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Rolex Submariner: A long and cherished history

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The original Rolex Submariner

Probably the most iconic watch of all time, the Rolex Oyster Perpetual Submariner is a line of sports watches designed for diving. Manufactured by Rolex, they are especially known for their resistance to the elements. This was one of the first timepieces to effectively deal with the problem of water and corrosion. At the 1954 Basel Watch Fair, the original Submariner was first demonstrated to the public. The Rolex Submariner is part of Rolex’s Oyster Perpetual line-up, which means it is a waterproof sports designed to be resistant to water at least 100 metres. All current Rolex Submariner models are waterproofed to 300m, though.

It is considered a true classic among wristwatches, and it is produced by one of the most iconic luxury brands in the world. This is one of the most hotly desired pieces, and often-time it is one of most copied. You will have seen many of these proudly displayed on a many a market stall at rock bottom prices. There are also many homage models that have been made to respect this piece. One of those watches is the Steinhart Ocean One, which retails in the region of 400 to 800 Euros, at least 10% of the price of an original Submariner.

Today’s Submariners are equipped with Rolex calibres 3130 and 3135 (3130 COSC refers to the non-date movement and COSC refers to the movement’s official Swiss certified chronometer status. The 3135 COSC is the Date model). The models also contain luminescent hour markers (called Chromalight by Rolex and is quite similar to Super-LumiNova luminescent pigmenting solution). Today’s Submariner also hosts the Cerachrom insert, which refers to the ceramic rotatable bezel. This means it is even more resistant to scratching and wear and tear. The Submariner also only comes with the iconic solid-link Oyster bracelet. Water resistance is up to 300 metres, or 1000ft.

The Rolex Sea-Dweller, introduced in 1967, is a heavier-duty steel version of the Submariner. With a thicker case and crystal, it has a date feature, and cyclops magnifier. The Sea-Dweller incorporates a helium escape valve for use when decompressing. The 16600 model has a guaranteed waterproof depth of 1220m, or 4000ft. The Sea-Dweller was superseded by the DeepSea Sea-Dweller in late 2008, with the last 16600 Sea-Dwellers produced running into the V-series (late 2008). The DeepSea features a 44mm case that guarantees a depth of 3900m, or 12800ft (ref 116660).

The Original Bond Watch

It may not be surprising to you that the Rolex Submariner also gained its profile due to its appearance in a number of James Bond movies. Starring in the first James Bond movie, Dr No., with legendary actor Sean Connery, the watch was unusually used with a leather strap. Connery wore a reference 6538 in his first 4 movies with the Sub. They were Dr No., From Russia with Love, Goldfinger and Thunderball. In the final two movies the strap was swapped out for an undersized NATO nylon band. George Lazenby also wore a reference 5513 with an oyster bracelet, in part of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Roger Moore did the same in his first two movies, Live and Let Die and the Man with the Golden Gun (however, with a 7206 “riveted” bracelet). Timothy Dalton is currently the final Bond actor to wear a Rolex in the 007 franchise. He is seen wearing a Submariner Date in his last film, Licence to Kill. The watch is arguably a 16800 or 168000 (the movie was shot in the summer of 1988). From the Brosnan era onwards, 007 wears Omega watches, notably the Seamaster diver sports watch.

Early History

The Submariner model went into production in 1953, and was originally showcased at Basel Watch Fair in 1954. The case reference number of the first Submariner was either 6204 or 6205. Which model came first remains unclear; however, the watches are almost identical. Missing in these models are the distinctive “cathedral” or “Mercedes” hands, which is a unique look to the Submariners of the last few decades. Early Submariners actually had pencil-style hands, and few actually contain the name “Submariner” on the dial. Some 6204 models do have the Submariner logo (it was printed below the centre pinion). It is believed that there were unexpected trademark issues connected with the name "Submariner" at the time the 6204 and 6205 were released, accounting for the inconsistent use of the Submariner mark on these early Submariners. Trademark irregularities notwithstanding, both the 6204 and 6205 are designated Submariner models in Rolex product literature.

The first Submariner (not the first Rolex) to contain the Mercedes hour hands, was actually the reference 6200, which also came out in 1954. Moving forward, all Rolex Submariners would contain the Mercedes hour hands. A few years later, Rolex revised the Submariner line, and they produced the 6536 (small crown) and 6538 (oversized crown) models. A new improved movement (the cal. 1030) is what differentiated these from the earlier models. There was also a chronometer version in some 6536 models (called the 6536/1). From now on, Mercedes hands, the Submariner logo and the depth rating would be displayed on the dial.

By the early 1960s, these models had given way to the 5508 (small crown) and 5510 (large crown) models. All of these early Submariners used either gilt (6200, 6204, 6205) or gilt/silver gilt (6536, 6538) printing on glossy black dials. Radium paint was also used to provide luminescence to the indices.

The next wave of Submariners, the 5512 (chronometer version) and 5513 (non-chronometer), marked a significant change in the appearance of the popular Rolex design. Rolex now included "shoulders" or crown guards on the side of the case. This provided protection for the winding/setting mechanism. Until around 1964, these shoulders were pyramid shaped and were quite pointy. After 1964, the crown guards were changed to a more rounded appearance. The 5512 and 5513 were also fitted with an oversized crown. This later became a standard feature of the Submariner line. Radium paint was also dropped in the early 1960s in favour of tritium-infused paint, which was considered to be safer (radium is highly radioactive. Look up “radium girls” in Google and see for yourself).

Throughout the years 1965 and 1966, Rolex discontinued gilt/silver dials on Submariner watches, and decided to opt for white printing. A significant and final change came with the introduction of the 1680 model: it was the first Submariner to bear the date complication and window. This transcended the Submariner from a mere tool watch to a mass market fashion accessory. Many professional military divers used (and still use) Submariners in the most demanding underwater environments. However, it just happened that the watch also became a mass market product too.

The French diving company, COMEX, adopted the Rolex Submariner and Sea Dweller as the standard issue for their saturation divers in the late 1960s. This continued until the company was sold in 1997.

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Modern Day (ish) models

After the 50s and 60s era Submariners, the watch was updated with improved water resistance, more accurate movements with greater power reserves, and several minor cosmetic changes. 2003 marked the 50th anniversary of the Submariner. Indeed, Rolex celebrated this by launching the Rolex Submariner (aka the Kermit) green dial, green bezel edition (11610LV). This model had a distinguishing feature, unlike the other 5 digit reference Submariners; it sported the Maxi dial, which became the new standard for the next generation of Submariners. Its production ended in 2010, and the final watches were issued new “random” serial numbers.

The next (and current) generation of Submariner, took the case design from the GMT II, which featured heavier lugs and crownguard, a Cerachrome bezel and updated clasp featuring a quick adjust function. The 14060M did not have these modifications.

The new model Submariner Date (a new 6-digit reference model 116613), based on the “supercase” used in the GMT Master II, was presented at the 2008 Basel World show. It was an evolution of the previous 16613 reference model. The first Submariners offered were the yellow gold and oystersteel versions (aka the Bluesey), with a blue face and bezel. Also made available, was the white gold and blue face/bezel (aka the Smurf).

The stainless steel version was debuted at the 2010 Basel show, with the reference number 116610.

At the 2012 Basel World watch show, the 114060 was shown to the world (essentially a Submariner No-Date). This was a direct replacement for the outgoing 14060M, and had the Maxi Case with Chromalight hour makers, ceramic bezel, blue Parachrom hairspring and a Glidelock extension system.


The Rolex Submariner watch case has a diameter of 40.0mm (1.57in) and a thickness of 13.0mm (0.51in). The case and bracelet collectively weigh 155g (5.5 oz).

Further details:

Stainless steel (904l Oystersteel)

Monobloc middle case, screw-down case back and winding crown

Triplock, triple waterproofness system

Unidirectional rotatable 60-minute graduated, scratch-resistant

Cerachrom insert in ceramic, numerals and graduations coated in platinum

Scratch-resistant sapphire, Cyclops lens over the date

Waterproof to 300 metres / 1,000 feet Perpetual, mechanical, self-winding movement 3135

Manufacture Rolex 3130

Manufacture Rolex (No-Date model) -2/+2 sec/day, after casing precision

Centre hour, minute and seconds hands.

Instantaneous date with rapid setting.

Stop-seconds for precise time setting

Paramagnetic blue Parachrom hairspring

Bidirectional self-winding via Perpetual rotor

Approximately 48 hours power reserve Oyster, flat three-piece links bracelet

Folding Oysterlock safety clasp with Rolex Glidelock extension system Highly legible Chromalight display with long-lasting blue luminescence Superlative Chronometer (COSC + Rolex certification after casing)

Current Model Codes


Submariner 40mm



3130 COSC



Submariner Date 40mm



3135 COSC



Submariner Date 40mm



3135 COSC



Submariner Date 40mm

Steel and Yellow Gold


3135 COSC



Submariner Date 40mm

Steel and Yellow Gold


3135 COSC



Submariner Date 40mm

Yellow Gold


3135 COSC



Submariner Date 40mm

Yellow Gold


3135 COSC



Submariner Date 40mm

White Gold


3135 COSC


Discontinued Model Codes









































Certified chronometer 2007–2012



50th anniversary model

More model information and characteristics

  1. Waterproof to a maximum depth of 300m (1000ft). Earlier models were thinner and resistant to 200 metres (660ft).

  2. Triplock system waterproof crown, featuring a triple gasket system, identified by three dots on the crown. Screws down tightly onto the case tube and against the Oyster case to provide extra waterproof protection for underwater diving.

  3. Case made from solid block of 904L stainless steel, a corrosion-resistant alloy, or gold. The golds (white or yellow) are made in Rolex's own foundry.

  4. Unidirectional bezel that enables a diver to memorize and follow immersion time. As the bezel only rotates counter-clockwise, the dive time can only become "shorter" in case of accidental bezel movement, averting the danger of spending too much time underwater.

  5. Perpetual rotor in the self-winding wristwatch mechanism, allowing the watch to run continuously, as every slight movement of the wrist winds the movement. The energy generated is stored in the mainspring, allowing the watch to continue to function with no movement for several days. Each movement is a Swiss chronometer officially certified by the COSC.

  6. Rolex calendar mechanism that advances to the next date at midnight in a single short rotation.

  7. Removable hologram on the caseback, featured until 2007.

  8. Recent models of the Submariner and Submariner-Date (late 2008) feature a distinctive "ROLEX ROLEX ROLEX" and serial number engraved on the "inner bezel", also known as the "Rehaut" (French) or "Flange" (English). It also contains a minuscule laser-etched Rolex Crown at the bottom of the crystal in line with 6 o'clock mark.

If you enjoy luxury watches, why not hire a watch to extend your collection? We are WatchVIP and we allow our members to book out watches on hire. We have a Rolex Submariner 116613LB (blue dial) which is available for booking. Why not rent a watch for a special event, such as a party? Perhaps as a "something blue" or "something borrowed" for your wedding day?

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Use our luxury watch hire service and ensure you make the right purchase decision.

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We hope you enjoyed reading this content. Please note, every effort has been made to preserve the historical accuracy of this information.

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