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Welcome to our new Vintage Series, where we will be highlighting some of the most historically important and sought-after vintage watches. To kick things off, we’re starting with a classic: the Rolex Submariner 5512. Read on to find out why this particular vintage Submariner reference is significant as we outline its history, evolution, and noteworthy design variations.

Vintage Rolex Submariner 5512

Rolex Submariner 5512 History

Rolex first launched the Submariner watch in 1953 as a tool watch for scuba divers. However, when Rolex introduced the Submariner 5512 in 1959, this particular reference signaled a turning point for the brand’s flagship dive watch collection. Not only did the Submariner ref. 5512 sport a larger 40mm case size (compared to the smaller 38mm size of previous models) but the watch now included crown guards. The 40mm case size and the presence of crown guards are design traits that continue on with today’s Submariner models.

Rolex produced the Submariner 5512 from 1959 until about 1980, and throughout the model’s two-decade history, the watch underwent several updates.

Submariner 5512 Crown Guard Variations

Since this was the first Submariner model to include protective shoulders around the winding crown, it is not surprising that Rolex tinkered with the design of the crown guards over the years. The earliest 5512s included square crown guards, however, this particular shape caused some difficulties when wearers tried to adjust the winding crown. So Rolex moved to tapered crown guards (sometimes known as “eagle beak” crown guards), then pointed crown guards, and finally rounded crown guards–a shape similar to what we see on modern models.

  • 5512 with Square Crown Guards: 1959
  • 5512 with Eagle Beak Crown Guards: 1959
  • 5512 with Pointed Crown Guards: 1959 – 1963
  • 5512 with Rounded Crown Guards: 1963 – 1980
Submariner 5512 crown guard
Submariner 5512 with Rounded Crown Guards

Submariner 5512 Dial Variations

Another reference 5512 design detail that Rolex modified throughout the decades is the dial. Similar to most Rolex sports watches of the era, the Submariner originally had glossy black dials with gilt writing. This dial style carried over with the Submariner 5512 but only until the mid-1960s, after which Rolex switched to matte black dials with white text.

  • 5512 with gilt dials: 1959 – 1966
  • 5512 with matte dials: 1967 – 1980

In addition to the overall dial style change, the Submariner 5512 also featured different lines of text throughout its history. Early 5512 examples only featured two-lines of text on the bottom portion of the dial: depth rating and the SUBMARINER name. However, when Rolex replaced the movement of the 5512 with a chronometer-grade caliber early in the reference’s history, two more lines of text were added to the dial: SUPERLATIVE CHRONOMETER OFFICIALLY CERTIFIED. As such, these are aptly nicknamed the Submariner 5512 “four-line dial.”

  • 5512 with two lines of text: non-chronometer
  • 5512 with four lines of text: chronometer
Submariner 5512 meters first, four lines
Matte dial, meters first, four-lines of text

Yet another notable dial variation of the Submariner 5512 is concerning how the depth rating is written. Early Submariner 5512 watches had the meter depth rating first (200m=660ft). However, around 1967, Rolex switched it up to show the feet depth rating first: (660ft=200m).

  • 5512 with meters first: 1959 – 1967
  • 5512 with feet first: 1967 – 1980

Submariner 5512 Movement Variations

As previously mentioned, when the Submariner 5512 first made its debut in 1959, it was a non-chronometer rated watch–it ran on Caliber 1530. Soon after, Rolex fitted the Sub 5512 with the chronometer-rated Caliber 1560. Around the same time, Rolex introduced Submariner 5513 in 1962, which was equipped with Caliber 1530 and remained as the non-chronometer alternative (and thus, less expensive option) to the Submariner 5512 until the 1980s.

Rolex then replaced Caliber 1560 in the Submariner 5512 with the slightly higher-frequency Caliber 1570 around 1965. In 1972, Caliber 1570 received the hacking seconds upgrade.

  • 5512 with non-chronometer Caliber 1530: 1959
  • 5512 with chronometer-rated Caliber 1560: 1959 – 1965
  • 5512 with Caliber 1570: 1965 – 1972
  • 5512 with Caliber 1570 with hacking seconds: 1972 – 1980

Submariner 5512 Matte Dial, Meters First

If we take this specific Submariner 5512 pictured here, we can highlight some of the variations we mentioned above. Made around 1966, we see that the watch includes the rounded crown guard shape that Rolex finally settled on. Moreover, the dial is a matte one with four lines of text–signaling the use of chronometer-grade Caliber 1560. However, we also see that the meters depth rating is placed first, which is a detail appreciated by vintage Rolex collectors.

As a vintage watch, the tritium lume plots on this Sub 5512 have developed a warm patina while the bezel insert has faded from its original black shade to become what collectors refer to as a “ghost bezel.”

ghost bezel Submariner 5512
Submariner 5512, Ghost Bezel, Meters First

The 5512 is an important reference in Rolex’s dive watch history as it established several fundamental Submariner design traits that we still see around today. It is also a model that enjoys a cult following within vintage Rolex collecting circles due to all the variations available.

Make sure to stay tuned for future chapters of our newly launched Vintage Series for in-depth reviews of key vintage luxury watches.

Written by

Celine Simon

Celine is a freelance luxury watch writer who has enjoyed working in the horology industry for over ten years. Like many of the high-end timepieces she writes about, she comes from Switzerland—the heart of fine watchmaking. From Singapore to Montreal to Geneva to Dubai, Celine has lived all over the world but now calls Southern California home.