Following our in-depth look at the history and evolution of the Rolex Explorer II, the automatic Rolex Daytona, the Rolex GMT-Master, and the Rolex GMT-Master II, we have now arrived at the history and evolution of the Rolex Submariner Date. From its origins in 1953 as a tool watch for scuba divers to its current legendary status as the archetypal luxury dive watch, few watches can claim to be as recognizable, coveted, and copied as the Rolex Submariner. However, for the purposes of this article, we will be concentrating on the Submariner Date references since these make up the core Rolex collection today. Let’s dive in, shall we?
It All Begins the Rolex Submariner Date 1680
Just over a decade after the maiden Submariner made its entrance, Rolex launched the Submariner ref. 1680 in the late-1960s. Like preceding references, the Sub 1680 featured a 40 mm stainless steel case, a stainless steel Oyster bracelet, and a black dive bezel. However, the Rolex Submariner ref. 1680 was significantly different than its predecessors as it was the first Submariner to be fitted with a date window on its dial. And of course, the presence of the date window on the dial also meant that the crystal above it now had a Cyclops magnification lens affixed to it. The automatic movement used to power the Submariner 1680 is the Caliber 1575, which is essentially the Cal. 1570 with a date module. The Submariner 1680 was water resistant to 200 meters.
The early versions of the Submariner ref. 1680 included red writing on the text, which is why it is commonly referred to as the “Red” Submariner in vintage Rolex collecting circles. Rolex eventually phased out the red text and replaced it with white text in the early 1970s. There is a slew of dial variations of the Submariner 1680–often categorized as Mark I to Mark VII–with subtle variations in font type, font color, meters vs. feet depth rating placement, and luminescence material.
The First Submariner in Yellow Gold
Aside from the steel versions, there are also the yellow gold versions of this generation of Submariners. As a matter of fact, this was the first gold Submariner available. As you can imagine, this move shifted the Submariner’s position as purely a tool watch to now a high-end luxury watch. Rolex offered the yellow gold Submariner 1680/8 with either a black dial and black bezel or with a blue dial and blue bezel. Particularly interesting are the “nipple dials” of the Submariner 1680/8, characterized by gold hour markers that were raised and filled with luminescence.
Rolex Submariner Date 16800
In the late 1970s, Rolex launched the Submariner Date 16800 to replace the ref. 1680. With this new generation came a few notable changes to the Submariner. First, the water resistance of the watch was boosted to 300 meters (which it remains today). Furthermore, Rolex replaced the acrylic crystals with modern scratch-resistant sapphire crystals. Yet another big change to the Submariner Date ref. 16800 is the Caliber 3035, which beats at a higher frequency (28,800 beats per hour) compared to the previous Caliber 1575 (19,800 bph).
Also, the Submariner 16800 introduced the unidirectional rotating bezel. Since the 60-minute bezel is how divers keep track of how long they’ve been underwater, having the bezel turn only in one direction prevents divers from underestimating immersion times even if the watch gets knocked around by accident.
The 18k yellow gold version is the Submariner ref. 16808, also available in a blue or black bezel/dial configuration. Early models of the gold Submariner ref. 16808 came with nipple dials while later ones featured the flatter lume-filled indexes. There was also the choice of the Serti dial with diamond and sapphire hour markers. What’s more, there is also the later yellow gold Submariner ref. 16818 with the slightly upgraded Caliber 3135 movement.
The First Two-Tone Submariner
In the mid-1980s, Rolex released the first two-tone gold and steel version of their famed dive watch with the Submariner ref. 16803. This Rolesor (the brand’s term for combining steel and gold on one watch) Submariner featured a stainless steel case with an 18k gold bezel and an 18k gold winding crown. There were also 18k yellow gold center links on the stainless steel Oyster bracelet. Similar to the gold versions, the two-tone Rolex made the Submariner ref. 16803 in blue and black. Very early models had nipple dials but they were quickly replaced with the flatter index dial style. There are also the gem-set Serti dials with diamonds and sapphires.
Rolex Submariner Date 16610
In 1988, Rolex unveiled a brand new in-house movement, the Caliber 3135 (still in use today). As such, the brand introduced a new generation of the Rolex Submariner equipped with the Cal. 3135. There’s the stainless steel Submariner Date ref. 16610, the yellow gold Submariner Date ref. 16618, and the two-tone Submariner Date ref. 16613.
In terms of design, the early versions of the Submariner 1661x family were almost identical to the later models of the preceding 1680x: 40 mm Oyster case, sapphire crystal, tritium on the dial, hollow end links on the Oyster bracelets, lug holes on the case and so on.
However, since the Submariner 1661x watches were in production for more than two decades, plenty of enhancements occurred over the years on the name reference models.
Rolex replaced tritium with Luminova as their go-to luminescence material in the late 1990s. Furthermore, bracelets with solid end links (SEL), cases without lug holes, and ROLEX ROLEX ROLEX engraving on the rehaut (the space between the dial and the crystal), and a tiny crown laser etching on the crystal began appearing in the early 2000s.
In terms of color choices, the stainless steel Submariner ref. 16610 was first only made with a black dial and black bezel. But in 2003, on the anniversary of the Submariner, Rolex came out with the special edition Submariner 16610LV with a black dial and green bezel. This particular model goes by the nickname “Rolex Kermit.” Like always, the more precious versions–solid yellow gold and Rolesor–was offered in either a black or blue color scheme.
Rolex Submariner Date 116610
Finally, in the late 2000s, Rolex began rolling out the latest version of the Submariner Date watches. It began with the yellow gold Submariner ref. 116618 and the white gold Submariner ref. 116619 in 2008, then the two-tone Submariner Date ref. 116613 in 2009 and finally, the stainless steel Submariner ref. 116610.
These editions of the Submariner brought about the most dramatic changes to Rolex’s line of divers’ watches since its inception in 1953. The silhouettes of the Oyster cases, although still officially 40 mm in diameter, are broader with fatter lugs. The aluminum bezel inserts were replaced by Cerachrom bezels–Rolex’s proprietary ceramic alloy. The dials are now “Maxi dials” with larger hour markers and larger center hands. The Oyster bracelets were also redesigned with sturdier clasps, solid links throughout, and the super practical Glidelock clasp, which can be adjusted in 2 mm increments without the need for tools.
The stainless steel Submariner ref. 116610 is available in either black or in green. The green steel Submariner ref. 116610LV picked up the nickname the “Rolex Hulk” due to its bright color and broader proportions. The two-tone and yellow gold versions offer the black and blue options. And the white gold–a first for the Submariner–edition comes with a bright blue bezel and dial and is also known as the “Rolex Smurf.”
The movement remains the same; the dependable Caliber 3135. However, in 2015, Rolex redefined their “Superlative Chronometer” parameters so that all their watches guarantee an accuracy rating of -2/+2 seconds per day.
And that brings us to the end of our investigation into the history and evolution of the Submariner Date watch. Yet, there is wide speculation amongst Rolex enthusiasts that 2019 will be the year of the Submariner. Many are thinking that Rolex will unveil new Submariner references at Baselworld 2019. We’ll have to wait another month to see if that is true and then the story continues. Stay tuned for updates from Gray and Sons about the upcoming Baselworld 2019 with information about the new watches from the world’s top watch brands.