Hands-On with the 'Red Sub' (Rolex Submariner 1680)

Hands-On with the 'Red Sub' (Rolex Submariner 1680)

The Rolex Submariner 1680, also known as the ‘Red Sub’, was produced for about a decade starting in the late 1960s. Its red ‘Submariner’ text is a unique characteristic, making this piece especially collectible. It’s also the first Submariner with a date complication: a welcome addition to the classic silhouette. Thanks to a close family friend, I was able to get hands on with a 1972 Red Sub yesterday (along with a number of other vintage pieces). I’ll spare you my iPhone pictures, but believe me – it’s just as gorgeous in person. Today we’ll discuss the 1680’s position in the Submariner line, as well as the general vintage watch landscape.

Vintage Submariners

Rolex Submariner 1680 Mk 6

Source:  rolexforums.com (Jacek)

The Submariner is a timeless silhouette. It shifted the direction of watchmaking forever, still acting as the blueprint for most modern dive watches. Rolex certainly knows this, marketing it as “the reference among divers’ watches”. There’s no debating its position as a classic watch: perhaps the classic watch. In a sea of Submariner references, the 1680 is among the most desirable. If you’re familiar with the world of vintage Rolex, you know the beauty is in the details. When you’re talking about a 50-year-old mechanical tool, no two are the same. Not only do they age differently, they’re made differently. The 1680 is no exception.

The 1680

The 1680 has eight different dial variations, or marks. This isn’t a reference guide, so I won’t get too nitty gritty with the font and layout differences. I will, however, share how I figured out which mark I got my hands on. The first six 1680 variations feature red ‘Submariner’ text. Marks VII and VIII featured white ‘Submariner’ text, with the latter being a service dial: it only appeared on examples that received an in-house dial replacement. Marks I-V have “open-font 6s” on the depth rating. My friend’s watch had red text and "closed-font 6s" (see 6s image above), meaning it had to be a Mark VI. This is the last 1680 to feature red text, which makes it a very special watch. It’s also the last 1680 with tritium-coated indices, which develop that nice creamy-yellow patina. Starting with the Mark VII, Rolex switched to LumiNova. These differences may seem trivial, but they’re part of the fun of vintage watch collecting. Every detail matters, and nothing gets past the careful eye of a collector.

Rolex Submariner 1680 Mark 6

Source:  rolexforums.com (Jacek)

The first thing that struck me about the watch was its crystal. The 1680 is the only Submariner with an acrylic crystal. Starting with the 16800 (not to be confused with the 1680), Submariners featured flat, synthetic sapphire crystal. I’m not observant enough to tell the difference in clarity or temperature (yes – some people can feel the difference in temperature), but I immediately noticed acrylic's protrusion from the case. It sticks out 3mm above the bezel. That doesn’t sound like much, but believe me, it’s very noticeable. This exaggerated protrusion gives this crystal its ‘Top-Hat’ nickname. It’s a very desirable feature for collectors.

The other eye-catcher was the lume. Before the Mark VII, the 1680 featured tritium-coated incidences. Even non-enthusiasts can identify the approximate age of a watch with tritium indices. UV rays cause tritium to fade over time, developing a beautiful patina that’s unique to each piece. Most modern watches have indices coated with Super-LumiNova because it shines brighter, lasts longer, and isn’t radioactive in the slightest. Don’t worry – tritium is nowhere near as dangerous as  the radium-226 used in early Panerais. While tritium isn’t unique to the 1680, it adds to the watch’s character. It’s a sign of its age; the touch of gray, if you will.

Final Thoughts

Rolex Submariner 1680 Mk 6

Source:  tropicalwatch.com

The Submariner 1680 is, in my opinion, the definitive Submariner. It represents a golden age of watchmaking right before  the quartz crisis. The red text makes it unique, quickly recognizable, and handsome as anything. Despite its age, the 1680 will keep on ticking with proper service. Its caliber 1575 is a workhorse that just won’t quit. The Red Sub is hard to critique. I was beyond excited to play with one in person. Naturally, I tried it on and sent some pictures to a close friend (who doesn’t care about watches). She responded with “it kinda just looks like every other watch”. The thing is – she’s not wrong. However, the Submariner doesn’t look like every other watch; every other watch looks like the Submariner. This is a painfully classic timepiece, and one that I couldn’t go without sharing.

If you collect vintage Rolex, you know about bracelet stretch. While the watch may last generations, the bracelet will eventually start to give. Luckily, Everest offers  luxury leather straps  specifically tailored  for the 1680. If you want to get even more mileage out of this watch, I highly recommend upgrading the strap – you can thank me later.

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.