the rage these days, and the Rolex Submariner was one of the first to use the unorthodox color. The very first green Rolex Submariner was released in Baselworld 2003 to celebrate the Submariner’s 50th anniversary. Rolex made small but significant tweaks to the classic steel Submariner to create this model – the most defining feature being its green aluminum bezel.

While the Kermit introduced the green bezel to the Submariner line, the Hulk upped the ante with a matching green dial. First making an appearance in 2010, the Hulk’s green color is also more prominent.

The original Kermit’s green and black colorway returned for the 2020 Submariner, this time with a 41mm case diameter. While the Kermit took on a bright, almost Kelly green tone, the new “Starbucks” Submariner has a deeper color and a more solid presence, especially when viewed from above. All in all, the Submariner has a wide range of green models to choose from.

ROLEX SUBMARINER BLUE DIAL BEZEL  – SMURF

While the Rolex Submariner was created as a tool watch, it has evolved into a luxury sports watch, with a still-reliable water resistance. Ultra luxe versions of the Sub usually come in solid gold, with the 18k white gold version commanding a premium.

What sets the white gold Rolex Submariner apart from other white gold Rolex models is its “grey gold” finish, which gives it a darker appearance from typical white gold. This makes it easier to spot when placed alongside steel Rolex Submariners.

But it wasn’t just the precious metal of the case that got people talking. It featured a lacquered blue dial and Cerachrom bezel in a shade of blue never seen before on Rolex watches. This earned it the moniker “Smurf” among Rolex fans, based on the cartoon character.


 

Common Questions About the Rolex Submariner

The Rolex Submariner is the most famous dive watch of all time, and one of Rolex’s best-selling models. Here are answers to the most commonly asked questions about the Rolex Submariner.

WHAT IS A ROLEX SUBMARINER?

The Rolex Submariner is a line of diver’s watches from Rolex, introduced in 1953. The Submariner is characterized by a waterproof Oyster case, a self-winding Perpetual movement, a unidirectional rotating bezel with 60-minute graduations, and a water resistance of 300m (1,000 ft).

HOW CAN I TELL IF MY ROLEX SUBMARINER IS REAL?

Due to its fame and great demand, the Rolex Submariner is a hot target for counterfeiters. All Rolex watches are made with the highest standards and top quality materials, so poor construction is a dead giveaway.

Before you purchase your Rolex Submariner, it is essential to do research on your chosen reference, and to familiarize yourself with its most minute details, so you can more easily spot a fake. The best defense against buying a fake Rolex Submariner, or any fake timepiece, is to buy from a reputable dealer, like SwissWatchExpo, who can provide a guarantee of authenticity on the watch.

WHY ARE ROLEX SUBMARINERS EXPENSIVE?

The price of every Rolex watch is determined by their in-house development costs. Rolex only uses the finest raw materials (such as their own gold alloys and 904L steel), utilize groundbreaking tools and equipment, and always come up with new techniques to stay ahead of the competition. As such, their timepieces are priced accordingly.

The Rolex Submariner is also in high demand in the pre-owned market, and this appetite for the Submariner drives the costs up.

HOW DO I WIND A ROLEX SUBMARINER?

Rolex Submariner models have screw-down crowns. This means that in order to wind the watch and set the time, it would first have to be unscrewed from the case. To unscrew the crown, rotate it towards you (counter clockwise) until it pops out of its position and is free from the threads that secure it onto the case.

To wind the watch manually, turn the crown away from you (clockwise). Rolex Submariners do not have natural stopping points due to their automatic winding movements. Continue winding until 40 rotations and the watch will be fully wound.


 

With its ruggedly handsome design, the Rolex Submariner proved to be equally at home out of the water, and has since evolved into an iconic all-occasion timepiece. Explore our collection of Rolex Submariner watches at SwissWatchExpo.com.

 

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