Originally a classic diver’s watch, the Rolex Submariner is now probably the most famous, best-selling luxury Swiss sports watch the world has ever seen (it’s definitely one of the most faked watches ever). From businessmen to professional athletes to Hollywood celebrities, the real Submariner is now the definitive statement for everyone from businessmen to professional athletes to Hollywood stars. It’s a watch with mass-market appeal, but it doesn’t diminish its quality; instead, it emphasizes the precision design work that makes it an icon.
The Submariner grew out of board member René-Paul Jeanneret’s challenge to Rolex’s legendary founder and president, Hans Wilsdorf. Jeanneret was a keen diver and friend of the famed underwater explorer Jacques-Yves Cousteau. He felt that the current range of Rolex diver’s watches, while water resistant, were inadequate for everyday use. Jeanneret saw the need for a watch that was functional yet elegant. He wanted Rolex to create it.
To draw attention to the planned release of this watch, an improved model was added to the Rolex Deep Sea Special, which was mounted externally on a submarine piloted by Auguste Piccard, one of the greatest explorers of the time. When Piccard surfaced from a 3,000-meter dive, the watch still worked.
The Rolex Submariner was first unveiled in 1953 at the Basel replica Rolex Submariner International Watch and Jewellery Show. The following year, Rolex officially unveiled three models: the 6200, 6204 and 6205. now, not only could divers be confident that their watch was fully waterproof up to 100m, but they could also precisely time their immersion without having to worry about changing their watch to get something more suitable.
In 1954, none of the Submariner names appeared on the dials, and certain still-existing Submariner details (such as the crown guards) had yet to appear. Modifications could be made, of course, but the instantly recognizable design of the Rolex Submariner remained virtually unchanged for many years.
In 1957, the Rolex Submariner became standard equipment for British military divers and underwent improvements, including a reinforced case and bezel. Two years later, Rolex unveiled the Submariner 5512, with the addition of a crown guard, a larger 40mm case and a dial engraved with the words “officially certified chronometer of the highest order”.
Screen icon Steve McQueen favored the 5512.The 5513 followed the 5512.It made minor adjustments to the crown guard, and the calibre 1530 was upgraded to calibre 1520 later that year.
The Submariner’s reputation was further enhanced when Sean Connery wore model 6538 on No. Dr. in 1962, a groundbreaking role for Connery and the Rolex Submariner. James Bond would maintain a long-term relationship with Submariner, thus bringing the watch to a wide audience. Following this, the Rolex Submariner 1680 was introduced in 1966 and was the first movement to feature a date window with a Plexi crystal, red lettering on the dial and the 1575 movement.
The 1980s were a particularly important decade for the Submariner. Rolex began refining its watches in 1981 with the first release of the 16800 model with a unidirectional bezel. A few years later came the 16613, the first two-tone gold and steel Sub with a blue dial and bezel.
If there was one development that cemented the Submariner’s universal appeal, it was the 16610, the “classic submarine” that made its debut in 1988. 16610 had a stainless steel case, a 40mm black dial and a patented Oyster bracelet. It also had luminescent hands and a scratch-resistant crystal that could be read underwater. Production ended in 2010, but by then the Submariner 16610 was already the world’s most fake watch.