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Rolex Submariner

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About Rolex Submariner

Did you know that the first ever wristwatch guaranteed to be water-resistant up to 200 meters was the 1954 Rolex Submariner divers' watch? Now, there are many types of watches, but as scuba diving began to grow as a sport, watchmakers around the world raced to perfect the ultimate dive watch suitable for recreational scuba divers, underwater hunters, and sailors alike. Within this era of horology, Rolex released one of the most iconic watches ever created, the Rolex Submariner. Notably recognized as the most influential sports watch, the Rolex Submariner is an essential milestone in any watch collection. When it comes to buying or selling a Rolex Submariner, it is important to understand the rich history and cultural significance that has shaped the watch we know today. Read on to learn more about the history of the Submariner that you can use to drive your decision in which model to buy.

Submariner Timeline

  • 1953— The Submariner is first introduced
  • 1954— The Submariner launches with waterproofing up to 200m
  • 1959— Added crown-guards and case size increases to 40mm
  • 1967— Gilt dials traded for matte
  • 1969— Introduction to The Submariner Date
  • 1984— Matte dials traded for gloss
  • 2003— The Submariner finally adopts a green bezel
  • 2010— Rolex introduces the Super Case and new ceramic bezel
  • 2021— Case size increased to 41mm and modernized lugs

The First Rolex Submariner — Ref. 6204

The first Rolex Submariner was created in 1953 and was able to withstand depths of 100m without flooding with water. It featured the renowned Oyster case developed by Rolex in 1926, a small Twinlock crown that measured at 5.3mm, and had either A260 or A296 movements. Another intriguing component to the watch's design is that the ref. 6204 used pencil hands illuminated with radium and positioned on a gilt dial, rather than the infamous Mercedes-style hands that we see on Rolexes today. Shortly after the production of the ref. 6204, the ref. 6205 launched. This watch was similar in design, but was waterproof up to 200m— a substantial upgrade from 100m the year prior.

The "King Sub"— Ref. 6200

While the reference number suggests that the watch was manufactured before the 6204 and 6205, this version of the Submariner released in 1955. This model is one of the most sought after by vintage collectors. It featured a large 8mm crown, was waterproof up to 200 meters, and featured the Explorer style 3-6-9 dial. Unlike versions past, the gilt dial doesn't read Submariner or the waterproofing depth, but instead reads "Rolex" positioned above the phrase "Oyster Perpetual," which indicates the case is waterproof and that the movement is automatic.

"The James Bond Submariner"— Ref. 6538

This is the most famous of the Rolex Submariner watches. Famously known among collectors as "The Bond Sub," this was the timepiece worn by Sean Connery in Dr. No. With this watch, Rolex upgraded to the Caliber 1030 movement from the previous Cal. A260 or Cal. A296 found in the 6200 series. Another notable difference was that this watch was available as a chronometer-rated model, meaning that the watch passed a series of intense precision tests and was proven to be immensely accurate.

"The Mil-Sub"— Ref. 6538, 5513 & 5517

Another very collectable model, is the specially crafted Sub designed for the Royal Navy. In 1956, the British Ministry of Defense was on the hunt for a standard-issue timepiece for the Navy's new combatants. Rolex then provided them with the ref. 6538 model of the watch that was then forced through rigorous field testing. When the Ministry came back in 1957, they requested a few changes be made. The first was a slightly larger bezel with adjusted ridges, as it was difficult to adjust while wearing gloves. This minor change is what birthed the serrated edge we commonly see today on various types of Rolex watches.

Additionally, Rolex also upgraded the insert to nickel silver from plated brass to prevent cracking after impact. They also replaced the standard spring bars to solid ones fixated between the lugs, in order to securely house the NATO straps. In 1971, the Ministry of Defense came back to adopt 3 more references. These included the 5513, the double stamped 5513/5517, and the 5517. These watches commonly featured an explorer dial, a serrated edge, and a big crown.

Other Pre-Date Models

In efforts to fine tune the Submariner series, Rolex released several references, all with minor variations from their predecessors. The first of these was the ref. 6536. Originally launched in 1955, the ref. 6536 was the first Submariner to feature the Cal.1030, the first bi-directional automatic movement produced by Rolex. Similarly, the 6536/1 was essentially the same in design (small crown and thinner case), but this model had the option of being fitted with a chronometer-rated caliber. After the release of the Bond Sub, ref. 5510 launched in 1958. This Submariner was the first of its kind to feature the Cal. 1530, Rolex's new 17-jewel movement at the time.

Also released in 1958, Rolex debuted the ref. 5508. This small crown model was the first "Superlative Chronometer" Submariner that ultimately replaced the ref. 6536. Following the first few years of explosive development, Rolex Submariners finally came to a point of regularity with the release of the ref. 5512 ion 1959. By this point, most of the technology and architecture worked so efficiently, that not many adjustments were made for the next few decades. The 5512 featured a 40mm case, a newly designed bezel, the classic Mercedes handset, and novel crown-guards that had not yet been showcased in the series. The 5512 was the origination point for most components featured on Rolex's modern dive watch.

The watches that followed, up until 2010, were primarily the same aesthetically. The only real alterations made were adjustments to materials, upgraded movements, and a few minor design enhancements.

Rolex Submariner Date Models

The first Submariner released by Rolex that featured a date complication was the ref. 1680. This watch split Sub fans into two groups: those that saw Subs as a status symbol, and those who saw them purposed, diver's watch. Despite the differences between collectors, Rolex adopted the luxury status and began to make adjustments to the aesthetics of the line. The ref. 1680 was the first Sub to feature 18K gold, as opposed to the standard stainless steel case used in past models. Additionally, the watch was pulled away from the standard black bezel and dial and was replaced with blue ones.

Following the launch of the ref. 1680, Rolex then began to release a bunch of watches with a greater variety in design compared to the non-dated watches. Here is a list of the dated Submariner watches as released by Rolex and their years of production:

  • Ref. 1680— (1969-1979)
  • Ref. 16800— (1969-1979)
  • Ref. 16808— (1979-1988)
  • Ref. 16803— (1984-1988)
  • Ref. 168000— (1988-1989)
  • Ref. 16610— (1989-2010)
  • Ref. 16618— (1989-2010)
  • Ref. 16613— (1989-2010)
  • Ref. 16610LV— (2003-2010)
  • Ref. 16610— (2010-2020)
  • Ref. 11613— (2010-2020)
  • Ref. 11618— (2010-2020)
  • Ref. 11619— (2010-2020)
  • Ref. 126610— (2020-Present)
  • Ref. 126610LV— (2020-Present)
  • Ref. 126618— (2020-Present)
  • Ref. 126613— (2020-Present)
  • Ref. 126619— (2020-Present)

The most notable of the date watches is the 50th anniversary (2003) release of the ref. 16110LV, also known as "the Kermit." This stainless steel edition of the watch showcased a green bezel, a first for this diver. Later on in 2010, Rolex released the 1166xx series that featured an all-new insert crafted from Cerachrom. This insert is both fade-proof and scratch-proof, and was essentially designed to make your watch look young forever. The Submariner wouldn't have too many drastic changes to its architecture until 2020 when the recent releases in the line were upgraded to a larger 41mm case size and fitted with the pinnacle of Rolex calibers, the Cal. 3235.

What to Know Before Buying

On top of being one of the most iconic watches of all time, the Submariner is also one of the most counterfeited. By having a firm understanding of the exact model you're looking for and its components, you are less likely to run into trouble. To avoid receiving a false copy, it is important to purchase directly through a trustworthy luxury watch dealer like WatchGuys.

Buying a Rolex Submariner

Now that you have a brief history of the development of the Rolex Submariner, you're now ready to go out and buy. Whether you prefer a truly vintage classic originally released in the 50s and 60s, or one of the neo-vintage models released in the late 90s and early 2000s, it is important to gather as much information about the specs of the watch you want and buy through a trusted source.

If you're looking to purchase a Rolex Submariner, please don't hesitate to give us a call at 310-399-2200, so that we may further assist you in your watch purchase.


If you are looking to sell a Rolex Submariner look no further, WatchGuys is the most trusted place to sell a Rolex for best price. Give us a call today at 310-399-2200 to speak to a Rolex buying expert or click here to fill out our sell Rolex form.

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