History of the Model
The Rolex Submariner is one of the most iconic watches in history. From the silver screen to the deep seas, the Submariner has earned it’s place as one of the most popular watches produced by one of the most well known watch brands in the world.
Officially released in 1954 at the Basel Spring Watch Fair, the Submariner was the world’s first wristwatch designed for the deep waters of scuba diving. The early Submariner was built with a numbered bezel, luminescent hands that glowed in low light conditions, and a waterproof case that, in some models, could withstand conditions as deep as 200 meters.
Over time the watch changed slightly. The original models, reference numbers 6200, 6204 and 6205, had simple, straight minute and hour hands that came to a point called “pencil” hands. By 1956, Rolex added a small circle at the end of the hour hand with a symbol similar to that of German carmaker Mercededs-Benz, earning these the name “Mercedes hands.” The early model second hands on the Submariner also featured a small circle on the very end of the hand, these were called Lollipop hands. Over time, the small circle was moved slightly up the second hand closer to the center of the watch. One of the most noticeable changes to the Submariner was the addition of crown guards in the reference 5512 which was released in 1959. Previous models without crown guards are often referred to as James Bond models after they appeared on the British agent’s wrist in a number of the films.
There have also been a number of dial variations over the years. The earliest Submariners can be found without “Submariner” printed on the dial. This is believed to be an intentional omission, as Rolex had not received approval for the copyright of the name. Rare and highly sought after “Explorer” dials feature a 3, 6 and 9 at each respective hour mark. Yet another rare and sought after dial variation is the “Red” Submariner, where the “Submariner” is printed in red on the dial.
The list of variations goes on, but one thing stays the same; the Rolex Submariner is an icon in horological history and has earned it’s place as one of the most well known and sought after vintage Rolex’s on the market.
Like many watches, the most notable changes over time were made to the case of the Submariner. The earliest Submariners, like the 6204, 6538, 5508, had no crown guards, but in 1959 Rolex released the 5512 which featured the first crown guards. From there, the crown guards changed shape slightly, but the overall look of the Submariner stayed the same.
Dial variations play a major role in the rarity and value of vintage Submariners. Over time, the dials went from matte to glossy, some with white gold surrounding the hour makers. Rolex briefly printed the word “Submariner” in red, making these “Red Submariners” highly collectable. There are too many variations to list, but certainly a lot to learn!
1954 – Official release at the Basel Spring Watch Fair releasing the 6200, 6204 and 6205
1955 – Rolex updated the 6204 and 6205 to become the 6438 and 6536 respectively. The update brought a new movement, slightly larger crown, a new bezel with smaller rectangle marker for each of the first 15 minute markers. The new 6438 and 6536 also introduced the “Mercedes hands,” the circular symbol at the end of the hour hand, as well as brought the luminous circle on the second hand in close to the center of the watch.
1958 – The 6200 and 6536 were built with updated movements and renumber 5510 and 5508 respectively. This update also included a new square-shaped typeface on the numerals on the bezel.
1959 – Rolex released the 5512 model with a new movement and the introduction of crown guards. Pervious models, without the crown guards, are often called James Bond models after the 6538, 6200 and 5510 models appeared in the films.
1962 – The 5513 model was introduced with a different movement from the 5512.
1965 – Rolex stopped producing the 6536 and 6538 models.
1966 – The new 1680 model was introduced featuring a date wheel and for the first time some of the models has the word “Submariner” printed in red on the dial. The model 1680 was also the first Submariner model to come in gold.
1974 – Rolex slowly fazed out the red “Submariner” on the dial and changed the writing to white print. This process took place at different times across a few markets worldwide until 1980.
1980 – By the 1980’s the bezel on the Submariner was updated to only rotate counter-clockwise. This feature was created to ensure divers do not accidentally rotate the bezel clockwise and keep inaccurate track of time for decompression.
1980’s – Rolex switched the Submariner crystal from an acrylic crystal to a scratchproof synthetic sapphire crystal on the new 16800 model.
1989 – The Submariner was fitted with a new movement and the models with the date feature renamed 16610 and no-date models named 14060.
2004 – To celebrate the Submariner’s 50th anniversary, Rolex released a green faced Submariner as reference 16610LV.