As the name suggests, the Rolex Submariner watch was designed specifically to be worn underwater, and they quickly became the watch of choice for divers around the world thanks to their unrivalled water resistance properties.
The very first Rolex Submariner watch was launched as far back as 1954 at the annual Basel Watch Fair and is now recognised as one of the best watches in the world, being water-resistant up to 1,000ft or 300 metres. No-one quite knows which Submariner reference number was produced first, but it is either the 6204 or the 6205, but both watches are very nearly identical anyway, although neither has the now customary “Mercedes” or “Cathedral” hands that have become synonymous with this brand. These Rolex Submariner watches also represent some of the most sought after and rare Rolex watches in the world today.
The following 6200 reference number Submariners were the first to feature the “Mercedes” handset, and also a larger winding crown when compared to the 6204 and 6205 models. Later models in the range also had smaller winding crowns (ref: 6536) and had improved movements and even a chronometer in some models.
Later on, the Submariner would come in two distinct versions; the 5512 contained a chronometer, whereas the 5513 did not, but both featured a whole new look with protection for the oversized winding crown in the form of rounded “shoulders” on either side. This would become the default look for Submariner watches going forwards.
During the mid-sixties, Rolex stopped incorporating silver gilt dials on their Submariner watches, instead opting for white detailing, and another significant change came in the late 60s when reference 1680 was the first to feature a date window. This was a marked shift from the watch being a functional and specialist timepiece to one that now had more mass-market appeal, probably in small part to the watch appearing in several James Bond films.
Sean Connery wore a Rolex Submariner 6538 reference watch in his first four James Bond movies, whilst George Lazenby wore a reference 5513 in some scenes of his solitary appearance as Bond in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.
Later on, Roger Moore would also wear a 5513 reference Submariner in two of his Bond appearances, with the final appearance of a Rolex Submariner coming in Timothy Dalton’s Licence to Kill in 1988, where he is seen sporting a reference 16800.
Ten years after they first launched their first Submariner with a date window, Rolex launched their five-digit reference numbers, beginning with the 16800 and subsequent references 16808 and 16803. These were seen as transitional watches in that they retained many the features of previous models but with one or two minor adjustments.
To start with, Rolex did away with the plexiglass crystal and replaced it with a hardier sapphire version, but still with the magnifying glass covering the date window for easier reading. They also introduced a better crown, updating it to their patented Triplock version, something that had already been proven to be popular on Sea-Dweller range.
The 16808 was launched at the same time as the 16800 and came in solid 18 karat yellow gold and was available to buy with either a blue dial/bezel combination or a black dial/bezel combo. The 16803 came a few years later and became the first Submariner watch to feature gold and steel, with the watch featuring an 18-karat gold rotating bezel and central links.
Over the following decades, the Rolex Submariner was improved and updated with new movements, better water-resistance properties and minute changes to its appearance. During 2003, and to celebrate 50 years of the Submariner watch, Rolex launched a special edition Rolex Submariner-Date edition with the reference number 16610 LV. This watch featured a Maxi dial and a striking green bezel and production finished in 2010, with the final few watches being given unique random serial numbers. During 2008, three new solid gold Submariner watches were launched onto the market with the 116618 LB featuring yellow gold with a blue dial and bezel, the 116618 LN that had yellow gold with a black dial and bezel, and finally, the 116619 LB with solid white gold and a blue dial/bezel combination.
Then, a couple of years later, the Rolex Submariner 116610LV hit the headlines as it became the first of its type to feature a green dial and bezel on a stainless-steel watch, and it quickly became known as the Rolex Hulk. It soon became one of the most sought-after contemporary Submariner watches.