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The Rolex Submariner is widely recognized as the gold standard of dive watches. Introduced in 1953, it has achieved cult status due to its combination of high functionality and striking yet timeless design.
The Rolex Submariner has adorned the wrists of professionals and enthusiasts alike and is associated with famous names in history and pop culture. Jacques Cousteau, James Bond, Sean Connery, Steve McQueen, and the British Royal Navy among others, wear the Rolex Submariner.
Today, the Submariner is available in a wide assortment of metals and colors and is considered the luxury watch to own.
Before the Rolex Submariner was introduced, Rolex was already a pioneer in the creation of resilient and water-resistant watches. In 1926, the company created the first dustproof and waterproof watch named the “Rolex Oyster”. In 1931, this was further enhanced with the addition of a self-winding mechanism with a Perpetual rotor.
Inspired by the feats of commando frogmen deployed during the World War, scuba diving as a sport became increasingly popular in the 1950s. One early scuba diving enthusiast was Frenchman René-Paul Jeanneret. Aside from being a close friend of renowned underwater explorer Jacques-Yves Cousteau, Jeanneret also sat on the Rolex Board of Directors. He presented his vision to Rolex: that of a diving watch that was not just waterproof, but also elegant enough to be worn every day.
By 1953, Rolex had completed the production of their waterproof watch.
Rolex decided to get the word out by showing it in action. Thus, when Swiss inventor and explorer Auguste Piccard took his Bathyscape submarine down to a depth of 3,131.8 meters, it had a specially designed Rolex attached to it. When the Bathyscape emerged, the Rolex watch was still in perfect working condition.
It was at the Basel Fair in 1954 that Rolex finally launched the Rolex Submariner. It was introduced as professional diver’s watch with an automatic movement, and a water resistance of 100 meters (330 feet) – a first at the time.
Almost 70 years on, almost 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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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 (1988 – 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.
The table below shows the complete list of Rolex Submariner references through the years, from vintage 4 and 5-digit references, to the modern 6-digit models. Beginning with the 5-digit references, Rolex used a reference number system that can be used to tell the model type, metal, and bezel color of the watch.
The last digit of the Submariner reference number indicates the material of the case:
1 - Steel
3 - Steel and Yellow Gold (also called Yellow Rolesor)
8 - Yellow Gold
9 - White Gold
The letter codes in the Submariner reference number indicates the color of the bezel:
LN (Lunette Noir) - Black Bezel
LV (Lunette Verte) - Green Bezel
LB (Lunette Bleu) - Blue Bezel
|REFERENCE NUMBER||YEAR PRODUCED||MATERIAL|
|6204||1953 – 1954||Steel|
|6200||1954 – 1955||Steel|
|6205||1953 – 1957||Steel|
|6536||1955 – 1959||Steel|
|6536/1||1955 – 1959||Steel|
|6538||1955 – 1959||Steel|
|5510||1958 – 1959||Steel|
|5508||1958 – 1962||Steel|
|5512||1959 – 1978||Steel|
|5513||1962 – 1990||Steel|
|5514||1972 – 1978||Steel|
|16800||1979 – 1988||Steel|
|16803||1983 – 1988||Steel and Gold|
|16618||1988 – 2001||Gold|
|REFERENCE NUMBER||YEAR PRODUCED||MATERIAL|
|116618LN||2010 – 2020||Gold and Ceramic|
|116618LB||2010 – 2020||Gold|
|116613LB||2010 – 2020||Steel and Gold|
|116613LN||2010 – 2020||Steel and Gold|
|16610||1987 – 2010||Steel|
|14060||1990 – 2012||Steel|
|14060M||1998 – 2012||Steel|
|114060||2012 – 2020||Steel and Ceramic|
|16610LV||2000 – 2009||Steel|
|116610LV||2010 – 2020||Steel and Ceramic|
|126610LN||2020 - Present||Steel and Ceramic|
|124060||2020 - Present||Steel and Ceramic|
|126613LB||2020 - Present||Steel, Gold and Ceramic|
|126613LN||2020 - Present||Steel, Gold and Ceramic|
|126619LB||2020 - Present||White Gold and Ceramic|
|126618LN||2020 - Present||Yellow Gold, Black Ceramic|
|126618LB||2020 - Present||Yellow Gold, Blue Ceramic|
|126610LV||2020 - Present||Steel and Green Ceramic|
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.
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).
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 who can provide a guarantee of authenticity on the watch.
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.
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.