5 Tips to Finding the Perfect Rolex Submariner

5 Tips to Finding the Perfect Rolex Submariner

Dated, non-dated, block color or two-tone – these differences mark out your Rolex Submariner and allow the wearer to express themselves in iconic Rolex fashion.
Dated, non-dated, block color or two-tone – these differences mark out your Rolex Submariner and allow the wearer to express themselves in iconic Rolex fashion.

A Submariner Dive: Five Important Factors in Finding Your Perfect Rolex Sub

A vintage Rolex Submariner

Exciting opportunities to learn new things and discover new watches is part of what makes watch collecting so fun and compelling. There is no destination, only a journey. But that can also be daunting if you are just starting out, even if you’re only looking at one specific model. Take the Rolex Submariner, for instance. The Sub offers seemingly infinite variations and options, with the tiniest details making a world of difference. Choosing the right one can initially seem hopeless – especially if you don’t know a Red Sub from a Hulk.

To make things a little bit easier, we’ve broken this iconic watch model down into five key categories, sharing the specific references you need to know for each one, along with expert insights and valuable tips along the way.

1. No-Date Rolex Submariner

The ref. 5512 Rolex Submariner – alongside the ref. 5513 and 1680 – is one of the three most popular vintage Subs.
The ref. 5512 Rolex Submariner – alongside the ref. 5513 and 1680 – is one of the three most popular vintage Subs.

This is the Submariner as it was originally conceived in 1953. The most basic Submariner has a stainless steel case, a black dial with three hands and luminous hour markers, and a rotating bezel with gradations designed to time a dive.

It’s a purpose-built tool that embodies the very idea of a contemporary sport watch. There’s a reason it has changed very little in the seven decades since its inception.

The most widely-collected vintage Submariners are the reference 5512 and reference 5513, both of which exemplify this archetype. The former is COSC Chronometer certified and says so on the dial, while the latter is not – otherwise the two watches appear nearly identical. Both were manufactured from the late 1950s through to the late 1980s. Eventually they would be replaced by the ref. 16610, a transitional Submariner that added a sapphire crystal and a glossy dial with white gold surrounds. It is effectively the first ‘modern’ Submariner. It’s also the watch that set Rolex on the path to the ref. 124060, today’s no-date Sub, which has a cutting-edge movement inside, and Rolex’s proprietary Cerachrome ceramic on the bezel, in addition to an updated case and bracelet.

2. Rolex Submariner with Date

Rolex, Submariner, Ref 1680
The Rolex Submariner Ref. 1680

The first major evolution of the Submariner arrived in 1969, with the introduction of the ref. 1680, distinguished by the date display at three o’clock and the accompanying crystal with its Cyclops magnifier. Rolex already had a history of innovating on the date complication, so it made perfect sense to add it to this already-important sports watch. Until 1975, the Submariner signature on the ref. 1680 was printed in red, which is why they’re referred to as Red Subs by collectors today. They offer a chance to own a little piece of Rolex history while also offering that extra little visual signature. It’s a quintessential “if you know, you know” situation.

Early 1680s do not feature a ‘quickset’ date mechanism, with an extra crown position allowing you to rapidly advance the date one day at a time – that wouldn’t be added until the late 1970s, so if convenience is king, you might want to avoid those early examples. The 1680 eventually transitioned to the ref. 16800 in the late 1980s, receiving the same updates as its no-date cousin, the 16610 mentioned above. The Submariner Date (often called the Date Sub by collectors) is still in the rotation today, in the form of the ref. 126610LN.

3. A Dash of Color

Rolex Hulk
The Rolex 'Hulk'

The archetypal Submariner has a monochromatic look, with a steel case, black dial, and black bezel, but that’s not always the case. In fact, colorful Submariners have been around since the 1980s and they became something of a cult classic by the mid-1990s.

Most famous are the so-called Kermit and Hulk Submariners. The former features a green bezel paired with the classic black dial, while the latter has both a green bezel and a green dial. The original ref. 16610V Kermit, the 2010s ref. 116610LV Hulk and the current ref. 126610LV, sometimes called the Starbucks, have become collector favorites and developed serious cult followings. Interestingly, all version of the green Subs are Submariner Date models – if you see one without a date display, something fishy is going on.

4. Two-Tone

A Two-Tone Rolex Sub

In 1984, Rolex expanded the Submariner line, adding an on-trend two-tone model for the first time in the ref. 16803. This watch came in two different colorways; one with black dial and bezel and one with blue dial and bezel. Both have stainless steel cases and stainless steel outer bracelet links and bracelet clasps, with the crown, bezel, and center bracelet links, all rendered in 18k yellow gold. Rolex calls this configuration Rolesor, but that is just the company’s proprietary name for two-tone – don’t let it scare you off.

Two-tone Subs have remained a mainstay of the Submariner line ever since, and Rolex has stuck with its winning formula. As the watch evolved, from the ref. 16613 to today’s ref. 126613, it has always been offered with the blue and black dial/bezel combinations, it has always been a combination of stainless steel and yellow gold (never rose gold), and it always has a date display.

5. Going for Gold

Reference 16613 T Submariner (A yellow gold and stainless steel automatic wristwatch with date and bracelet, Circa 2008)

The solid 18k gold Submariner actually predates its more modest two-tone cousins. Introduced in 1969 alongside the stainless steel version of the ref. 1680, the gold Submariner is just about the perfect balance of brash impact and classic elegance. In addition to featuring the new date complication (complete with a gold-tone date wheel for a more cohesive look), the gold 1680 introduced a new kind of dial to the Rolex line-up. The powdery black dial featured gold printing and new hour markers that were smaller, made of gold, and filled with luminous material (tritium at the time). These are colloquially called nipple dials, because of the shape of the hour markers.

Just two years later, Rolex added a blue dial / blue bezel ref. 1680 to the mix, and by 1980 the ref. 1680 was transitioned over to the ref. 16808. The gold Submariner Date would stay in the collection, growing alongside the steel models, receiving updated movements and other new developments along the way. Eventually, Rolex released a white gold Submariner with a blue bezel and later a white gold Submariner with a blue bezel and blue dial (nicknamed the Smurf). These combinations were never used on steel Subs, so if you see one in a white metal with blue accents, you can be sure it’s got an 18k-white-gold case, bezel and bracelet.

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