Special Submariners

Tropicale Submariner

The TROPICAL, with a brown rather than a black dial, and gold inscription, is a rather rare version of the SUBMARINER reference 5512 and 5513.

"Red" Submariner

There is also a rather unusual version of the SUBMARINER 1680, that was sold mostly on the North American market, with the SUBMARINER inscription painted in RED. Exclusively produced between 1969 and 1975 it has no special serial number, and shares the same reference and markings as the standard 1680. It was only produced as a steel model, and the characters on the dial are finer than normal for a 1680.

We strongly advise anyone acquiring a RED SUBMARINER to be on their guard. The number of such models with replaced or repainted dials is legion. At very least, make sure the serial number of the watch you want to buy exactly matches a year the series was in production – as that will eliminate a lot of reconstructed pieces. Afterwards, you might say you’re a real expert (though even they can’t always tell a fake from the real thing), put blind trust in the seller (at your risk!) or sensibly choose to let the opportunity pass… but since when was the passionate enthusiast wise?

COMEX Submariner

During the latter half of the 1960s, in collaboration with the French company COMEX, specialists in submarine operations, Rolex researched a model to meet the most exacting technical and professional demands. Divers not only needed solutions for water resistance at extreme depth, their biggest problem was during decompression when, if the watch exploded, it risked causing serious damage to anyone else inside the hyperbaric chamber. The problem was solved by placing a valve inside the case (at the 9 o’clock position), which enabled the helium to escape progressively as the pressure inside the chamber was taken down to atmospheric pressure. The valve started functioning when the difference between the exterior and interior of the watch exceeded 2.5 kg. per sq. cm. The first helium valves were patented at the end of 1967 and set into a trial series of 5513 COMEX delivered between 1969 and 1971. The small diameter valve in these 5513s is made from chrome-plated rather than stainless steel, so it is not unusual to find them blackened by oxidation.

In 1972, ROLEX began to produce special 5513s with helium valves exclusively for COMEX, with the reference 5514. Several dozen examples were delivered in small lots between 1972 and 1977. This time the valves were smaller, and made in stainless steel. The back of the case is usually engraved with the delivery serial number. The ROLEX 1520 caliber was used for these two series.

To round off the subject of COMEX, it’s worth remembering that between the latter half of the 1960s and 1997, apart from these two prototypes, ROLEX supplied COMEX with other models, using acrylic crystal (5513 standard and 1665) and sapphire crystal (from the 1980s onwards).

In this case too, like that of the RED SUBMARINER, you should exercise caution, as the number of COMEX SUBMARINERS in circulation on the resale and collectors’ markets is about 10 to 20 times greater than ROLEX ever produced.

Royal Navy Submariner

In the mid-1960s, ROLEX began manufacturing special SUBMARINER 5513s for ROYAL NAVAL frogmen.

Their dial is marked with an encircled T, (for tritium), and they have highly luminous, sword-shape hands. Bracelet bars were soldered to the case so they could be equipped with the celebrated Nato fabric-strap. The year, serial delivery number, model’s military identity and the Broad Arrow (a stylized arrow to show the watch was the property of the British Royal Navy) were all marked on the back of the case.
Until 1970, they were equipped with civilian SUBMARINER lunettes, and then afterwards with a lunette and continuous minute timer showing all of the minutes from 1 to 60. Once their period of service was complete (whether or not they had been issued or had been in service), they were reconditioned to civilian standard by replacing the dial, hands and special lunette, then sold off as surplus.

Based on the 5513 model, ROLEX also manufactured a watch for the ROYAL MARINES, with a double reference: 5513 on the case and 5517 on the bracelet carrier at 8 o’clock.

Anecdotal pieces with different dials were also delivered on special order to exotic armies and certain major houses such as Hermès and Tiffany.

We hope you found the few pages we have dedicated to one of the most beautiful myths of all time in watch-making of use, we can only encourage you to share the pleasure of wearing a truly exceptional watch: the ROLEX SUBMARINER.

The Watch Quote™

From Daytona
to the Cosmograph Daytona

a lot
very much indeed
not at all

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