Rolex Submariner – The Collector’s Guide

Aug 14, 2023 | Rolex, Watches

Rolex is the self-crowned yet undisputed ‘King of Watches’, but the Rolex Submariner still manages to stand out in Rolex’s stellar portfolio. This iconic dive watch is the standard against which all dive watches are measured in terms of both style and feel, but also when it comes to performance and capabilities. To understand the value of the Rolex Submariner and to appreciate why so many watch buyers want to invest in a Rolex Submariner, it’s important to understand the history of this legendary watch.

The History of the Rolex Submariner

Introduced in 1953, the Rolex Submariner was designed as a diving watch. In the 1950s, divers were pushing at the boundaries of underwater exploration, inspired by Jacques Cousteau’s underwater films that were so powerful that they even influenced the design of the Rolex Submariner.

Not the first dive watch, the Rolex Submariner was, however, the first watch to be waterproof to 100m and feature a rotatable bezel that divers could read. The Submariner that we know today hasn’t changed very much since its release at the Basel Watch Fair in 1954; although, with every different version produced, there have been subtle changes and improvements. In fact, the first year of production saw three different versions produced: 6200, 6204 and 6205.

One of the most important aspects of the Rolex Submariner was its flexibility; the Rolex Submariner was as much at home on the wrist of a professional diver as it was an iconic rock star or teamed with a suit and tie in a boardroom.

The Rolex Submariner Timeline

While the Submariner has influenced the design and production of almost every dive watch made, there have been some key developments over the last seven decades that define the Rolex Submariner.

1953: The Rolex Submariner is introduced. The dive watch features an automatic movement and is water-resistant to 100 metres.

1959: Rolex increases the Submariner’s 37mm case size to 40mm and adds crown guards. The Rolex Submariner will remain 40mm until 2020.

1967: Rolex implement design changes that include a move from radium to tritium luminescence, and variations of the matte dials to include black text alongside gilt gloss dials.

1969: The Rolex Submariner adds a date complication displayed through an aperture at 3 o’clock. Rolex produces the first gold Submariner.

1979: A pivotal year for Rolex Submariner, with three innovations introduced that still endure today. Acrylic crystal was changed to scratch-resistant sapphire crystals, rotating bezels became unidirectional rather than bidirectional, and water resistance was improved to 300 metres.

1984: The Submariner’s matte dials become gloss dials with white gold markers and the first steel and gold two-tone Submariner’s are produced.

1988: The material used in the Submariner’s construction changes from 316L to 904L stainless steel, which is stronger.

2003: The Submariner goes green to mark the model’s 50th anniversary. Known as the Kermit, the 16610LV features a green bezel. Two further green Submariners arrive in time, with the Hulk 116610LV in 2010 and the Starbucks 126610LV in 2021.

2008: Rolex introduce a proprietary lume called Chromalight to advance the dial’s luminescence.

2010: Rolex introduces a patented Cerachrom bezel, with the Super Case and Maxi Dial design on the Submariner.

2020: A new range of Rolex Submariner models is introduced with a 41mm case diameter, longer, slimmer lugs and thinner crown guards. This helps to give the larger model a tapered profile.

Key features of the Rolex Submariner

While many Submariner models have key differentiators, there are some important commonalities that feature across all Rolex Submariner references, marking them out as part of the Rolex Submariner family.

Rolex Submariner Oyster Bracelet

The Rolex Submariner has always featured a three-link Oyster bracelet. Regarded as the ‘sportiest’ of the Rolex bracelets, it sits well with the dive watch’s function. The introduction of the Glidelock extension system in 2010 means the bracelet can be extended in 2mm increments, up to a total of 20mm, which is to allow comfortable wear over a wetsuit.

Submariner Waterproof Oyster Case

The Oyster case was created by Rolex in 1926 and was the world’s first waterproof wristwatch case. Rolex’s patented system that ensures waterproofing sees the winding crown, bezel and case back screwed directly against the middle case. With a screw-down caseback and a screw-down Triplock winding crown to keep both dust and moisture out, modern Rolex Oyster cases come in several metals, such as stainless steel, steel and Rolex’s proprietary yellow gold, Rolesor, as well as 18k yellow gold and 18k white gold.

Rolex’s 60 Minute Bezel

The Rolex Submariner bezel features 60-minute graduations with an arrow at the 12 o’clock position to allow the wearer to tell the time underwater. While the first bezels were bidirectional and rotational, they were later replaced with unidirectional bezels which can only move forward and so provide highly accurate immersion timing.

Submariner Luminous Markers

The ability to tell the time while submerged, despite the conditions, is paramount. The Luminous markers have always been a critical part of the Submariner’s make-up. Initially using radium, Rolex have implemented several changes in the materials used for markers, from tritium in the 1960’s to Luminova in 1998 and Super-Luminova in the 2000s, with the 2008 introduction of a proprietary lume called Chromalight, which glows blue in the dark and lasts longer.

Key Rolex Submariner Models

Rolex Submariner Ref. 6200 – The Big Crown

Only a few of the Ref. 6200 ‘Big Crown’ Submariners were ever made. With a thicker case than Ref. 6204 and 6205 models, Ref. 6200 came with a larger winding crown marked ‘Brevet’. From the French word ‘brevette’, meaning Patented, the 6200 featured an explorer-style dial, pencil-point shaped luminous hands and a ‘lollipop’ second hand. With an equilateral triangle at 12 o’clock, these early Submariners did not have the word ‘Submariner’ on the dial. While these watches had been both tested and could perform at a depth of 200m, this was not noted on the dial.

Rolex Submariner Ref. 6204

Also produced in 1953, the Ref. 6204 was the first of all models to display ‘Submariner’ on the dial. With a smaller crown displaying a Swiss cross, instead of the former ‘brevette’, a re-launched version in 1954 with a larger Submariner logo, was issued to the British Royal Navy. While there are many similarities between the Ref. 6204 and Ref. 6205, not all of the Ref. 6205 displayed the Submariner logo. There are a few 6204 models where the Submariner logo has been masked by black paint, consistently in the same place and of the same size. This suggests it was done at the time of manufacture.

Rolex Submariner Ref. 6205

The third Submariner model to be produced was the Ref. 6205. By late 1954 all Submariner watches were being fashioned with the Submariner logo and, in 1960, the Submariner name was finally registered to Rolex.

Rolex Submariner Ref.1680 – The Red Submariner

In production for a short period of time, the Red Submariner is highly sought after as very few exist. The Rolex Submariner Ref. 1680 was released with red ‘Submariner’ lettering on the dial. As well as a limited production, the dials were often replaced during servicing which reduced numbers even further.

Rolex Submariner Ref. 16610

Produced for 21 years between 1989 and 2010, Ref 16610 is a collector’s favourite. A long-lasting reference, the Rolex Submariner 16610 features the classic 40mm dial, luminescent hands, white gold circled hour markers, and a sapphire crystal.

Rolex Submariner Green Watches – Meet Kermit, Hulk and Starbucks

While green-dialled watches may be more common these days, the Rolex Submariner was among the first to adopt the unusual colour, releasing the first green Rolex Submariner in Baselworld in 2003. Designed to mark the Submariner’s 50th anniversary, Rolex Ref. 16610LV was produced for seven years, until 2010. Nicknamed the Kermit, this model featured a green aluminium bezel. The end of the Kermit saw the introduction of the ‘Hulk’ in 2010. The Ref. 116610LV was produced for a decade and featured a green dial and a green ceramic bezel. Slightly larger than the Kermit, the Hulk was discontinued in 2020 and was replaced by the 126610LV. Both the Kermit and the Hulk are sought after by collectors.

A new green Submariner was released in 2020, alongside an updated version of the Kermit. Known as the ‘Starbucks’ Rolex, this model features a dark green and has a more solid presence, with a 41mm case diameter.

Rolex Submariner Ref. 116619

The Ref. 116619 was launched in 2008 and featured Rolex’s first white gold and had a bright blue dial and a blue ceramic bezel. Marking both the 65th anniversary of the Submariner and the 100th anniversary of Rolex, this blue and white Rolex was nicknamed the Smurf. Discontinued in 2020. Ref. 116619 was replaced by a new white gold model with a black dial and blue bezel.

How Can I tell if a Rolex Submariner Is real?

While Rolex Submariner is the most copied watch in the world, there are key ways in which to tell a real Rolex Submariner from a fake – and the key is most usually in the detail.

Every single element of a Rolex will be finished exquisitely, from the lettering on the dial to the crown and the brightness of the lume on the bezel markings. Part of Rolex’s high price tag comes from the attention to detail with bezel numbers applied in platinum in a time-consuming and expensive process in Rolex’s Swiss workshop. Fakes tend to paint these number on and they don’t hold up to scrutiny under magnification.

While fakes may have Rolex’s signature laser cut crown on the glass, again forged flaws will be revealed under magnification, with poor imitations of the font, with overly-wide spacing between letters and even thinner letters. When looking at a Rolex to assess for forgery, every aspect of a real Rolex will be completed with precision. This includes the positioning of every numeral and the colour of the anti-reflector tint on the magnifying window for the date.

In order to tell a true Rolex Submariner, it can pay to look inside the watch – every Rolex Submariner is powered by the Rolex calibre 3135.

Do Rolex Submariners hold Their Value?

When it comes to investing in or collecting Rolex, the stainless-steel sports models – including the Rolex Submariner – demonstrate time after time that they not only hold their value but can also increase their value, with performance at auction confirming this.

Submariner models that come a range of colours are often in high demand by both buyers and collectors, with models like the Hulk attracting a cult following.

The Rolex Submariner, like the Daytona and the GMT, is always in high demand and this can, in turn, increase demand for other Rolexes, such as the DateJust, Yachtmaster, DeepSea and the Milgauss.

Who Wears a Rolex Submariner?

The Rolex Submariner is more than a watch. It is a status symbol that is as often worn to a C-level board meeting as on the wrist of a professional scuba diver. It secured its place in popular culture through being a reliable watch that carried with it its own sense of class. With actors Steve McQueen favouring the Ref. 5512 and Mark Wahlberg the owner of a large Rolex collection, the Submariner was also worn by James Bond in no less than 8 films, from Dr No Licence to Kill in 1989. Roger Moore’s electromagnetic Submariner Ref. 1680 was an important part of Live and Let Die and one of the coolest rock guitarists in the world – Slash – is the owner of a Ref. 116610LV Hulk.

Current Rolex Submariner Models 2023

For 2023, Submariner references are available in 41mm, an increase diameter from the more usual 40mm. For collectors seeking brand new models, model numbers of note include 124060, 126610, 126613 and 16618.

However, these newer models can have long waiting lists attached to them and the collectability of these newer models remains unproven, when compared to a classic, such as a Smurf or a Red Submariner.

Where can I sell my Rolex Submariner?

Contact Suttons and Robertsons today for a free quote and find out how much you can sell your Rolex Submariner for. Alternatively, we offer short term loans against Rolex watches for clients who want to raise funding without selling. If you are looking to buy a pre-owned Rolex watch, you can browse our latest collection for sale online now.

Also read our article on 10 Things You Didn’t Know About Rolex Watches.

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