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Vintage Subs
The term "vintage", as it's used here, means a Submariner model that is no longer produced. I believe that the Rolex Submariner is watch royalty, in that it was a pioneer in terms of its functionality as the world's first deep water resistant watch, and that it has aesthetically influenced countless copy-cat models ever since. The Submariner combines a masculine, handsome and functional design with real functionality as a deep water resistant watch. Perhaps the Submariner is the model most closely associated with Rolex, and in fact, the Submariner is "the Rolex" in the public's mind. James Bond wore a Submariner in several of his character's films, which really helped to launch the watch among the non-diving public.

One characteristic of Rolex's approach to making watches, is careful iteration of each model over the years. Rolex sticks to a relatively small group of models, and introduces improvements to the watches as innovations occur. They are seeking perfection in their product, and perhaps they are closer to producing perfect watches than any of their legion of competitors. Accordingly, Rolex is far and away the leader in regards to patents awarded for their many technologies and innovations.

Due to the conditions under which Submariners need to function failure free -- namely deep water, extreme temperatures, and physical shocks -- the developmental history of the Submariner is an eventful journey. Each of the historical models has a distinct reference number and model characteristics. I'll give a brief summary below. Other excellent learning resources can be found on our Links page and in James Dowling's wonderful book The Best of Time: Rolex Wristwatches -- An Unauthorized History..

Rolex introduced the Submariner at the 1954 Basel Watch Fair. The first production model, available for sale to the public that same year, was the reference 6204. The 6204 looked almost identical to a similar Rolex watch, the Turn-O-Graph reference 6202. The reference 6204 was water resistant to 600 feet, and used the Rolex Caliber A260 movement.

Reference 6200 lived only a short life. The watch was produced in 1954 only, and housed the caliber A296.

Reference 6538 followed less than two years later, which was rated as water resistant to 660 feet. This watch was the first Submariner to use the "Mercedes" hands and the oversized "Trip Lock" crown, which have been in use ever since. There was also a reference 6536, which looks exactly like the 6538, mechanically and cosmetically, but the 6536 was only rated water restistant to 330 feet. (For collectors, it is exactly this type of variety that makes the Submariner such a collectable model). The 6538 was produced from 1954 -1959 and carried the Rolex caliber 1030; while the reference 6536 was produced from 1955 -1959 and also housed the caliber 1030. These two references are the so-called "James Bond" Submariners. One other note: the 6538 reference had its own evolution, as the production of this model for the first two years was not C.O.S.C. chronometer certified, the last three years of production of this reference did bear the "Officially Certified Chronometer" on its dial. (I believe this was the first Submariner to display this now familiar inscription/certification.). Finally, it's interesting to note that both of the above references shared the caliber 1030, while only the final three years of production of the 6538 were C.O.S.C. certified. This suggests two learning points: first, that the presence or absence of the C.O.S.C. certification in the same caliber does not imply any difference in quality. Second, C.O.S.C. certification does have merit in terms of confirming a caliber's accuracy, but it at least as much a marketing device as anything else, since the 6538 had a higher price than the 6536, when by all appearances the watches are identical.

Reference 5508 appeared about 1957-58, and this watch is actually the reference 6536, but with the new 5508 reference number. This reference number change was made to evolve all Submariners into 55XX reference numbers starting in the late 1950s... which would last through 1990, when the last 55XX models were last produced.

Until this point, Submariner dials had what is called "Gilt" printing, which means the color of the text was gold. Furthermore, the dials also had various patterns. Some had the same hour markers in use today, while other had Explorer-style dials with 3-6-9 style dials. Still others had chapter rings around the minute markers, while other dials lacked this chapter ring. The bezel triangle at the 12 o'clock position on watches up until this point were red. Furthermore, the bezels themselves on the preceding Submariners had various gradation patterns. Finally, all preceding models did not have crown guards.

The reference 55XX series, which started with the 5508, standardized these previous inconsistencies. All cases now had integral (i.e.: solid metal rising up from the case and NOT soldered on) crown guards. All dials now had white colored printing (with an exception occuring with the later and now infamous "Red" Submariners and "Red" SeaDwellers). All bezels now had one minute gradations from one minute to 15 minutes, and then 5 minute gradations from the 20 minute through the 55 minute positions). All bezel triangles were now silver.

In 1959 the reference 5512 was introduced. This reference was produced from 1959 through 1978, and with four calibers used over the years: Calibers 1520, 1530, 1560 and 1570. While I do not know if the reference 5512 carried the C.O.S.C. certification for its entire product lifespan, it did have the chronometer certification for many years through the end of production.

The reference 5513 was introduced in 1962, and replaced the reference 5508. The 5513 was produced from 1962 through June or so of 1990, which must be one of the longest continually produced references in Rolex history. The reference 5513 used calibers 1520 and 1530. Curiously, the caliber 1530 was used in both the 5513 and 5512 calibers for a time. The 5512 carried the C.O.S.C. certification while the 5513 using the same caliber did not have the chronometer certification. Today, the 5513 is one of the most collectable Submariners, and while it is still accessably priced, market prices have almost doubled from 2003 to 2005.

It is worth noting that none of the Submariners discussed so far had a date complication.

In 1965, Rolex introduced the caliber 1565, which was both C.O.S.C. certified and had a date display. In 1971, Rolex iterated the caliber to include hacking (meaning the seconds hand stops when the crown is pulled out for time setting). The 1565 caliber lead to a new model series, the 168X series. Reference 1680 was introduced in 1965 or 1966 and had the chronometer status and a date display. This also introduced the Cyclops date magnifier to the Submariner line. The 1680 also marked the philosophical transition of the Submariner from a pure "tool watch" built for serious divers to also being built and sold as a luxury sports watch. I say this, because the 1680 was the first reference to be sold in a steel and gold version ("two-tone" or "bi-metal") and also in an 18 carat gold model.

The reference 16800 was introduced in 1977-78. The 16800 introduced caliber 3135 which introduced the quick-set date and a sapphire crystal. Also, the 16800 was now rated from 660 feet to 1000 feet. Sometime around 1985 or 86, white gold surrounds were added to the luminous hour markers. Toward the end of the production run of the 16800s, for only about nine months, Rolex produced a reference 168000 in which the quality of the stainless steel was upgraded from grade 316 to grade 904.

Iin 1989, the Submariner Date received its last update, and became the reference 16610 (still in use as the current Submariner Date in 2005). The change being the introduction of caliber 3135, which featured a 28,800 BPH rate versus the slower 21,600 BPH used in the caliber 1565.

Meanwhile, the non-date Submariners underwent several new interations. Reference 5514 was produced from 1969 through 1977, and like the reference 5513, used caliber 1520. This reference denotes that this is a COMEX model.

Reference 14060 was introduced in 1989, concurrently with the new Submariner Date 16610, with the new caliber 3000. This watch was produced for 10 years, from 1989 through 1999. It introduced the white gold surrounds to the hour markers, sapphire crystal, and new fast-beat 28,800 BPH movement. The difference between the caliber 3000 as used in the non-date reference 14060 versus the caliber 3135 used in the 16610 Submariner Date is, obviously the lack of date complication and the absence of C.O.S.C. certification.

Finally, the reference 14060M, marks the last meaningful upgrade to the Submariner line. The 14060M was introduced to replace the 14060. The meaningful difference being an improved caliber 3130, which features a balance bridge for increased shock protection and improved operating rate (i.e.: better timekeeping) and improved winding system.

In 2003 or so, reference 16610LV was introduced, but has only cosmetic changes to the Submariner Date -- a green bezel and a "maxi dial" which has larger hour markers.
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