In the 1950’s diving was revolutionised by Jacques Cousteau’s aqua-lung and diving watches were similarly revolutionised by Rolex’s Submariner. The iconic editions of the Rolex Submariner have gone on to become almost as sought-after among divers as the aqua lung itself and are equally – or more – valued by collectors.
The birth of the Rolex Submariner
As the aqua-lung made diving easier and more accessible the discerning diver began to search for a watch that was functional and aesthetically pleasing. Thus the Submariner was born; a watch that is synonymous with style and underwater exploration.
The first Submariner was produced in 1953 and unveiled to the public in 1954 at the Basel Watch Fair. It was not the first diving-specific timepiece to appear on the market. Blancpain and Omega had already released diving models some years before, however it was the Submariner that literally changed the face of deep-water watches, by ensuring that the aesthetic was as important as function.
Due to his status and fame within the diving community, Cousteau was the perfect person to help Rolex test the Submariner. The Submariner’s engineering stemmed from a requirement to meet the ISO 6425 standard, but as with any Rolex the look held equal importance. This product profile, coupled with a need to surpass all other diver models on the market, was what ensured that the Submariner was a tidal wave in the world of diving watches that would cast ripples for decades to come.
It is the Rolex Submariner’s unique combination of style, variety and craftmanship that has ensured that it is one of the most collectable watches available today. Read on to discover more about the history and development of the Rolex Submariner.
Submariner 5510 edition 1
Rolex model 6200/5510
Although there are some suggestions that Rolex had released a type of diving watch previously, model 6200 was the first diving watch to be officially launched by Rolex. First seen in 1953, this watch was depth-rated to 200m and has a thick case but nowhere near the initial dome of the Deep Sea Special (discussed later), it also has large 8mm silver winding crown marked with the word Brevet (French for patent), which earned it the nickname ‘The Big Crown Submariner’.
The first version of this Rolex did not have any text on the dial, apart from the Rolex logo. This is thought to be because the moniker Submariner had not yet surfaced in an official capacity. Initial versions of the 6200 had a traditional Explorer-type dial, which included the numbers three, six and nine, and a matte black bezel with thick silver-coloured minute markers and the Rolex triangle at 12 o’clock.
What to look for in your Rolex Submariner 6200:
- Large winding crown marked ‘Brevet’
- Explorer type dial
- The earliest editions are not marked ‘Submariner’ on the dial
- Pencil hands
The second edition Rolex Submariner 6200 was the first to include ‘Submariner’ on the dial. It was also fitted with the now familiar Mercedes hands; painted white with a large luminous circle. This first inclusion of the Mercedes hands was the longest version of them; subsequent versions were much shorter. This edition also retained the 20mm riveted bracelet construction. Later in the 1950s, the 6200 became available with two dial options; the Explorer type or the Submariner dial. These editions also changed the 12o’clock Rolex triangle into the colour red.
The Submariner 6200 is the stuff of legend when it comes to collectability. Due to the short amount of time it was available, the idiosyncrasies of the different editions and the design details the 6200 has become one of the most desirable Rolex models in circulation. With only an estimated 300 in existence it is often considered the Holy Grail of the watch collecting world.
In 1958, the Submariner 6200 was fitted with a 1530 movement, and renumbered as the 5510, at which point the depth rating was also printed in gold font. The production of this Submariner 5510 continued until the 1960s, when a second edition was released – around the middle of the decade. The second edition retained the 1530 movement but adopted a different design; the colour of the hour markers and the text changed from gold to white, along with the hands that became silver instead of gold. The logo was also printed in white and at the time it was only the third Submariner to adopt this style.
Rolex Submariner 6204/6538/6538A
The Submariner 6204 was the first Rolex diving watch released with the official name ‘Submariner’ on the dial. On this edition the text ‘Submariner’ was small and the words Oyster and Perpetual (seen below the Rolex brand) had an unusually wide gap between them.
The Submariner 6204’s depth-rating was upgraded to 200m for the Submariner’s official launch in 1954 at the Basel Watch Fair. The 6204 was slimmer than the 6200 with a new case size and a movement change from an A296 to an A260.
What to look for in your Submariner 6402 edition 1:
- Small ‘submariner’ text on the face
- Wide gap between Oyster & Perpetual
- Pencil hands
- Smaller bezel than the 6200 with just a crown & cross
In 1954 the 6204 was issued to the British Royal Navy; this was the third edition of the model and had the word Submariner written on the dial – below the hands – and the text was much larger than on previous versions. This was the last model with the reference number 6204; in 1955 it was renumbered as the 6538. The new numbered edition kept the same casing and movement details.
In 1956 the newly numbered Rolex Submariner 6538 was once again rereleased with new case; the thicker version that was also used in the 6200. Initial releases of this model were numbered 6538A and the movement received an upgrade to the 1030; an automatic movement with 25 jewels. It was Rolex’s first in-house complete calibre design and was used in many subsequent editions.
Your Submariner 6538 will have:
- Metres & Feet units absent
- Metres & Feet numbers in red
The Submariner 6538 and the 6538A list the depth rating as numbers only – 200/660 for metres and feet – and this is listed in a red font, which is quite rare for a Submariner. There were the only two editions of Submariner to include the red text until the release of the Double Red Sea Dweller. This means that the Submariner 6538 and 6538A editions are very desirable among collectors; the second edition of the 6538A returned to the white font and included the units once more (m and ft).
Three additional editions of the Submariner 6538 were released toward the end of the 1950s, each with variants in the dial design and text inclusion. This makes them easily distinguishable from one another when looking for collectable items.
One of these editions was adopted by the British and Canadian Navy and came with a cloth strap. Each of the watches had reference numbers on the back, which related specifically to the owner. The details of this edition make it highly collectable and in cases where provenance is provided – military photos, badges etc – Submariner 6538s are highly valuable. Another interesting feature of the Submariner 6538s is that the strap bars were soldered on, to ensure that only the correct military strap could be fitted, rather than any metal strap that could have reflected light.
The subsequent edition of the Submariner 6538 returned to the usual rivetted metal strap. Additional changes included the painting of the seconds hand – from gold to white – and a new line of text was added to the dial: ‘Officially Certified Chronometer’. However, the painted white second hand did not last long; it was taken out of production in subsequent models. This means that the Submariner 6538 with a white second hand is also quite rare and much sought-after.
Submariner model 6205/6536/6536/1
The Submariner 6205 was first launched in 1954 and is said to be the third official diving watch created by Rolex. Most of the first edition 6205s did not have the model name ‘Submariner’ written on the dial and it was only depth rated to 100m. Like the early 6204s, the 6205 had a metal bracelet and the A260 calibre movement. The first edition did not have the red triangle at 12 o’clock.
In 1955 the Submariner 6205 was renamed the 6536 and it was upgraded to a 1030 full calibre movement. It also came equipped with a larger winding crown and the new Mercedes hands, which sets it apart from earlier editions.
In 1956 a new edition was released baring minute markers on the bezel and the depth rating on the dial in red. Some issues of this model showed the depth rating in numerals, without the units. The seconds hand was also painted white, and the 12 o’clock triangle was painted red.
Later in 1956 Rolex introduced a newer version and labelled it the 6536/1, which came with the chronometer version of the 1030 movement and more commonly displayed the depth rating in a white font using the units (m,ft). These alterations, however small, really help with dating and identifying a Submariner, and the idiosyncrasies of the different editions make them all the more appealing to collectors.
In 1958 a further model 6536 was released, this time the 12 o’clock triangle had returned to the familiar silver colour.
The Submariner 5508
In 1958 the Submariner 5508 was released as an upgrade of the 6536/1 with a 1530 calibre movement replacing the previous 1030 movement. The first edition of the 5508 did not show the depth rating on the dial and the new bezel was introduced with square-shaped numerals, as opposed to the earlier round ones. The luminous bubble that sits at 12 o’clock also increased in size – making it overlap its triangle slightly.
Subsequent editions of the 5508 had the depth rating printed in white font.
Identifying at Submariner 5508:
- Square shaped numbers on the bezel
- No depth rating on the face for edition 1
- Depth rating shown in white for later editions
- Final release has no silver outline around the hour markers
Production of the Submariner 5508 continued well into the ‘60s whereby, as with the 5510, the design of the dial features changed from gold to silver and white and on some occasions the name ‘Submariner’ was printed above the depth rating, rather than below as was usual.
Editions of the 5508 and 5510 released at this time can appear similar but there are a few differences that collectors can look out for. The key difference is that on the Submariner 5508 the minute markers were printed on the edge of the dial rather than on a ‘minute track’ (the white circle on which the minute markers sit on previous editions of the 5508).
In 1965 the final release of the Submariner 5508 saw the removal of the silver outline around the hour markers, which were instead left as white circles and lines. The 5508 was the first Submariner model to adopt this change, this, coupled with the fact that this change was on the last release of the 5508 makes this version very appealing for collectors.
Submariner model 5512
There were four releases of the Submariner 5512 in total, from 1959 to the end of the 1960s; a relatively extensive production range for a Rolex. This wide production range does have some impact on its desirability, which is something to bear in mind when buying and selling a Submariner 5512.
The 5512 was the first model to feature crown guards, which were square ended on the first edition. This was the only Submariner to use this type of guard.
Identifying your Submariner 5512
- Square ended crown guard on first editions
- Some pointed crown guard on second edition
- Rounded crown guard on third edition
- Gloss black dial on early editions
- No chronometer certification on first edition
- Chronometer certified on third edition
- Bordering removed from hour markers on final edition
The first edition did not bare the chronometer certification – this was introduced in the second edition which was released in the early ‘60s. The second edition of the Submariner 5512 also swapped from the original 1570 movement to the 1560. Some versions of that second edition also upgraded to a newer version of the crown guards, which were pointed.
A third edition of the Submariner 5512 was released a few years later, which bore a new style of text on the dial, now reading ‘Superlative Chronometer Officially Certified’. Once again it had a revamped crown guard, this time with a rounded finish.
The final edition of the Submariner 5512 stuck with the rounded crown guard but had a new dial. The bordering was removed from all hour makers and all the text and logo became white, with the hands changing from gold to silver. This model ceased production in the 1970s.
Submariner 5513 edition 1
Submariner 5513 - military edition
Submariner model 5513
The Submariner 5513 did not come into production until 1962. It used the same dial as its predecessor, the 5512 but was not chronometer certified. The Submariner 5513 used the 1530 movement, had pointed crown guards and was available with an Submariner-type or ‘Explorer-type’ dial.
Notable differences in editions of this model were the finish of the dial; not all releases had the glossy black version, which makes 5513 appealing to collectors.
What to look for in your Submariner 5513:
- Editions without the gloss black dial are sought after
- First edition isn’t chronometer certified
- Some releases show the depth as ‘660ft = 200m’
- Minute markers included on dial in second release
- Some dials feature ‘T < 25’, ‘Swiss’ or ‘Swiss Made’
The model 5513s were available with standard or Explorer-type dials and the second release followed in the tracks of its antecedent by changing the positioning of its minute markers to include them on the dial itself – rather than inset on a minute-track. Some of these releases also list the depth rating in reverse of the usual style: 660ft = 200m rather than the other way around.
In the early ‘60s Rolex released a new version of the Submariner 5513, at which point they added T<25 to the dial, either side of the word swiss, which signified the material used to create luminosity in the markings: ‘T<25 Swiss T<25’ for Tritium, ‘Swiss’ for Luminova, and ‘Swiss Made’ means it is a Super Luminova. These marking are useful in dating a Submariner because the different materials were used at different times.
The next edition of the Submariner 5513 only reads T<25 once and used the rounded crown guard, it also used the 1520 movement.
In 1968 a special edition of the Submariner 5513 was adopted by the British Royal Navy. These did not have the Mercedes hands but instead had a high visibility, thicker hand and the owners’ individual service numbers engraved on the back and include the year of production. For example, /76 would indicate it was made in 1976. As with other military watches the strap bars were soldered on. The case had a satin finish, and as per the codes, a ‘T’ is marked on the dial to indicate the use of Tritum. Like other models created for the armed forces, these editions are most valuable with provenance.
In the early 1970s a version of the Submariner 5513 became available, with an Explorer dial in only white (no silver outline) and the minute markers increased in length. This was the last version of the 5513 to be released.
Check for these 5 things when valuing your Armed Forces edition Submariners:
- Army models have larger hands – for ease of visibility
- Soldered strap to ensure only the correct straps can be used
- Provenance is important – photos or badges connected to the individual service number
- The model 5513 include the year when the watch was made
- Model 5517 has a unique bezel with minute markers
submariner 5517 - military edition
Submariner Model 5517
In 1971 the Submariner 5517 was created by Rolex for issue to the British Royal Marines. One of its most notable idiosyncrasies was a new bezel, with markers at every minute, rather than just the first 15 minutes. The 5517 also had specially adapted larger hands instead of the Mercedes hands, to make it more easily visible in low light.
The Submariner 5517 is also unusual because the crown features three small dots under the Rolex logo. As with other military models this release has the soldered strap brackets to ensure only military straps could be added. Due to the limited release of this edition it is well-valued.
The Submariner 1680 was released in 1966, it was the first Submariner model to include a date wheel. It also included the word Submariner in red and details of the chronometer certification. The red text was phased out from 1974 and finished completely in 1980, making the red edition of the Submariner 1680 a highly sought-after model for collectors.
The white text edition began circulation in 1974, so there is a mixture of dates and colours stemming from similar timeframes. The glass shape also became flatter in the 1974 edition, which was to accommodate the cyclops for the date wheel.
In 1979 the last edition of the Submariner 1680 was renumbered to the 16800 to accompany a few changes. It was fitted with a synthetic sapphire crystal, the depth rating of this model increased to 1000ft while it retained the date wheel and cyclops. The crown on the Submariner 16800 includes three dots beneath the Rolex logo and all the text was in white.
Rolex released two versions of the Submariner 16800; one with a matte black dial and one that had luminous markings encircled with white gold. This was a very intricate update to the Submariner, which had come a long way from its early exploration with Jaques Cousteau.
Check for these features on your Submariner 1680:
- Submariner in red text on the dial is highly sought after
The Rolex Deep Sea Special
The Rolex Deep Sea Special was arguably the mother of the Submariner range and was used by Rolex to develop and test their functionality at depth. With only seven ever constructed the Deep Sea Special was the prototype tested on a depth craft that eventually reached 3155m. When the craft reached the surface following its exploration, the watch was still intact and functioning.
This watch has a 22mm rivetted bracelet and the face has no numbers, it is a simple design with a black face and a gold winding crown. It had a huge domed watch case and no bezel.
The Rolex Submariner is an icon in the world of vintage watches and as such each model is very highly regarded and have retained their value across the decades. If you want to know the value of your vintage watch, or are looking to sell your Rolex Submariner then please get in touch by emailing [email protected].