Even though I have written a lot about Rolex, I have been putting this post off for a long while. Writing about the Submariner can be a bit of a cliché, being that nearly everyone has written something about it. Now, it isn’t that it’s worth writing about, but I want to avoid adding to the noise and write something worthy of a great watch. So being the swell blogger I am, it is my duty -when I finally broach the subject- to do it justice.
It all started in the early 1950’s when Rolex director Rene P. Jeanneret, who was also an amateur diver, encouraged the powers that be to develop a sports watch for scuba divers. By 1954 it was already in production for nearly a year and being showcased at the Basel watch fair in Switzerland. I am not going to argue what was the first model number, suffice to say it looked strikingly similar to the iteration you will see in a retailer today. The 6204 and 5 had pencil hands, and no crown guard, and many did not say submariner on the dial. Save these few differences they all look much the same today. The 6204 was water-resistant to 600 feet and used Rolex caliber A260 movement in a semi-bubble back case.
There were a few reference numbers released after that, each accompanying small changes to the watch such as; larger crown, crown guards, “Mercedes” hands, different movements, and chronometer grades. I won’t touch on every nuance and every reference, but as you can see rather than re invent the wheel Rolex took their flagship tool watch and constantly tried to improve upon it. Ultimately becoming the most popular and recognized watch in the world.
The next important submariner is the 6538, in 1962 it played a prominent role in the Bond film Dr. No. Now this is probably not the Rolex that Ian Fleming is describing in his book the film is based on, but to collectors and the public at large it matters not. James Bond is, in this writers humble opinion, nearly solely responsible for the Sumbariner’s fame and success it now enjoys the world over. In a time before product placement was as invasive as it is now, Rolex was unwittingly featured in a film franchise that is their biggest boon to date.
Now there are no Submariners available with buzz saws, super magnets, laser cutters, and the like, but as time went on there were aesthetic variations added to the basic black and stainless models. The first really major change was with the 1680 by adding the date feature, something we take for granted now, but a big deal when it became available prevalently on watches. Shortly after that an 8 was added to the reference number denoting the availability in yellow gold.
The 16800 (extra 0) is the most modern of the references. It was the first to don the sapphire crystal, and also came in the most variations, two tone, yellow gold, different dial and bezel colors-namely blue. Today’s Submariner is a few numbers removed from this, but again looks the same. It’s been available in blues and greens, white and yellow gold, and now features the ceramic bezel and a blue parachrom hair spring equipped calibre 3135 movement. yet another advancement to improve on the work horse.
I am writing this from experience, I have a Sub in my personal collection that has quickly become my daily wearer. It is a truly robust watch. It isn’t a dress watch, contrary to what every rapper wants you to believe. It is built to do a task and to do it well, and it does. Still supremely simple with time, date, and a timing dive bezel there isn’t much to it. But that is the beauty of it, every piece of this watch has been engineered to work with out fail in some extreme conditions- namely 1000 ft under water. It works well for me, day in and day out the second hand dutifully floats around the dial, it takes some minor abuse, but is no worse for the wear.
For all the hype, pomp and circumstance thrown at the Rolex Submariner it really does deserve it, it never set out to be the “end all, be all” watch for so many people, but what it does, it does so well that it has become that. Are their better watches out there? Sure, more complicated? Definitely, even more expensive? of course, but there aren’t to many that do something so simply and yet so swell.