The ONLY Rolex Submariner Size Guide You Need (All Models)
The Rolex Submariner was first introduced in 1953 as a dive watch designed specifically for professional use. Quite possibly the most recognizable timepiece in the world, the underwater tool watch has preserved its quintessence for decades, making it the most sought-after luxury watch on earth.
Hyperbolic as this may sound, it’s no exaggeration. Its appeal stretches over cultural groups, continents, gender, personality types… you name it! Rolex knows better than any other watch brand how to preserve the ethos of its flagship products.
As a result, the Submariner has retained its classic design from the 1950s while displaying a mastery of mechanics and aesthetics over the years. All legends have a story, and in true Exquisite Timepieces fashion, we shall give this icon the attention it deserves. Today, we take a look at the different Rolex Submariner sizes throughout the years.
About The Rolex Submariner
The Submariner was Rolex’s first attempt to turn a functional timepiece into an item of luxury (and how well it worked!). Even though it started as a simple and relatively affordable tool watch, it quickly took its place in the elite circle of timepieces that influence generations of time-telling devices.
Designed for diving and outdoor activities, the Rolex Submariner is part of Rolex’s Oyster Perpetual line, which include sport watches that are durable, highly accurate, and resistant to water and corrosion.
Here are some of its key features:
Waterproof: The Submariner is designed to be water-resistant up to 300 meters (1000 feet), making it suitable for diving and other water-related activities. Note, however, that the earlier models were water resistant to a depth of 100 and 200 meters, as we’ll see later on.
Rotating Bezel: All Submariners feature a rotating bezel that allows divers to read the elapsed time from the beginning of any activity.
Oyster Case: The watch’s case is made of Oyster Steel, a highly durable and corrosion-resistant material developed by Rolex.
Date Window: Most contemporary Submariner models include a date window that magnifies the date display for easy reading.
Luminescent Markers: All Submariners feature luminescent markers on the hour markers and hands for legibility in low-light conditions.
Automatic Movement: The Submariner is powered by Rolex’s automatic movement, which is known for its precision and reliability.
Bracelet: The watch is typically paired with a stainless steel Oyster bracelet, which is comfortable and secure.
Triplock system waterproof crown: The Submariner’s crown features a triple gasket system, which helps prevent damage to the watch, and ensures its water resistance.
History of the Rolex Submariner
The Rolex Submariner’s history is one of the most frequently rehearsed tales among watch enthusiasts, for good reasons. It was in 1953 that the Submariner was born, and its legend is an outstanding narrative of how a watch brand defied the odds to achieve unprecedented success.
At the time of its production, Rolex had already gained popularity and was revered as the superlative watch manufacturer with finely crafted timepieces. The brand had launched many groundbreaking inventions, such as the first waterproof and dust-proof watch in 1926 (The Rolex Oyster), the first self-winding movement in 1931, and the first automatic watch to feature a self-changing date indication (The Rolex Datejust) in 1945.
Before the release of the Submariner, Blancpain’s Fifty Fathoms – launched several months prior – was the first watch to tell time accurately at depths up to 91.45 meters. Then in 1954, at the Basel Watch Fair, the Submariner made its first public appearance, pushing that virtuosity further with a record-breaking feat of highly accurate timekeeping up to depths of 100 meters (330 feet).
The first iteration is believed to be the ref. 6204 (though there are still some debates on this). The watch had a black, gilt-finish dial and a rotating bezel marked for 60 minutes. It also featured straight hands styled like a pencil and luminous baton and dot indices offering superior legibility in the ocean’s depths.
Ref. 6205 followed in 1954 and was nearly identical to Ref. 6204 but had a thicker case and a larger crown. After these, a hotly sought iteration known as “King Sub” was launched and featured a large 8mm crown with a depth rating of 200 meters. The ref. 6538, which is the most revered of all – thanks to its association with the iconic Bond franchise – was produced in the latter part of the 1950s. The Ref. 5508 replaced the 6538 and was the first Submariner to house the Cal. 1530.
Over the next decades, production continued steadily and was mainly inspired by technical advancements such as enhanced water-resistant ratings and upgraded movements. Despite these changes, the Submariner has remained true to its original design. Today, the Submariner boasts a water-resistant rating of 300 meters, a patented high-tech Cerachrom bezel, a Glidelock bracelet, and a date function.
Rolex Submariner Sizes
The Rolex Submariner has been the go-to watch for divers since 1953. Since its creation, Rolex has revamped the Sub line with a handful of significant improvements, especially regarding the size, waterproofness, robustness, and functionality.
Below we take a look at the different Submariner sizes. We will not dive into the minutiae of each size that the Sub line has featured or every reference within the selected dimensions. But, we’ll take a look at the highlights of the primary Sub sizes so that you can understand the model’s evolution.
Between 1953 and 1959, the Submariner came in a stainless steel case that measured 37mm across. It is important to note that the first few years of its existence were a bit turbulent, so Rolex seemed to be altering the design endlessly. Eight known models were launched within this short span, including Ref. 6204, 6205, 6200, 6536, 6536/1 6538, 5508, and 5510.
The stainless steel Oyster case featured a screw-down case back, often called “bubble back” because of its rounded shape and the movement it housed.
Ref. 6204 was the first official Sub with the words “Submariner” appearing on the dial and the following iteration (Ref. 6205) displayed many of its hallmarks. Ref. 6205 was water resistant to a depth of 100 meters and used the same movement as Ref. 6204 (the Cal. A260). However, it featured an upsized crown (from 5.3mm to about 6mm) and did not have the Submariner logo on its dial.
The following year the Marque released a small number of ref. 6200 Submariners that came in two distinct series. The design was pretty much the same as its predecessors; however, a few tweaks and upgrades are worth mentioning. First off, it had a thicker case with a big 8mm “brevet” crown that ensured an increased water-resistance rating of 200 meters. The dial also had a 3-6-9 Arabic numeral configuration (Explorer-style).
Rolex continued evolving the Submariner at a rapid pace so that between 1956 and 1958, the line was significantly revised again, producing the 6536 (downsized crown: 6mm) and 6538 (oversized crown: 8mm) models. The Ref. 6536/1 had a thinner, chronometer-certified movement (the cal. 1030), the now-familiar Mercedes hands, and the “red triangle” marker on its bezel.
The Ref. 6538 had multiple versions and dial variations classified as “4-line” (Chronometer-Certified) and “2-line” (Non-Chronometer-Certified). It is also known as the “Bond” Sub because it is the reference that Sean Connery wore in Dr. No, the very first James Bond film. Again, in 1958, Ref. 5510 and Ref. 5508 were released, and they were among the last known references that came with a 37mm case.
Ref. 5510 was virtually identical to Ref. 6538 with 200 meters of water resistance, a red triangle, and a big crown. The Ref. 5508 on the other hand was similar to the Ref. 6536/1 with a smaller crown, thinner case, and water resistance rating of only 100 meters. Both models featured the updated Caliber 1530 movement. The Ref. 5508 continued running till about 1962 and is the last Submariner ever produced without crown guards.
The 40 mm generation of the Submariner begins with the Ref. 5512 released in 1959. From this point on the Submariner attained consistency and looked more like the contemporary Sub we know today. Crown guards were introduced to keep the winding crown from getting loose, in addition to the now standard Mercedes handset.
The Ref. 5512, along with its non-COSC certified sibling, the ref. 5513, represented an amalgamation of all the different elements that worked superbly for the previous Submariners. Both models were nearly identical with 40mm wide cases, 7mm crowns, 200 meters depth rating, beveled lugs, crown guards, Mercedes hands, and a demarcated dive bezel.
However, Ref. 5512 had the text “Superlative Chronometer / Officially Certified” above 6 o’clock, while the 5513 did not. Both models were extremely long-serving; Ref. 5512 was in production from 1959 to 1980, while ref. 5513 ran from 1962 all the way up to 1989. Of course, during this time, there were a lot of tweaks and design changes to the dials of both references leading to a number of variants.
A variant of the Ref. 5513 even features an ‘Explorer’ dial, much like the Ref. 6200. It is the last Submariner with Arabic numerals at 3, 6, and 9 o’clock, making it a highly coveted vintage timepiece. The modern Submariner gradually began to emerge as production of the Ref. 5513 drew to a close. Tritium had already replaced radium luminescence, and the dials were now glossy black with white gold accents.
Another 40 mm model is the Ref. 1680 (1967-1979), the first Submariner to feature a date window without cyclops. It is one of the best-known vintage Rolex timepieces with several iterations. There is a version with the word “Submariner” printed in red (dubbed the Red Sub), a “white version” (which had all the texts on the dial in white), and even a special interpretation of the same Ref. 1680 designed for the Compagnie de Maritime Expertise (COMEX), which was never sold directly to the public.
Other references with 40 mm cases were merely ‘transitional’ but featured notable upgrades. For instance, the 16800 (1979-1988) was the first Sub to be equipped with a sapphire crystal (an upgrade from plexiglass) and a unidirectional bezel.
Other 166XX references with different tweaks and engine upgrades came into the market and stayed in production for roughly two decades. Luminova usurped tritium, and the drilled lug holes on the cases became a thing of the past.
Production of 40mm Sub cases drew to a close with Ref. 14060 (non-date model with sapphire crystal and a Triplock crown) that came alongside Ref. 14060M (with the upgraded caliber 3130). Finally, the Ref. 114060 and 116610 (Super case models) were presented in slightly square cases (due to the large, robust lugs) with thicker crown guards than the previous generations.
2020 saw the retirement of Ref. 114060 and the introduction of Ref. 124060 and Ref. 126610. The Submariner collection was updated all at once for the first time in history. The ‘big’ watch craze was gaining momentum worldwide, and Rolex acted in answer to the trending demand by increasing the case size.
The bulky and masculine “Super Case” is totally gone in this iteration, and the 41 mm cases now feature thinner lugs with elegantly sweeping silhouettes and slimmer crown guards. The case is still around 12.5mm high, but the slim profile of the lugs makes the 1mm diameter increase barely noticeable.
The Oyster Steel (904L stainless steel) case is finely executed with polished sides and brushed surfaces that give it a radiant gleam. The case back remains solid screwed steel, while the Triplock crown ensures a water-resistant rating of 300m or 1,000ft.
The ref. 124060 is the basic “no date model” and is powered by the Cal. 3230 with 70 hours of power reserve. The Ref. 12661X, on the other hand, is the date model powered by the Cal. 3235 and is available in up to seven different iterations.
The Ref.126610LN has a monochromatic appearance and black bezel, while the 126610LV (nicknamed the “Kermit” as in the frog) features a green bezel. Both movements provide an increased power reserve of 70 hours (from 48 hours) and are Chronometer-Certified with a precision of 2/+2 seconds per day.
The Submariner is the one watch collection that has remained true to its original design, making it an all-time favorite. Heck, the archetypical dive watch would still be instantly recognizable by Hans Wilsdorf if he came back today.
It is one of the greatest of all and will forever remain a popular choice among divers, collectors, and watch enthusiasts alike. Due to its popularity, the Sub is a target for counterfeiters, so if you plan to add one to your collection, be cautious and ensure you are buying it from a reputable source.
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