In 1953, Rolex could never have imagined the impact this watch would have on the world. Yes, the world. The Rolex Submariner is perhaps the most photographed, most filmed, most wanted, and most collected watch in the world.
Whether you buy a vintage Rolex Submariner that you saw as a kid (or recently) in James Bond’s Dr. No in 1962 or a brand new Rolex Submariner, it is an instant classic on your wrist.
The question is, how come? The Rolex Submariner did not fly to the moon, has no mechanical complications, and surely isn’t produced in small quantities. Perhaps it is just that. Ever since the first model in 1953, the Rolex Submariner is meant to be a watch that is strong enough to last a lifetime (or two, or three), doesn’t cost you a real fortune to own, and will go with whatever attire you are wearing. Whether it is a wetsuit made of neoprene, jeans and a t-shirt, or a bespoke three-piece suit, a Rolex Submariner – new or vintage – will look perfect on you.
The fact that James Bond had one on his wrist, Steve McQueen was wearing one, and quite a few other famous people owned one (fictional or real) makes the Rolex Submariner even more desired by a lot of of people.
From the 1950s till now, the Rolex Submariner underwent some changes, of course. It went from being a diver’s watch with a depth-rate of 100 meters with a bi-directional bezel and a plexi crystal to the massive chunk of stainless steel it is now, including a depth-rate of 300 meters, a uni-directional Cerachrom bezel, and a modern made-to-fit bracelet. In 1954, Rolex actually started to deliver the Submariner watches to the market. Three versions were made: The reference 6200 (200 meters water-resistant), the 6204 (100 meter water-resistant) with caliber A.296, and reference 6205 (100 meters water-resistant) with caliber A.260. The very early versions did not have the ‘Submariner’ wording on the dial and there were no crown-guards to protect the winding crown.
The Rolex Submariner that started to look like today’s model was reference 5512. The watch became bigger (40mm instead of 36mm), had crown-guards, and had a chronometer rated movement presented as “Superlative Chronometer, Officially Certified” on its dial. Even today, this No-Date version is one of the most sought-after Rolex Submariner models but comes with a hefty price tag. The 5512 was in production till 1979. Another No-Date version of the Submariner that was in production for a very long time is the 5513, from 1962 till 1989 until the 14060 replaced it. The Submariner Date first saw life in 1967 with reference 1680, succeeded by the 16800, 168000, 16610, and 116610. Not considering the gold and gold/steel models of course.
You can imagine that during these long periods (with the same reference numbers), Rolex didn’t stop innovating and changed tiny bits about the Submariner. These small changes that can make a watch rare or even very rare and thus collectable for watch enthusiasts. Also, the Rolex Submariner models used by professional (diving) organizations like COMEX or the military (MilSub) are fetching prices beyond belief.
Collectors are mad about the Rolex Submariner, and for every alteration of a model there are reference names to point out the specific characteristics. So before you pull the trigger on a vintage Rolex Submariner, make sure to know what these are about (e.g. gilt underline dials, maxi dials, serif dials, and spider dials). If you want to create your own history with a Rolex Submariner, you might buy a new model or a recent model with little or no signs of use. You will be able to find some pre-owned but pristine conditioned 14060M and 16610 models on Chrono24 that are the ‘last’ models before the big upgrade to beefier lugs, ceramics, and easy-to-adjust clasps.