The Date Debate: Rolex Submariner and Beyond

The Date Debate: Rolex Submariner and Beyond

In our most recent edition of Hidden Gems, we featured the Rolex Submariner ref. 14060: a watch without a date window. While writing the article, I made a conscious effort not to include the term “No-Date Submariner”. Although the linguist in me loves the clarity of this term, watch enthusiasts are keen to point out that a “No-Date Submariner” should simply be referred to as a “Submariner”. The crux of this semantic debate lies in the model’s history: the first Submariner with a date – ref. 1680 – was introduced in 1969, 16 years after the Submariner itself. I can’t help but love the nerdery behind “enforcing” this rule, but I don’t tend to do it myself. To me, the more interesting debate lies not in the labels, but on the dial. For days on end, I could critique various implementations of the simple date window, but for today, I’ll (mostly) stick to the Submariner. Without further ado, let’s dive into the melodrama associated with the world’s most common watch complication: the date debate.

Do You Really Prefer No Date?

I’d like to kick things off with a quote from Wei Koh’s 2019 interview with Ben Clymer. When discussing the design of Hodinkee’s limited edition collaboration with Nomos on their Metro Chronometer, Clymer says, “It was an existing watch. We killed the date. . . just because. People hate dates, I don’t know why”. This made me laugh not because I hate dates myself, but because I share this general awareness of “date hate” and simultaneous confusion as to why it exists. Funnier still is the response of Wei Koh, founder of Revolution Magazine and collaborative watch designer in his own right: “It’s so funny that you say that; it’s the first thing I do as well”. Clearly, the idea of favoring no-date watches is widespread and well-known, at least amongst enthusiasts. In fact, it’s so prolific that both Koh and Clymer opt for scrapping the date when catering to their own audiences. My question to the date-haters would be, do you really prefer no date across the board?

Lange 1 Outsize Date

Image Source: Langepedia

Don’t get me wrong: I strongly dislike a handful of date placements. The new Breguet Type XX comes to mind, the revised Seiko SPB143 comes to mind (a revision made because of a date window in the first place), certain El Primero references come to mind – just to name a few. Some date placements are more elegant than others, but each should be considered on a watch-to-watch basis. Just look at the Lange 1 – without a date readout, this dial would look completely naked. In fact, look at any A. Lange & Söhne with a date from 1994 onward. The iconic “outsize” date readout makes Lange watches recognizable from across the room: a feat that few watchmakers have ever accomplished (with elegance and consistency). That said, the date complication is central to the Lange 1’s dial design. This isn’t the case with many watches, including the Rolex Submariner: a dive watch whose initial design forewent all impediments to the simple legibility of time.

Rolex Submariner: Date or No Date? 

Submariner Date and No-Date models

Image Source:

If you’re in the market for a Submariner, don’t let outside noise determine whether or not you want a date complication; buy the one you love and are excited to wear. That said, arguments from either camp are worth considering. First, and something I already touched on, is the model’s history. Before the Rolex Submariner was an everyday icon, it was a tool for professional divers: a means for timing dives, calculating decompression intervals, etc. The dial’s simple bold indices, white-on-black contrast, and luminescent paint were (and still are) used to maintain legibility at the deepest depths. For this hyper-specific application, albeit the application the watch was designed for, a date window is almost laughable. If you’re concerned with the date 200 meters underwater, you should probably shift your concern toward your air supply. Purists will point to this as reason alone to choose the Submariner over the Submariner Date; it’s the “pure” representation of the watch. I don’t align with this thinking. Others point to the Submariner Date’s asymmetry as its fatal flaw, with the date window replacing the 3 o’clock hour index. While this asymmetry doesn’t bother me personally, I understand this point of view. Once a dial element irks you, it’s hard to unsee.

Rolex 1680 Red Sub

Image Source: Analog Shift

If so many people hate the date, why did Rolex ever include one on the Submariner? Well, as anyone in watch retail will tell you, the vast majority of people want a date on their watch. Those who aren’t taking the Submariner diving – that “vast majority” I just mentioned – appreciate the ability to check the date at a glance. Furthermore, divers don’t live underwater. Part of the Submariner’s appeal is its wearability above sea level. In fact, a whole genre of watches – skin divers – were created in the mid-20th century for non-divers who thought divers’ watches looked badass. Just because a date window is somewhat antithetical to diving doesn’t mean it’s not a massive selling point. Speaking of selling points, Submariner Date models feature Rolex’s iconic cyclops lens – another recognizable-across-the-room design element that some people love, myself included. To be fair, the cyclops lens could fall on either side of the date debate: it’s a pretty polarizing feature.

The Watch Enthusiast Bubble

Those who point out historical discrepancies with the phrase “No-Date Submariner” belong to a very small group. Similarly, those campaigning for no-date versions of every watch belong to a very small group, likely overlapping with the first. An overwhelming majority of watch buyers simply don’t care and/or like having the date on their wrist. Now, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t some god-awful date placements out there – those definitely exist and finding them is part of the fun.

Rolex Explorer 36mm vs. 40mm

Image Source: Rolex Forums

In short, I urge you not to subscribe to any rules when it comes to buying and/or appreciating watches. It’s easy to emulate preferences you hear online, especially in this small bubble we call watch enthusiasm. Niche opinions like favoring no-date watches (or turning your nose up at >40mm watches) may appear to be the norm, when in reality, they’re held by a small minority. Regardless, your opinion is the only one that matters. Of course, it’s best to be informed when creating one, be it with historical context, demand, etc., but adopting someone else’s is a fools errand. Let us know in the comments below: when it comes to the Submariner, do you prefer a date?

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