Unraveling the History of the Rolex Submariner: A Timeless Classic

the history of the rolex submariner

The Rolex Submariner is like a star in the world of fancy watches. Think of it as the cool kid in the watch family that started its journey way back in 1953. This watch isn't just any watch; it's like a superhero of watches that can dive deep into the ocean and still look super stylish on land. 

This blog post is all about the history of the Rolex Submariner, showing how it grew from being the new, trendy thing to a timeless treasure.

Let's go on a time travel adventure to learn about this amazing watch. Back in 1954, at a big watch show in Switzerland, the Submariner made its first appearance. Think of it as its grand entrance, like when a movie star walks on the red carpet! Back then, it was super modern and looked different from other watches with its spinning bezel (that's the ring around the watch face that turns). People thought it was really big and super cool.

Now, let's fast forward to today. The Submariner isn't seen as a big watch anymore. Instead, it's like the perfect watch that many people want to wear, especially if they love sports or adventures. It's not just modern now; it's a classic - like a favorite song that never gets old. Nowadays, it becomes the most popular watch, followed by the Rolex Daytona.

Rolex submariner is the most popular watch
As of January 2024

1953 - The History of the Rolex Submariner Began

Rolex Submariner 6204 from 1953. Source: Hodinkee
Rolex Submariner 6204 from 1953. Source: Hodinkee
Rolex Submariner 6204
Source: Hodinkee
Rolex Submariner 6204
Source: Hodinkee

The journey of the Rolex Submariner began in the early 1950s when the company's director, Rene-Paul Jeanneret, envisioned a versatile sports watch suitable for underwater exploration and formal events. Motivated by his idea, Rolex set out to create a timepiece offering outstanding water resistance, precise timekeeping, and robust durability.

In 1954, the first Rolex Submariner (produced in 1953), Reference 6204, was presented to the public.

When you observe the Reference 6204, it's clear that it's part of the Submariner lineage, but it has several unique features. The case is noticeably slimmer compared to subsequent models, and it's paired with a relatively small 5.3mm crown, suggesting a water resistance of up to 100 meters, although there's an early advertisement claiming a 200m capability. The bezel stands out with its bold design, missing the finer markings between zero and 15. 

The dial's gilt design is simpler, and instead of the typical Mercedes hand set, it features very thin pencil-shaped hands, with a seconds hand that includes a small lollipop detail.

With a water resistance of 100 meters, the watch was a remarkable achievement for its time.

Vintage ad introducg the Submariner
Vintage ad introducg the Submariner. Source: 41watch.com
1957 Rolex Submariner Magazine Ad
1957 Rolex Submariner Magazine Ad. Source: Rolex


1954 - Reference 6205

Rolex Submariner 6205 with a clean dial and pencil hands
Rolex Submariner 6205 with a clean dial and pencil hands. Source: Hodinkee

Over the years, the Rolex Submariner has seen many updates and improvements. Today, it comes in two main styles: one with a date feature and one without, powered by the latest 3230 and 3235 calibers. These modern versions can dive up to 300 meters deep. Since 1954, the Submariner has evolved through various models.

Looking at the above picture, one has to wonder: "Are we going backward?" This watch lacks the "Submariner" text, unlike the reference 6204. In early 1954, Rolex opted to remove the model name for reasons unknown, creating the "clean dial" Submariner. The dial features just the Rolex logo and "Oyster Perpetual," similar to the 6204, with the same pencil-and-lollipop hand style. This model marks the last Submariner without the Mercedes hands.

Although it's the same model as the one we just discussed, this version starts to resemble the Submariners we're familiar with today. "Submariner" is once again featured on the dial at six o'clock, and we see the introduction of the iconic Mercedes hour hand, paired with a seconds hand that has a straight tip beyond the lollipop. 

However, take note of the unusual length of these hands—they're significantly longer than those on later models like the 5512s and 5513s. The hour hand's shaft extends further, and the minute hand stretches to reach the chapter ring, distinguishing it from its successors.

Rolex Submariner 6205
Rolex Submariner 6205 from 1954 with Mercedes-style hands. Source: Hodinkee

Introduction of the Date Function in 1966

Rolex Submariner 1608
Rolex Submariner 1608. Source: Monochrome Watches

In 1966, Rolex unveiled the Submariner Date, model Reference 1680, introducing a date function for the first time in the Submariner series. This model featured a date display at 3 o'clock, complete with a Cyclops lens for magnification. This innovation marked a pivotal moment, broadening the Submariner's appeal beyond just diving enthusiasts to a wider audience.

This particular Submariner earned the moniker "Red Sub" due to the "Submariner" text printed in red on its dial. Despite new features, the dial maintained its classic design with a triangular luminescent marker at 12 o’clock, stick markers at 6 and 9 o’clock, and dots marking the other hours.

The introduction of the Reference 1680 signified the Submariner's evolution from a purely functional dive watch to a luxury sports watch. Rolex expanded the line with two-tone (steel/gold) and even exclusive 18 carat gold versions of the Submariner Date, which are quite rare today. These variations highlight the transition of the Submariner ref. 1680 into a symbol of luxury, although it was predominantly sold in stainless steel.

1979 - The First Submariner with a Sapphire Crystal

In 1979, Rolex launched the Submariner Reference 16800, signaling a considerable advancement in the model's evolution. This new iteration featured a sapphire crystal, providing increased scratch resistance and durability. The watch also saw an upgrade to its water resistance, now rated at 300 meters.

The Reference 16800 also featured a new movement, the Caliber 3035, which introduced a quickset date function. This allowed the wearer to set the date independently of the time, significantly improving user-friendliness.

Rolex Submariner 16800
Rolex Submariner 16800. Source: The Keystone Watches

Transition to the Modern Submariner

Rolex Submariner 16610 from 1988
Rolex Submariner 16610 from 1988. Source: Lunar Oyster.

In 1988, Rolex introduced the Reference 16610, which would become one of the most popular and enduring Submariner models. This watch featured the new Caliber 3135 movement, which provided increased accuracy and reliability. The 16610 also incorporated white gold surrounds for the hour markers, enhancing the watch's overall 

The Modern Market

Modern Rolex Submariner
Source: Vulcan Watch Straps

When the Rolex Submariner was first introduced in 1953 with the Reference 6204, its price was around $150, which, accounting for inflation, would be approximately $1,500 today. In the 1950s, the Submariner was already considered an expensive watch, but its innovative features and exceptional performance were well worth the price. 

Today, the Rolex Submariner's retail price continues to see a steady increase, with a stainless steel no-date model (Reference 124060) priced at approximately $8,100 and a date model (Reference 126610LN) at around $9,150. However, due to high demand and limited availability, the actual market price for these watches can be significantly higher, with some models selling for well over their retail price on the secondary market. 

The Complete List of Rolex Submariner Reference Numbers Since Its Inception

1953 - Reference 6204

This is where the Submariner story begins. Introduced in 1953, the 6204 is considered the first Submariner. It was the first reference named "Submariner." 

Rolex Submariner 6204
Source: Bob's Watches

1954 - Reference 6205

The Rolex Submariner 6205 comes in two distinct models: the clean dial and the one with Mercedes hands. The clean dial version features a minimalist design without the "Submariner" text, offering a sleek and straightforward look. On the other hand, the model with Mercedes hands includes the iconic hand style that would become a hallmark of the Submariner line, adding a distinctive touch to the dial. Both versions exemplify the Submariner's versatility and enduring appeal in the world of luxury watches.

Rolex Submariner 6205 with Mercedes Hands
Source: Hairpsring

1955 - Reference 6200

The Rolex Submariner 6200, introduced two years after the 6204, is a bit of a mystery with its lower reference number, suggesting it might have been developed earlier and released later for reasons unknown. Affectionately known as the "King Sub" by enthusiasts, this model stands out for its "big crown," an 8mm feature marked with "Brevet" on its exterior, a first for the Submariner series. Notably, it was one of the earliest models to offer a water resistance of up to 200 meters. The 6200 also introduced the distinctive Explorer Dial, recognized by its 3-6-9 hour markers, linking it to Rolex's other iconic model, the Explorer.

Rolex Submariner 6200
Source: Bob's Watches

1956 - Reference 6536

The Rolex Submariner 6536 was released in the mid-1950s and is notable for evolving through three distinct phases during its production. Each phase brought subtle changes to the watch's design and features, showcasing Rolex's commitment to refining its models. The initial phase introduced the standard attributes of the Submariner line, including a smaller crown compared to other models like the 6538 and 100 meters of water resistance. Subsequent phases likely included variations in dial text, hand styles, and other minor design adjustments, reflecting Rolex's ongoing efforts to enhance the watch's functionality and aesthetic appeal.

Rolex Submariner 6536
Rolex Submariner 6536 final version from 1957. Source: Hodinkee

The Rolex Submariner 6538, also known as the "big crown," gained fame as Sean Connery James Bond's watch in the 1962 film "Dr. No." Produced alongside the "small crown" 6536, the 6538 stands out for its robust and vintage charm. It features two main dial variations: one with four lines of text at six o'clock, showcasing its status as the first Submariner with chronometer certification. This model's dial, with its distinctive gilt chapter ring, combines gold model branding with white or silver text, highlighting its elegant and complex design.

Rolex Submariner 6538
Rolex Submariner 6538. Source: Hodinkee

1958 - Reference 5510 (The last big crown)

Known for its oversized 8mm Brevet crown and lack of crown guards. It retained the same level of water resistance as the models before it, typically rated at 200 meters (660 feet), which was already considered impressive for dive watches during that era.

Rolex Submariner 5510
Source: Hodinkee

1958 - Reference 5508

Succeeded the 6205 and introduced a smaller crown compared to the 6200 and 5510. Also, a slimmer 100m-water resistant case.

It's the very last Submariner made to feature a case with no crown guards on the right side of the case. After 1962, all Submariners would feature the signature protectors on either side of the crown, giving the watch a slightly bulkier profile while making it a more robust tool. 

Rolex Submariner 5508
Source: Hodinkee

1959 - Reference 5512

Introduced crown guards and had a production span until the late 1970s.

Rolex Submariner 5512
Source: Watch Pool 24

1962 - Reference 5513

One of the most famous Submariner references, with a long production run until 1989.

The variation in the picture, introduced in 1966, has been nicknamed the "Bart Simpson" because the coronet is thought to look like the famous animated character. The deep yellow color of the coronet (due to the galvanic process of the gilt dials) amplifies the effect.

One side note here: there are Bart Simpson 5512s too, though they're much rarer than the 5513 version.

Rolex Submariner 5513 Bart Simpson
Source: Hodinkee

1969 - Reference 1680

The first Submariner to feature a date function, known as the Submariner Date.

The model in the picture comes with red ‘Submariner’ text, makes this model among the most desirable vintage sports watches.

Rolex Submariner 1680
Source: Amsterdam Vintage Watches

1970 - Reference 1680/8

The first Submariner in 18k gold.

Rolex Submariner 1680/8
Source: Amsterdam Vintage Watches

1979 - Reference 16800

Introduced a sapphire crystal and an upgraded movement.

Rolex Submariner 16800
Source: Loupe This

1984 - Reference 16803

Introduced the two-tone (steel and gold) model.

Rolex Submariner 16803
Source: Vendere Timepieces

1988 - Reference 168000

A transitional model with a very short production span, featuring a new steel type.

Rolex Submariner 168000
Source: Gioielleria Bonanno

1989 - Reference 16610

Introduced the 3135 movement, with a production run until 2010

Rolex Submariner 16610
Source: The Watch Collector

1990 - Reference 14060

The non-date Submariner with a modern movement.

Rolex Submariner 14060
Source: Bob's Watches

1990 - Reference 16613

The two-tone Submariner Date model.

Rolex Submariner 16613
Source: Bob's Watches

1990 - Reference 16618

The 18k gold Submariner Date.

Rolex Submariner 16618
Source: Hairspring

2000 - Reference 14060M

An updated version of the 14060 with a COSC-certified movement.

Rolex Submariner 14060M
Source: Chrono24

2003 - Reference 16610LV

Known as the "Kermit," introduced a green bezel to mark the Submariner's 50th anniversary. Then it was replaced by the new 11610LV with a matching green dial. This new model was nicknamed "Hulk"

LV stands for Lunette Vert (Green Bezel).

Rolex Submariner Hulk 11610LV
Rolex Submariner 11610LV "Hulk". Source: Hodinkee

2008 - Reference 116619LB

Known as the "Smurf," an 18k white gold model with a blue dial and bezel.

LB stands for Lunette Bleu.

Rolex Submariner 116619LB "Smurf"
Source: Swiss Watch Trader

2010 - Reference 116610

The updated Submariner Date with a ceramic bezel and a redesigned case.

Rolex Submariner 116610
Source: Chrono24

2010 - Reference 116613

The updated two-tone Submariner Date.

Rolex Submariner 116613LB
Rolex Submariner 116613LB. Source: Swiss Watch Trader.

2010 - Reference 116618

The updated 18k gold Submariner Date.

Rolex Submariner 116618
Source: Chrono24

2012 - Reference 114060

The latest generation non-date Submariner, also with a 41mm case.

Rolex Submariner 114060
Source: Fratello Watches

2020 - Reference 126610LV

An updated "Kermit" with a green bezel and black dial. Another nickname for this model is "Starbucks".

Rolex Submariner 126610LV
Source: Swiss Watch Trader

2020 - Reference 126610

The latest generation Submariner Date, featuring a larger 41mm case size and new movement.

Rolex Submariner 126610
Source: Watch Rapport

2020 - Reference 124060

The latest generation non-date Submariner, also with a 41mm case.

Rolex Submariner 124060
Source: A Blog to Watch

2020 - Reference 126613

The new two-tone Submariner Date.

Rolex Submariner 126613
Source: Montro

2020 - Reference 126618

The new 18k gold Submariner Date.

Rolex Submariner 126618LB
Rolex Submariner 126618LB. Source: Sant Blanc

2020 - Reference 126619LB

The white gold model with a blue bezel and black dial.

Rolex Submariner 126619LB
Source: Hodinkee

Celebrities Wearing Rolex Submariner

Today, the Rolex Submariner is among the most sought-after watches worldwide, appreciated for its timeless design and exceptional performance. Its fame has been further bolstered by the numerous celebrities who have been spotted wearing this iconic timepiece. From film stars and musicians to athletes and politicians, the Submariner's appeal transcends industries and professions. 

The Rolex Submariner's widespread popularity can be attributed to its versatility and reliability, making it an ideal choice for those who demand both style and substance. Celebrities such as Mark Wahlberg, John Mayer, Tom Holland, Lionel Messi, and Erling Haaland have all been seen sporting the Submariner, solidifying its reputation as a symbol of success and good taste.

Chuck Yeager wearing his Submariner
Chuck Yeager wearing his Submariner 'Big Crown' Submariner in 1956. Source: Rolex
Elvis Presley wearing his
Elvis Presley wearing his 'Big Crown' Submariner in 1962. Source: Rolex
Steve McQueen wearing his Submariner
Steve McQueen wearing his Submariner. Source: Rolex
Sylvester Stallone wearing his Yellow Gold Submariner
Sylvester Stallone wearing his Yellow Gold Submariner. Source: Rolex
Mark Wahlberg with Rolex Submariner 116618
Mark Wahlberg with Rolex Submariner 11618LB
Erling Haaland and Rolex Submariner
Erling Haaland and Rolex Submariner 'Hulk' 11610LV
John Mayer and Rolex Submariner
John Mayer and Rolex Submariner 'Smurf' 116619LB
Lionel Messi and Rolex Submariner Date 116659SABR
Lionel Messi and Rolex Submariner Date 116659SABR
Tom Holland and Rolex Submariner
Tom Holland and Rolex Submariner 'Kermit' 126610LV
Kanye West and Rolex Submariner 116618
Kanye West and Rolex Submariner 116618LB



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