Rolex. The word alone elicits strong opinions from everyone who hears it. The average Joe thinks it’s the best watch out there, wealth enthusiasts drool, and watch enthusiasts go to civil war amongst themselves. There is a lot that goes into Rolex, and the Rolex Submariner is perhaps the marque watch of the brand, but I honestly have mixed opinions on Rolex and their place in the watchmaking industry.
The iconic Swiss watch brand makes terrific timepieces but facilitates anti-consumer behavior within their Authorized Dealer (AD) network and are in my opinion some of the least impressive watches out there for the money they routinely trade hands for.
However, the Rolex Submariner manages to shoulder its baggage with ease and work its way into your heart regardless of what your head tells you. Many buy this luxury watch because of the Crown on the dial and not for any reason inherent to the actual watch. That is a shame because underneath the hype and stigmas that come with the Rolex name is actually an awesome watch, albeit some with serious shortcomings.
History Of The Rolex Submariner
The Rolex Submariner is one of the most iconic watches in the world with a storied history. Originally released in 1953, the same years as the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms and Zodiac Seawolf, the first Submariner was among the watches to give us the dive watch aesthetic that we have today.
In 1959 the Submariner reference 5512 was released. That reference gave us key Submariner attributes like a coin edged bezel, crown guards, and the 40mm case size. The Sub has continued to slowly and steadily evolve, but its design is still remarkably faithful to the first handful of Submariner models that were released.
A date display was added in 1969 with the ref. 1680. In 1979 the Submariner 16800 got its first high beat (28,800vph) movement, and yet another decade later the ref. 168000 got Rolex’s proprietary 904L Stainless Steel (also referred to as Oystersteel).
In 2012 the Sub got its stout ‘Maxi-case’ and ceramic bezel in the ref. 114060, and with the ref. 124060 in late 2020 we have the newest version of the Submariner with the 41mm case. As you can see with the decades that separate nearly every big update to the Sub, Rolex takes its time with changes to their most popular wristwatch, and that is one of the reasons it’s so good.
As we dive into my opinions on one of the most iconic men’s watches ever, I’ll be using my personal Rolex Submariner 116610 to talk through my hands-on experience. Exploring the hallmarks and build quality experience of this timepiece is designed to elicit a sense of the brand’s design and build quality as a whole.
40mm Oystersteel Case
This particular Submariner reference comes in a crowd pleasing 40mm size. The newest version of the Sub loses these infamously thick lugs of the ‘Maxi’ case and is in a 41mm variety (although the wrist presence between the two is nearly identical). The case is made of 904L stainless steel (Oystersteel), which is supposedly harder, more corrosion-resistant, and less prone to tarnishing than the traditional 316L stainless steel found in most watches. But I haven’t noticed a difference.
Brushed on the top and highly polished on the side, the case can appear a bit basic and boring. The caseback is sterile and without flair, but that makes it smooth to the touch and on wrist which cannot be condemned. This plain jane case is part of the character of the Submariner and always has been, but for me at least it leaves a little to be desired.
The case is slender at 12.5mm thick, impressive given the 300m water resistance of the Submariner. A modest 48mm lug to lug completes the easy wearing experience. The Sub is the perfect mix of tool watch heft and svelte wearability, and I think the collection is a big reason why dive watches have slid into dress watch roles.
I personally think the Submariner lends itself to the dressier side of tool watches, and it is as happy under a cuff as a pig in muck. The Sub is the easiest wearing dive watch I have ever experienced, and that is due in no small part to the phenomenal bracelet.
World Class Bracelet and Clasp
The Oyster bracelet is one the the Rolex’s most renown features, and for good reason. I think the bracelet on this generation of Submariner models is perhaps the best bracelet in the world, and I do not say that lightly. It does not rattle like a Nautilus, has a better clasp than a Royal Oak, tapers beautifully unlike a Seamaster, and is better finished than a Glashutte SeaQ. Perhaps the Rolex Jubilee or President gives the Oyster a run for its money, but they are not usually blessed with perfect glidelock clasp.
Rolex’s Glidelock clasp is the best clasp in the watch world. It has about a link and a half of quick adjustment range and the action to release the clasp from your wrist is silky smooth. There are no hotspots anywhere and the clasp itself is comfortably thin.
The links articulate well and droop over the curves of your wrist with ease. There is zero gap or wiggle from the endlinks as they sit as snug as possible against the watch case. I usually prefer female end links but the male end links on this oyster allow the bracelet to seamlessly flow into the watch case.
The bracelet tapers from 20mm to 16mm, giving the watch a substantive but elegant feel on the wrist. This bracelet also shows its wear remarkably well, the all brushed links and clasp hide the majority of desk diving scuffs and scratches.
Refined Cerachrom Ceramic Bezel
This is perhaps the best unidirectional rotatable bezel in the watch world, although it is a closer race in this department. There is no back play at all, and it glides from click to click with precision and certainty. I have found that the way it glides around the circumference of the dial is unlike any other watch. It goes without saying that it aligns perfectly with the minute track that runs around the dial. The bezel is slim and aggressively tapers to its full height, but it is easy to grip and operate as it slightly overhangs the sides of the case.
The coin edge bezel surrounds a Cerachrom ceramic insert whose engraved graduations and numerals are filled with platinum. One more thing I love about it is the lume pip at 12’o’clock. It’s raised enough above the bezel that you can tell where the 12 o’clock is by feel, and it has the tiniest piece of sapphire protecting a dot of lume.
Ultra Reliable In-House Caliber Movement
My experience winding the watch is as smooth as most modern in-house watch movements, but the silky action of the screw-down crown sets it apart from most other watches. That is thanks to Rolex’s Triplock crown, which has gaskets on the inside and outside of the stem and tube to preserve basic water resistance even if someone carelessly leaves it unscrewed. The crown is nestled in between wonderfully curved crown guards on the side of the case.
Powering this particular 116610 Submariner is the in-house caliber 3130. This is a proven movement that has been at the heart of many Rolex watches since the early 2000s. While it only touts a 48 hour power reserve, this movement is an absolute unit and one of the more rugged and reliable movements out there.
Rolex advertises +2/-2 seconds per day of accuracy, and mine doesn’t disappoint with accuracy of about +.5 seconds per day. This is a plain movement with little in the way of finishing, but it is the perfect choice for a watch like the Sub.
An Iconic, Well Balanced Dial
The lume on the Submariner is very good. It will not beat out a Seiko 5 but the blue hue of the proprietary Chromalight lume adds another level of sophistication to the timepiece. It glows strong and steady and the time is still legible at 3 in the morning when your baby lets you know she’s hungry (I know that from personal experience).
Moving on to the dial, it again is nothing special but done to the highest standard. The text is crisp and clean, and while there are 7 lines of text on the dial it does not feel unbalanced or too busy. The indices and hands are filled with lume and surrounded in white gold. The Mercedes handset is probably the most iconic handset in all of watches, and they pair exceptionally well with the inky, glossy black dial and the lume-filled hour markers. I love the dial of the Sub – it’s drama free and is perfectly matched with the rest of the watch.
Crystal Clarity Leaves Something To Be Desired
The sapphire crystal on the Rolex Submariner is good, but ordinary. I have actually grown to love the date magnifier, it looks like a perfect droplet of water on the crystal and makes the date ultra legible from a quick wrist check. Oddly, the magnifier window is the only part of the crystal that has any antireflective (AR) coating.
Rolex did not use antireflective coatings on their Submariners up until several years ago. As a result of that, there is often a subtle milky white haze to the dial. It is vaguely annoying but it does not bother me too much, the dial is still highly legible and crisp.
Even on the newest Rolex Submariner models that have anti-reflective (AR) coatings on the underside of the crystals, its not done to the same high standard of the rest of the watch and there is no comparison to the AR coatings on an Omega Seamaster or a Seiko Marinemaster. The crystal haze is a passable quirk of Submariner ownership, akin to the milky ring on a sapphire Omega Speedmaster.
My Journey To Owning A Rolex and Overall Thoughts
The journey to owning a Rolex Submariner (and it was a journey) is one of the biggest cons of this or any other Rolex. When this watch was purchased in 2018 the Rolex buying experience was vastly different than it is today, but it still wasn’t a cake walk. With the purchase history of just a Tudor Black Bay 41mm a year prior, I was able to walk in and put in an order that was filled after a mere three month wait.
Those days are as extinct as the stegosaurus. Three months is not a bad wait by today’s standards by any means, but it’s still annoyingly inconvenient and the wait makes you feel like your AD is doing you a favor by allowing you to spend nearly ten grand with them. For what it’s worth my local Rolex AD has always been pretty decent to work with, but I have been to enough ADs across the country to realize that is not the norm.
I fully understand that getting your hands on a Submariner at retail today is a much different proposition. I know plenty of people with substantial five digit purchase histories that have been waiting for the call for more than a couple years.
And this, while not the entry level Rolex, is a pretty bare bones watch and near the entry point to the brand. The game you have to play to get a watch from this brand is obnoxious, and it really pushes me personally towards spending my hard earned dollars elsewhere.
And your dollars will go much further elsewhere. Here are 4 watches that are less than the $10,250 retail price of a new Rolex Submariner Date:
- Glashutte PanoMaticLunar on a strap
- Breitling Navitimer B01 43mm
- Omega Aqua Terra World Time
- Zenith El Primero Original
That list consists of beautifully finished Swiss chronographs of legend, hand finished movements, and even a world timer.
The Submariner is a time and date watch with basic finishing, a basic movement, and one of literally a million Rolexes made per year. It gets even crazier to think some people have spent three to five grand more than that and bought one gray or used. The Submariner at retail is a tough pill to swallow, and a Sub at gray market pricing is honestly a horrendous value. Anyone who says differently has their sense of reason distorted by thick green glasses.
To add insult to the injury of spending $10k plain watch, it’s inevitable that someone will walk up to you and say “Nice Rolex, I bought mine on a cruise for $250. Its great isn’t it!” or “Is that real?” I do not have any statistics as counterfeiters are not the best at keeping public written records, but it is a safe bet that the Submariner is the most faked watch in the world. I am vehemently against fake watches for a myriad of reasons (exploitation of people, support of criminal enterprises, general dishonesty, etc), and you’ll see more counterfeit Subs out in the wild than real ones.
And the counterfeit ones are scary good. Some of the super clones for maybe $500 are very nearly indistinguishable from the genuine article, identical down to the screws and bridges in the movement. The proliferation of fake Submariners means, for me at least who does not have ten thousand dollars to gamble with, that buying used is out of the question.
If watch experts or auction houses cannot distinguish real Rolexes from fake Rolexes (check out some of the recent articles from Periscope), why on earth should I think I am knowledgeable enough to avoid being taken advantage of? Fakes are that good. When you buy a Sub you are getting a watch that is not unique or special in any way, but I think that curse is also its best quality.
That sums up this watch nicely, it is without drama. There is nothing special or fun about the Submariner, it just gets the job done without fuss or failure. It’s a great watch in a vacuum, but this watch does not exist in a vacuum. Ten thousand dollars is a lot of money to spend on a watch, and there are a lot of brands that work very hard for your money. Rolex is not one of those brands, in fact spending your money with them is treated as a privilege, for you.
I hate the games you have to play to get modern Rolexes, even watches like the basic Submariner. I would rather take my dollars elsewhere to someone that has put a lot of effort into earning them. However, I have a Submariner in my watch roll and I now have the luxury of feeling that way. There is an allure to Rolex that is not quantifiable or perhaps even justifiable, and I’d be lying if I said that I would not be an eager participant in this grand game if I didn’t already have one on my wrist.
To use an automotive analogy for my fellow car enthusiasts, a Rolex Sub is like a Porsche 911. The 911 and Submariner are both potent formulas that have been artfully refined for decades and are true to their respective original premises. A new 911 Carrera does not have the technical speed of a C8 Corvette, the agility of a Lotus Emira, the luxury of a Lexus LC500, or the raw power of a Jaguar F-Type. Yet it sells for a heavy premium over all of those cars and has Rolex worthy waitlists despite its shortcomings, because rowing through the gears yourself in a 911 on a twisty road is near the pinnacle of automotive experiences.
The Submariner similarly is the best wearing, most refined dive watch on sale with the heritage to back it up. Sliding on a Rolex Submariner is doubly magical and illogical. If you just want the best and do not really care what it costs, whether in financial sums or the emotional toll of waiting with baited breath for years for someone you barely know to call you, then the Submariner is for you.
As my humble collection grows, a watch like the Submariner has started to make less and less sense to me personally as I have several much cheaper watches that are perhaps 90% as good as the Submariner. However, the bits of the Sub that get it to that last 10% propel it past my head’s better judgment into a spot in my heart that can only be satiated by that little crown on the dial, which this watch continues to wear with authority and certitude.
Common Questions About The Rolex Submariner
As one of the most recognizable consumer products on earth, there are a lot of questions about the Rolex Submariner. As such, please feel free to scroll through some of the most commonly asked questions about this iconic watch. If you have a question that isn’t answered in this section, please share it in the comments below and we’ll update this section.
How much does the Rolex Submariner cost?
The current approximate price range for a Rolex Submariner is $9,100 – $42,000 depending on which model you’re looking for. Pricing can also tend to vary based on availability, topicality, and the market.
How Hard is it to get a Submariner?
Its not as hard as some watches, especially other Rolex models, but it has not been an easy watch to acquire for several years now. The largest factor contributing to that is the scarcity of available models. As such, authorized dealers generally have a waiting list for new Rolex Sub models. The reality is that you’ll most likely need to spend at least 5 figures towards the purchase of a different watch in order to receive priority on the waitlist.
Can you wear a Submariner in the water?
Yes it is water resistant to 300m, which means it has a depth rating that’s appropriate for swimming and diving.
Is a Rolex Submariner a good investment?
Yes – the Rolex Submariner continues to be one of the few watches in existence to not only hold it’s value after purchase but also to potentially increase in value depending upon market conditions.
What is the warranty on a Rolex?
A new, authorized dealer purchased Rolex will have a 5 year warranty, not that you’ll need it because Rolex’s quality control is impeccable.
Popular Rolex Submariner Watches Models and References
Rolex Submariner “Kermit” Ref. 16610LV
This iconic but lesser known Sub referenced is characterized most strongly by the green bezel against the black dial. This color combination gave rise to it’s nickname of “Kermit” due to its resemblance to the Muppets Character.
Rolex Submariner “Smurf” Ref. 116619LB
This was the first ever Sub model released in White Gold featuring a blue dial and blue ceramic bezel. The blue on blue against the white gold is where the “Smurf” nickname is derived. This was also the first Submariner date model to feature a ceramic bezel.
Rolex Submariner “Hulk” Ref. 116610LV
The first application of a green ceramic bezel with a green dial, this particular Sub model has supreme cult status as one of the most easily recognizable Submariner references out there. The nickname of “Hulk” is pretty self evident from the green colorway here.
Rolex Submariner Ref. 1680/8
First released in 1969, this now iconic vintage Rolex was the first Submariner to feature a yellow gold case and bracelet.
Rolex Submariner Two-Tone (Rolesor) Ref. 116613
First released under the 5 digit ref. 16613, the modern iteration of Rolex’s two-tone submariner models has been updated and designed as Ref. 116613LN for the black dial and bezel version and as Ref. 116613LB for the blue dial and bezel version. The modern Ref. 116613LB (and previous Ref. 16613) is often nicknamed the “Bluesy” due to it’s blue colorway against the two-tone metals.
Rolex Submariner Ref. 114060
This was the first no-date Sub model to feature a ceramic bezel.
Ben is a midwesterner who was infected with the watch contagion when he needed a watch to time his long runs in high-school. Now as a mildly functional family man his fleeting fascination has hemorrhaged into terminal obsession of all things clocks and watches. He loves hunting for eclectic watches well off the beaten path. Adequate culinary concoctions, mediocre photography, and massive enthusiasm for cars and all of the dying sci-fi franchises round out his other passions.