Vintage Eye for the Modern Guy, Part 23: Rolex Submariner

Since we covered the Tudor Heritage Black Bay, a watch heavily influenced by historical Tudor dive watches, last week, I thought it would be appropriate this week to take a look at Rolex’s modern diver: the Submariner. This incredibly iconic watch — championed by Sean Connery’s James Bond and boardroom executives alike — was launched in 1953 and available to consumers in 1954, drawing near-instantaneous critical acclaim. With a classic case, luminescent dial, and a depth rating to at least 100 meters depending on the reference, the Rolex Submariner achieved what the brand had hoped for: combine the contemporary elegance and luxury of Rolex with the versatility and utility of a sportswatch.

Rolex Submariner - vintage

The series was able to reach this goal for a variety of reasons. First, it is often considered the very first modern diving watch; although many watches before it were water resistant — and even though Rolex assisted Panerai in the 1930s to produce the precursor to the modern dive watch — it was not until 1953 that the world had available to it a timepiece able to withstand a trip to the ocean’s floor and back. Secondly, most likely as the result of its watch’s intense depth rating and durability, Rolex was able to establish itself at the forefront of the market — becoming the watch of choice for businessmen as well as for navies around the globe.

Rolex Submariner - green dial

The references currently being produced by Rolex are musclebound beasts of timekeeping, catering to the modern luxury standards. The piece, powered by the automatic Rolex Caliber 3135 with date indicator (or Caliber 3130 without one), is housed within a thick, 40-mm case in steel, steel and yellow gold, yellow gold, or white gold, featuring short lugs, sharp angles, and crown guards. Within the knurled edged bezel with ceramic Cerachrom insert resides the famous Submariner dial and all its workings. These include applied, white gold, circular, rectangular, and triangular hour markers; sword, “Mercedes,” and lollipop hands; various color options on the sunburst-finished dial; the option of a cyclops date window; and, finally, the host of printed writing and logos. This piece is undoubtedly a modern Rolex. If you’re currently on the hunt, you’d be able to pick it up at most major jewelry stores starting around $8,550.

Rolex Submariner - blue dial

For many watch aficionados, the modern Rolex Submariner series is controversial. On one hand, the watch is the culmination of more than 60 years of engineering, trial and error, and historical relevance, but on the other, it is a product of modern times — a piece that very much reflects contemporary desires for the big, the  masculine, and the loud. Long gone are the days of sword hands, long seamless lugs, and coin-edged bezels; conversely, these are also times of better diving-watch attributes: unidirectional bezel, more visible dial under low light, and crown guards to protect against underwater hazards.

Rolex Submariner - black dial

The Rolex Submariner series of the ‘50s, although very different today than the vintage models strapped to the outsides of submarines and worn by the British Navy, has gone on to inspire countless other competitors’ and imitators’ dive watches. Today, the piece is no less an influential icon, and most likely controls an even larger share of market power than it ever has historically.

However, with this said, the world of horology saw how consumers reacted to the Tudor Heritage Black Bay, a piece inspired by a similar history to that of the Submariner. Tudor’s watch series quickly rose to prominence and popularity in a very brief time, and obviously, Rolex is not blind to this. While the brand is not known to dwell on past designs or styles, there is a significant consumer desire for a truly vintage-inspired Submariner. Heck, maybe they could call even it the Millennium Sub (think MilSub), but perhaps that’s a bridge to cross once Rolex first finds its metaphorical river.

Rolex Submariner - modern

Caleb Anderson is the Director of Outreach at the online vintage watch boutique Since starting at Theo & Harris, he has garnered extensive knowledge on vintage watches, and spends much of his time sharing his opinions within the field. Currently located near New York City, he is a persistent student in all things historical, a writer on watches, and a casual runner.

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