History of the legendary Rolex Submariner

In the mid-1950s, Rolex introduced a sports watch specifically designed for diving, the Rolex Submariner, which foresaw a growing demand for water- and corrosion-resistant watches.

In 1954, the first Submariner model was presented to the public at the famous Baselworld trade show under reference 6204. The watch was historically the first consumer watch to be water resistant up to 100m. The Submariner, a classic among sports watches, soon became the most recognized and popular luxury sports watch.

Vintage ad introducg the Submariner

Many changes and developments have marked the years leading up until now, and Rolex still offers its "date" and "dateless" versions, respectively equipped with the new 3230 and 3235 manufacture calibers. Today, the watches are water resistant up to 300 meters (1000 ft). From 1954 to 2022, there have been many different models and subtle changes throughout its history.

The very first Rolex Submariner reference

The first Rolex Submariner, manufactured in 1953 and introduced to the public in 1954, bears two different references: 6204 and 6205. No archive to this day can confirm which of the two was produced first. Two almost identical watches... straight gold hands, lacquered dial, "Submariner at 6 o'clock" markings, or lack of (a detail that remains unexplained except for some speculations about a possible difficulty to use "Submariner" on a watch dial at the time)...

Regardless of this irregularity in how the word is used, the 6204 and 6205 are considered the first Submariners by both the brand and by enthusiasts and collectors.

These two models could very well have been on the podium as " the most sought-after watches ", but in the same year, Rolex released a few models of another reference, the 6200. The difference, from a design point of view, is rather striking, especially if we take a look at the appearance of the famous Mercedes hand, the oversized winding mechanism (Big Crown) and the very rare and well-known 3-6-9 dial... A winning trio for the most experienced collectors.

Rolex 6538 "Big Crown" - ©2022 41Watch

A few years later, references 6536 (small winding crown) and 6538 (Big Crown) would follow. A further improvement of the movement was made and it was given the reference 1030. Be aware of a small production difference on the 6536: the 6536 is equipped with a standard 1030 caliber and the 6536/1 is equipped with a 1030 COSC caliber. Starting with these models, all watches will be equipped with Mercedes hands and a dial indicating the watch's depth index.

If we look at the watchmaking industry and how it was at the time, it is quite easy to understand what motivated the brands to produce diving watches. For each model produced, the manufacturers made their mark in the history books, both from a technological point of view and from a marketing point of view, an area that Rolex excelled in.

Rolex Submariner 5510 "Big Crown" - ©2022 41Watch

In the early 1960s, two new models appeared: the 5508 (Small Crown) and the 5510 (Big Crown). The dial changes that took place during those few years were numerous and it took experts and collectors a number of years to "classify" the differences to the best of their ability, giving rise to a whole series of classifications. Nowadays, we can say that thanks to the meticulous work carried out by a number of specialists, you can easily work your way around these different timepieces, even if it may not seem obvious to everyone.

We can also find on the Rolex Submariner models 6200, 6204, 6205, 6238, 6236, 5508, 5510, 5512, and 5513, lacquered dials with gold (gilt) printing but also gold/silver for some of them. There are trustworthy sites that classify these dials, and you can find a link to them in this article.

The 5512 (COSC version) and 5513 (non-COSC) references were next in line, the last two models equipped with lacquered Gilt dials. These two models differ from the previous ones by the addition of a protective shoulder on each side of the crown. Until around 1964, three different shoulders were introduced, before the version we know today: Square Crown Guard, followed by two pointed shoulders (Eagle Beak and Pointed Guard).

The four different shoulders ©5513mattedial - ©Beaumont Miller II.
Rolex 5512 « 4-lines COSC » - Pointed Guard - © 2022 41Watch

At the beginning of the 1960s, Rolex stopped using radium on their indexes (and hands), making way for a zinc sulfide-based luminophore, charged with tritium, a much less radioactive product than radium.

Some examples of Submariner 5512 dials

You can view all 5512 and 5513 lacquered dials on the website "5513mattedial", a benchmark in the industry.

Rolex Submariner 5512 "2 lines" non-COSC | Production years 1959 – 1960 | 2 lines printed in silver & gold
Rolex Submariner 5512 "4 lines" | COSC | Production years 1959 – 1960 | 4 lines printed in silver & gold
Rolex Submariner 5512 "Bart Simpson" | After several versions, here is the last gilt dial produced in 1966, named "Bart Simpson" because of the shape of the crown. Note that the bottom of the dial is marked "Swiss - T25" (tritium) instead of "Swiss".
Rolex 5513 "Bart Simpson" Dial - © 2022 41Watch

Why is there a date display on Submariner ?

Sixteen years after the introduction of the first Submariner, Rolex decided to add the date on a brand new model, the Submariner 1680. It was 1968 at the time. It is not however their first diver with the date, the Sea-Dweller, produced two years earlier on an exclusively professional market (developed for the Executive Committee), already featured the date. It is possible that Rolex had to face a growing demand from the public for a date showing diver piece after having widely publicized the Sea-Dweller's capabilities. The Sea-Dweller was made available to the general public in 1967.

The first Rolex Submariner 1680 was sold with a dial that became a collector's item, the "Red Submariner" dial, because of the name Submariner that appears on the dial along four lines in red letters. During production years, from 1968 to the end of 1975, the "Red Submariner" version came with six dial versions (MK 1 to 6), the rarest of them being the MK1, which was only produced for little over a year.

Rolex Submariner Red dial MK2 "tropical dial", "MK5 Red", "MK6 Red" & "White dial MK1" © 2022 – 41Watch

At the end of 1975, the red dial disappeared from the 50, as well as the name "Red Submariner", leaving the Submariner 1680 "White Dial". It will continue to be produced until 1979.

Inside the watch, there is the automatic winding 1575 caliber, already at work in the Datejust and GMT-Master. This movement was further improved by adding the "hacking seconds" function, which lets you set the time with even greater precision.

That same year, Rolex made a rather bold decision and decided to launch the very first Submariner in solid yellow gold. The Submariner Date, which is less of a "tool" watch than the others, was the obvious choice for this new iteration. For many purists, this marks the turning point when the Submariner went from a functional tool watch to a mass-market luxury watch. Regardless, the 18K solid gold Submariner Date was a success, especially in Italy and the US market.

Modern changes and evolution of the Submariner

Over the next 40 years, production continued to be driven by a number of technical developments, including improved water-resistance (depth) and new movements, as well as numerous aesthetic changes. In 2003, Rolex celebrated the Submariner's 50th anniversary by launching an anniversary edition of the Rolex Submariner-Date (16610 LV), with distinctive features such as the green bezel and the Maxi dial (larger indexes). Production ended in 2010. In 2008, Rolex decided to equip its Submariner with a larger case size, stemming from its famous GMT II (larger lugs and crown guard), as well as a Cerachrom bezel and a new quick-set clasp. That will be the year with the most important changes made to this famous diver's watch.

For Baselworld in 2012, the model ref. 14060M (Rolex without date) was replaced by the new model ref. 114060, case replaced by a "Maxi Case", "Chromalight" index, ceramic bezel, blue parachromic balance spring, and "Glidelock" bracelet.

The second notable change to the Rolex Submariner will happen in 2020 when this legendary reference will go from a 40mm diameter to 41mm. While not everyone appreciates this change, it's worth noting another equally important one, with the arrival of two new movements: 3230 (no date) and 3235 (date). Time will tell if these movements will be able to boast the same reliability as their predecessors, but, considering the brand's movements, it is a safe bet that they will.

Complete list of Rolex Submariner models and years of production

Current references

126610LN41mmSteelBlack3235 COSC2020 - ...
12406041mmSteelBlack3230 COSC2020 - ...
126610LV41mmSteelGreen3235 COSC2020 - ...
126613LB41mmSteel & GoldBlue3235 COSC2020 - ...
126613LN41mmSteel & GoldBlack3235 COSC2020 - ...
126618LB41mmGoldBlue3235 COSC2020 - ...
126618LN41mmGoldBlack3235 COSC2020 - ...
126619LB41mmWhite GoldBlue3235 COSC2020 - ...

Discontinued models

Model Ref.Production dates
62051953 - 1957
65361954 - 1958
6536/11955 - 1961
65381958 - 1961
55121959 - 1978
55131962 - 1990
55171972 - 1978
16801966 - 1981
168001977 - 1987
166101988 - 2010
140601990 - 2002
14060M2002 - 2012
16610LV2003 - 2010
1140602012 - 2020
116610LN2010 - 2020
116610LV2010 - 2020
116619LB2008 - 2020

James Bond & Submariner - Birth of a legend

The Rolex Submariner appeared in a number of James Bond films. Sean Connery wore a 6538 in his first four films. In Dr. No and From Russia With Love, the watch was worn with a leather strap, preferred by spy Matt West, whereas in Goldfinger and Thunderball, the strap was replaced by a NATO-style nylon strap (the Department of Defense "G10" strap was not introduced until 1973, and only in admiral gray without stripes).

George Lazenby wore a 5513 with an Oyster bracelet in parts of On Her Majesty's Secret Service, as did Roger Moore in his first two films Live and Let Die and The Man with the Golden Gun, but with a 7206 "riveted" bracelet. Timothy Dalton is so far the last Bond actor to wear a Rolex in the Bond franchise. He is seen wearing a Submariner Date in his latest film License to Kill. The model is probably a Rolex Submariner 16800 or 168000, as the film was shot in the summer of 1988. Starting with GoldenEye, James Bond is seen wearing an Omega Seamaster.

Our Submariner Catalogue

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