Sub and Sea-Dweller

Always a reference for over 50 years

The Watch Quote™ - February 20th, 2004

In the beginning of the 1950s, Rolex decide to work on watches that could meet the most demanding and complex of technical and professional requirements.

Half a century later, her Majesty the Submariner is still a major reference

1950 - 1956

Beginnings and birth of the Submariner myth

The basic idea was to use the tried and tested Oyster case and to develop specific variants. The various Turn-O-Graph, Explorer, Milgauss, Submariner and GMT were destined to become real working tools.

The Submariner was unveiled in 1953 and presented to the public at the Basle Fair in the spring of 1954 with the reference 6204.

It had a bi-directional bezel without minute indicator between 1 and 15, a straight hour hand (unlike the Mercedes type now used) and a second hand with a luminous circle at the tip (whereas now the circle is further back up the hand). The Submariner inscription usually appears in gold on the dial but the maximum depth limit of 600 ft. is not marked.

It has the caliber of the Rolex series 600, the A260 of the Bubblepack.

Both case and back are very fine, the 6mm-diameter winding crown has no surround and the milling on the bezel is thinner than on today’s models.

Both models remained in production until 1957.

1955 - First developments

The first developments on the SUBMARINER appeared in 1955.

  • The 6205 was almost identical to its predecessor, with the same caliber and other characteristics. But there was usually no SUBMARINER inscription on the dial. The maximum depth limit was still 600 ft.
  • It had the caliber of the ROLEX series 600, the A296 (Rolex 775) of the BUBBLEPACK; a deeper case back and more curved profile; and a depth limit increased to 660ft. (200 meters). The standard series carried the SUBMARINER inscription on the dial and had a 6mm winding crown.
    Both models remained in production until 1957.Comparing the original 6204 to the 6205 and the 6200, you can see that on the standard dial the inscriptions are in gold with no depth indicator, that the original design of the hands stayed in production for about a year, and until 1957, there was no 1-15 minute indicator on the bezel.

    The 6200 had a variant of the dial called the Explorer, produced only for the English market.

    There is no SUBMARINER inscription and the hours are in Arab figures in gold, for 3, 6 and 9 o’clock.
    The winding crown, measuring 8mm., was initially marked “Brevet”, and was the prototype for the future TRIPLOCK with three points, produced for around 18 months between 1956 and 1958.

    This series still has the original bezel with the red triangle. The bigger winding crown was introduced to make it easier to use with the thick gloves worn by divers.

1956 – Rolex adopts the caliber 1030

In 1956, ROLEX unveiled the SUBMARINERS 6536 and 6538, which can be found with both caliber A296 and the new caliber 1030 (the first ROLEX with bi-directional winding rotor).
The first version of the 6538 still has a rounded case back of the BUBBLEPACK type, from which it also inherited the caliber, and the fine case of the earlier models.

The second version of the 6538 is distinguished by its more imposing case and 8mm winding crown as well as for the new caliber 1030.
In ROLEX spare parts catalogs, this model is known as 6538A.

The triangle of the bezel can be red, as for the English 6200, with maximum depth limit of 660ft. compared to the 330ft. of the 6536, which retains its original case.
Models of caliber 1030 have their own reference: 6536-1. Adopting the caliber 1030 enabled higher precision and from the end of 1958 we start to see the 6538s carrying the inscription OFFICIALLY CERTIFIED CHRONOMETER on the dial.

These models usually have hours and inscriptions in gold, with depth indicator and chronometer in white. They remained in production throughout 1956.

1958 – “Officialy Certified Superlative Chronometer”

In 1958, ROLEX introduced the 5510 and 5508.
The first, produced until 1962, was simply a modified version of the 6538. This watch has a ROLEX caliber 1500 (the reference that introduced a more modern balance wheel produced by Stella, with free-standing spring and screw adjustment, more precise than the 1030).
The “chronometer” certified watches carry a new inscription “OFFICIALLY CERTIFIED SUPERLATIVE CHRONOMETER.”
You can find the 5510 with calibers 1530 or 1520 (which differ from one another only by the number of alternations per hour: 18,000 and 19,800) a dial with inscriptions in gold, usually without the maximum depth indicator, not interchangeable with those of other models, a bezel with a red triangle and 8mm winding crown.
This model could be seen as a kind of prototype, somewhat like the 6240 for the COSMOGRAPH with screw-in buttons.

The 5508 also had the same fine case as the 6536s, from which it was descended.
It was launched with caliber 1030, and then equipped with caliber 1530 until production ended in 1962.

You can find it with inscription and indicators in either gold or white.
As with all the SUBMARINERS examined until now, it has a 6mm. winding crown without the protective surround, and with finer milling than today’s models.

These models are all commonly called James Bond, even though at the start, collectors only referred to the 6538 by this name.

1960 - The first “Modern” Submariner

The first modern model of the SUBMARINER, reference ROLEX 5512, finally came out in 1960.
Characterized by a case that is almost identical to the one we know now, it has a large winding crown with very pronounced protection and milling, and equipped with calibers from the 1500 series, the 1530 and the 1570.

Production continued until 1977.

Almost all the 5512s (that the 6538 replaced as the ground-breaking model) obtained chronometer standard. The standard dial has white inscriptions and indicators. However there is a series that was produced with the SUBMARINER inscription and depth indicator in gold for the US, which from the 1960s had become the market reference for all ROLEX watches.

In 1962, the 5508 was replaced as standard model by the 5513, without the chronometer certificate. It can be found not only with the two calibers adopted for the 5512, but also with the1520. Examples also exist with inscriptions in gold.

From the end of the 1970s, until production ceased in 1989, the indices are in the form of small metal circles surrounding the luminous material.
The first examples of these references have very tapering winding crown surrounds (like the first GMTs, ref. 1675, known as the great horns.)

For the 5512 and the 5513, there is also a version known as the TROPICALE with an original dial in brown rather than black, and with gold inscriptions, a colour close in tone to the dove grey of the COSMOGRAPH.

All the models we have looked at so far are made in stainless steel.

In 1965, with the SUBMARINER 1680, ROLEX introduced two brand new features:

  • A date indicator (calibers 1570 and1575), with Cyclops lens glued to the outside of the flat crystal for easier reading.

  • The stainless steel version was now joined by a model in 18 carat yellow gold, with the reference1680/8

The Submariner “Specials”


There is also a rather unusual version of the SUBMARINER 1680, sold mostly on the North American market, with the SUBMARINER inscription on the dial painted in RED (1969 to 1975). This version was manufactured only in stainless steel.


During the latter half of the 1960s, in collaboration with the French company COMEX, specialists in underwater operations, ROLEX developed a model to meet the most stringent technical and professional demands.

Divers not only needed solutions for water resistance at extreme depth. They also faced the danger of explosive decompression caused by helium penetrating the interior of the watch while they breathed the mixture of oxygen and helium within their hyperbaric chamber.

To maintain a pressure identical to that underwater, the mixture in the hyperbaric chambers remained the same during the different phases of work and rest periods. This system was designed to eliminate the need to depressurize the chamber after each phase of work.

Before returning to free air, and depending on the depth attained, a period of depressurization was necessary to equalize the internal and external tension of the human organism.

Though the process of depressurization is slow, the gas that accumulated inside the watch, having no means to escape fast enough, exploded the crystal, causing serious injury to those inside the chamber.

The problem was solved by placing a valve inside the case at the 9 o’clock position that would enable the helium to escape bit by bit as the pressure inside was taken down to atmospheric pressure.

The valve began to function 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 delivered to COMEX between 1969 and 1971.

During delivery, these watches, as with all the watches supplied by the company, were personalized with the COMEX inscription printed on the dial and engraved inside the case-back, but without the retailer’s delivery serial number. This is also the case for a large number of normal 5513s supplied in 1970.

The diameter of the valve of these 5513s was small, somewhat crude in appearance and not made of stainless material. The chrome wore out and the outside of the valve began to blacken with oxidation.

In 1972, once the field trial period was over, ROLEX began to produce special 5513s with helium valves especially for COMEX, with their own reference 5514.

Several dozen were delivered in small lots between 1972 and 1977.

This time, the valves were smaller, but made in stainless steel, usually with the delivery serial number engraved on the case-back.

The standard caliber 1520 was used for these two series, until 1972, as for all the technical models produced from that year on.

To round off the subject of ROLEX, it’s worth remembering that between the latter half of the 60s and 1997, apart from these two prototypes, ROLEX supplied COMEX with other models, with acrylic crystals (5513 standard and 1665) and sapphire crystals (from the 1980s onwards).

The last type of acrylic crystal SUBMARINER to mention is the military model for the British Royal Navy.


In the mid-1960s, ROLEX began manufacturing special SUBMARINER 5513s for the frogmen of the ROYAL NAVY, with the following specific characteristics:

• The dial is marked with an encircled “T” for tritium.
• They have highly luminous sword-shaped hands, for visibility in extremely bad light.
• Bracelet bars were soldered to the case, and the bracelet itself was the famous Nato-strap, made from special highly water resistant fabric. This combination of materials and structure made it impossible for the watch to fall off and be lost under water.

The year, serial delivery number, model’s military identity and the Broad arrow, a stylized arrow to show that the watch was the property of the British Royal Navy, were all engraved, once delivered in Britain, on the case back.

The military engravings were only done once the watch in question had been assigned to a particular serviceman.
A lengthy period could pass between the delivery of the watch to the ROYAL NAVY and its entry into service, as the choice of watch to be issued did not follow the order of initial delivery.

During the first years, the standard bezel of the civilian SUBMARINER was used. Following new military specifications at the start of the 1970s, it was replaced by one with a continuous minute counter, with all minutes from 1 to 60 marked.

In most cases, once their period of service was complete, whether or not they had been issued or been in service, the Navy sold the watches as surplus. They were often reconverted to civilian standards by replacing the dial, hands and bezel by those supplied from standard spare parts.

Another particularity to mention concerning the 5513 is the model that ROLEX supplied to the ROYAL MARINES, with a double reference number: 5513 on the case and 5517 on the bracelet attachment at 8 o’clock.


Between 1986 and 1989, ROLEX brought out a transition model of the SUBMARINER with date indicator and the first sapphire crystal, the model 16800.
Other improvements from the new SEA-DWELLER were also incorporated, including caliber 3035, safety bezel and revised indices. The maximum depth increased to 1,000 ft. and a version in gold and stainless steel, with the reference 16803, was launched

1989 - Contemporary SUBMARINERS

The present caliber 3135 model 16610 appeared in 1989. It is available
in gold and stainless steel, 16613 and in 18 carat gold 16618.

As for the SUBMARINER with no date, the 5513 came to the end of
production in 1989, replaced by the present reference 14060 with
sapphire crystal.

In 2003, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the SUBMARINER, ROLEX
launched a special edition with green bezel, new bracelet and the dial
and indices of the YACHTMASTER type. The reference is 16610LV.


In 1971, a civilian version of the SUBMARINER with helium valve appeared on the market, the SEA-DWELLER 1665, with guaranteed water resistance to 2,000ft.

It retained the caliber of the 1680 SUBMARINER, and like the Submariner, included a date indicator, though not the Cyclops lens, as the thickness of its crystal would have made it necessary to increase the thickness of the lens to maintain the same accuracy.

The first examples of the 1665 were manufactured for COMEX.
The case-back was numbered and they were delivered with COMEX marked on the dial, with a civilian replacement dial.

The first civilian series was marked SEADWELLER-SUBMARINER 2000 in RED, with ROLEX engraved on the case-back, as was the case for all subsequent versions.

The second series (1975 to around 1982) differed from the first only by its all-white inscriptions and absence of the marking SUBMARINER 2000.

The series with RED double inscription originates essentially from the North American market. (It appeared in the 1977 USA instruction manual).

However it had also appeared on the European market about a year earlier, with extremely irregular distribution.
The two versions existed side by side for at least three years. The same thing would also happen with the second series with sapphire crystal. The first version is now the rarest, as the first year’s production of the model was very limited. It was an elite model, and very advanced for the tastes of the time.

In 1980, the sapphire crystal version 16660 of SEA-DWELLER came out.
The maximum depth limit increased too 4,000 ft. (2,000 for the 1665) with major differences.

• Caliber 3035 of the series 3.000, 28,000 alternations per hr., with working precision comparable to that of a quartz movement and with rapid date adjustment.
• Very thick sapphire crystal (3mm) and larger helium valve.

In 1986, SEA-DWELLER inherited a new dial with revised indices and a luminous section circled with a white gold ring.

In 1989, it was replaced by the present model 16600 with the more up-to-date caliber 3135, and is still in production.

From Daytona
to the Cosmograph Daytona

a lot
very much indeed
not at all

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