We are headed towards 2024: the 70th anniversary of the Rolex Submariner (which, by the way means that the Swiss giant must have something in store to celebrate this milestone! Over the past seven decades, Rolex made dozens upon dozens of references of the iconic diver and today we’re going to take a look at what I would consider to be its top five references. They might not be the most sought after or the most revered—neither are they the most recent ones—however each marked a significant moment in the development of the Submariner over the years. One reference in particular in this list showcased what Rolex was capable of producing for a very particular niche of the human population.
Without further ado, let’s look at my top 5 Rolex Submariner references.
The Submariner Ref. 6204 from 1954
For once I’ll start at the beginning of things with the ref. 6204 from 1954, arguably the first and most utilitarian-looking Submariner ever made. Although it looks like the one worn by James Bond in Dr. No, this ain’t. (Bond wore a 6538 made in the early 1960s.) But it does show how purpose-driven the first versions of the Submariner were, being actual tool watches made for professional divers. What I like about the 6204 is the simple dial layout with the pencil styles hands—don’t get too attached to them because they won’t be around for very long—and the fact that the bezel did not have the minute hash marks between 0 and 15 minutes. It’s simple, utilitarian, and ultra legible.
The Submariner Ref. 6200 from 1955/56
Although nowadays we can see more homages showcasing the Explorer dial Submariner, I particularly like this ref. 6200 from 1955/56. It was indeed the first Submariner to showcase the 3-6-9 dial layout which made it even more legible and purpose-driven. This particular reference also came with minimal text on the dial, mostly without the little novel indicating the depth rating and chronometer certification, and was one of the first models to also showcase the now iconic Mercedes hands. This combination elevated the purpose-driven nature of the Submariner, something that was accentuated by the humongous 8mm unprotected crown.
The Submariner Ref. 6536/1 from 1957/1958
Whenever a brand makes an homage to a vintage Rolex Submariner—or draws inspiration from one—they often refer to the “Red Triangle” ref. 6536/1. This is the first time we see the inverted reg triangle appear on a Submariner which endows it with a touch of playfulness as the Submariner is typically a sober type of watch. At least, the vintage ones were. The Ref. 6536/1 also marks the first apparition of the minute hash-marks between 0 and 15 on the bezel, now a definite visual trait of the modern Subs. Matched with the Mercedes hands and a gilt dial, this 6536/1 will forever remain iconic since it is very close to that worn by James Bond in Dr. No.
The Submariner Ref. 5513 from 1972/76
In the introduction I mentioned that in this list there will be a particular reference that stands out from the crowd. The reference in question is the 5513 also called the “MilSub.” This version was made specifically for the British Royal Navy around 1972/73 and showcases three unique features. First, the large Sword hands (also called Gladiator hands by collectors) which give it a unique military vibe. Second, the fully graduated bezel which is a first and last occurrence for a Submariner, again to make it as functional as possible. Third, this is the only Submariner to have come with fixed lugs (something we are familiar with today thanks to the Tudor Pegalos Marine Nationale) which means the 5513 could only be worn on a NATO-style or single-pass military strap.
The Rolex Submariner Ref. 16610M from 1988
Last but not least, let’s take a look at the ref. 16610M from 1988. This is what I would describe as being the quintessential vintage Submariner and perhaps the one I would buy myself, should I ever be in a position to do so—or inclined to. While this is not the first reference with a date, the 16610M comes with the now iconic date magnifier and the polished metal surrounds around the hour markers. This, in addition to the framed lume plot at the 12 o’clock on the bezel, makes this vintage Submariner the most modern looking one and, according to me, the last great Submariner reference. Everything that has come since has left me rather unimpressed.
Naturally, over the past seven decades, the Submariner went through more changes than I highlighted in this article. However, these are my top five Rolex Submariner references. Having a thing for smaller and simpler watches, perhaps you are not surprised that I would have picked these five specific references that represent the evolution of one of the most iconic tool watches over a period of nearly 30 years. Starting in the late 1990s and early 2000s, I would argue that the Submariner became a luxury timepiece and no longer a tool watch. That is why nowadays the Subs are made of precious metals, glossy black dials, and diamond-cut and rhodium plated hands which are all great, but all of which—and that is only my opinion—made the Submariner become a flex watch more than being a timepiece appreciated for its intrinsic practical value.
Thoughts? What are your top five Submariner references? Please share your comments below.Featured image: www.gq-magazine.co.uk