Posted by JP From Finland on March 22, 2020
How could you possibly write a “review” of the most iconic watch in the world, the Rolex Submariner? There must be hundreds, if not THOUSANDS of reviews of the “Sub” already. Wouldn’t it be like beating a dead horse?
Probably. But let’s write one anyway.
The old vs. new Submariner-debate has been going on for years in the watch communities. Most non-watch people probably couldn’t even tell the difference between the two but the Rolex aficionados are different breeds.
No sensible person could deny that new models are technically superior watches with better bracelets and clasps. This debate is all about the visual aspects of the watch. The new, contemporary “fat lugs” version was such a big departure from the classic Rolex look and it never managed to capture everyone’s heart.
I also prefer the old version with slim lugs. It sits so perfectly on the wrist and it’s versatile enough to be worn with any wardrobe. And there is no waiting list for them. Just buy one from the second-hand market and enjoy it. Do it now though – before the prices take yet another quantum leap like the 4-digit prices did. You don’t have to be Nostradamus to foresee this happening in the next 10 years.
The visual appearance is, of course, just a matter of personal preference and there’s no right answer. A lot of people prefer the new versions and I can understand why. I like larger watches too and Breitling SteelFish SuperOcean fills that gap in my collection nicely.
Either way, Submariner is an iconic model and all it has always been extremely popular. Sean Connery wore the no-crown guard versions in the early James Bond movies, Roger Moore wore the 5513 and Timothy Dalton had the 16610. Steve McQueen made the 5512 famous and I’m sure the new 6-digit will eventually earn its place in the model range history as well.
Basically, the classic Submariner received only one major visual update. That was when the “Bond” Submariner was updated to 5512 in 1960. The date version 1680 surfaced in 1967 and it’s basically the same watch as my 16610 (model year 2001), with very minor changes. Sure, it received some facelifts: Like 904 steel, sapphire crystal, solid end links, luminova / super luminova, rehaut engraving and movement upgrades during the production run but an average guy would be hard-pressed to tell the difference. The following picture demonstrates how little the model actually changed between 1960-2010. (photos borrowed from the book “Rolex Submariner Story” by Lele Ravagnani (highly recommended!)
As you can see the classic Submariner was in production for 50 years with virtually no visual changes at all. Those iconic “spiky” crown guards and the triplock winding crown remained completely untouched. It’s astounding. People say how Porsche 911 has remained the “same” although the new model is considerably heavier and bigger and it only resembles the original in shape. Sub remained visually untouched 1960-2010 so it’s not difficult to understand why some people still have a hard time adapting to the new version.
Then, of course, there is the “turbocharged cousin” or “the real man’s Submariner”, the Sea-Dweller, which I have reviewed in another article.
The movement of 16610 is the COSC-certified Rolex caliber 3135. It was first introduced in 1988 and became Rolex’s main movement and it was used in many models. Experts agree that it is one of the most reliable automatic movements ever made. It’s a high beat movement that oscillates at 28.800 BPH.
The balance features two pairs of adjusting systems, known as the “Microstella”. It has four screws at symmetrically spaced positions along the balance wheel.
It doesn’t have any decoration as it’s designed to be hidden inside the Oyster case to withstand the most extreme conditions. Movement picture courtesy of Rolex USA.
The old, hollow-link Oyster bracelets and their sheet metal clasps have been subject to criticism — often by those who haven’t actually worn them — as long as I can remember. Some people complain that the old Submariner diving suit extension is difficult to use.
Personally, I like the old Rolex Oyster bracelets, and while I admit they don’t suit modern sensibilities for what’s expected on an expensive watch, they’re strong, serve their purpose well, and are extremely comfortable to wear. They also have a certain silky, smooth feeling that none of the “homage” watches has managed to capture.
The new “supercase” versions have much better clasps and superior bracelets. But I wouldn’t trade my classic Oyster bracelet and clasp to anything, I like them just the way they are.
What makes the 16610 a special 5-digit, you ask? Why not the 16800 or 14060 or some other variation?
Nothing makes it more special than the others, it’s just my personal preference. In my opinion, the 16610 with lug holes, luminova dial and without rehaut ROLEXROLEX-engravings represents the “best of both worlds”. That’s how I like mine and to me it has the best parts and “spirits” from the old and new Rolex. In short, it’s my favorite Rolex watch.
I also owned the 14060 no-date version. It’s very nice and has pure, beautiful lines but at the end of the day, I prefer the cyclops version. I know the purists say that the original Sub came without date, but somehow the cyclops and date window give the watch some extra “wrist presence” and while it’s not the “original Submariner” look at least it has become quintessentially “the youngtimer classic Rolex look”.
I’ve always preferred this era of Rolex watches and my Sub, Sea-Dweller and GMT Master are all K-serials with lug holes and luminova. The classy white gold surroundings on the hour markers and pure, white luminova dial (which doesn’t lose its luminous abilities with age) is an unbeatable combination. Tritium (T<25) dials lose their glow over time but Super luminova markers glow just as bright today as they did 18 years ago.
When I was wearing my 14060 I always felt that something was missing. Not only the date feature but I never fully warmed up to the looks and “flat” wrist presence of the no-date version. If you’re in the market for a classic 5-digit Submariner I highly recommend trying all three versions on (No-date, Date and the Sea-Dweller).
You can read more about my general thoughts about the 14060, 16600 and the other 5-digit models here:
Submariner is not the most original choice, far from it. Some watch collectors consider it unimaginative and mundane… nor it is anything special from the horological standpoint. It’s not the most expensive Rolex, nor it’s the most desirable (as the production numbers are so high), nor it’s as difficult to obtain as say, Cosmograph Daytona. But even the naysayers can’t deny its iconic status in the watch world. It’s the most copied watch in the world.
There are a lot of discussions on how brand XXX has made a much better bracelet or clasp than a Submariner. Or how the model XXX is “much better done” than a Submariner. Well yeah, but they’re still not the Rolex Submariner – and never will be.
There is a whole industry built around Submariner homages. It’s THE model that most manufacturers aspire to have in their lineup – and a measuring stick that all dive watches get compared to, like it or not.
In many ways, Submariner is the real Rolex flagship model. Without 911 Porsche wouldn’t be Porsche and without Submariner Rolex probably couldn’t have achieved and maintained such position and image in the luxury watch industry.
But on the other hand, it’s just a rather simple, mass-produced steel sports watch. I understand perfectly that many people feel it’s overhyped and overpriced. But for me the 16610 is the most perfect sports watch ever made and it has been a mainstay in my collection since 2003. My K-serial is the only watch that I can say with great certainty that one day it will be passed to my son.
Thank you to JP from Finland for the original article. You can find it here.
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