The Rolex Submariner is an example of Rolex's commitment to create a special watch that overcomes any national boundary and continues to perform. To this very day, no wristwatch nearly as effective in terms of water resistance has been produced by any other watch company. This model has also been successfully tested in an expedition to Antarctica where it withstood temperatures of -45 degrees Celsius. Many of the early models of Submariner were in fact used in several James Bond movies like "Dr. No," "Live and Let Die," "License to Kill," "The Man with the Golden Gun," and many more. The popularity of this model made it one of Rolex's flagship models.
Early Models of Rolex Submariner
The first prototype Rolex Submariner, known as the "Deep Sea Special," was successfully tested to a depth of 10,336 feet on September 30, 1953. Some of the earliest Submariner versions included model numbers 6200, 6204, and 6205, and these models were put into different categories based on their depth ratings because not every recreational diver needed a watch with a depth rating of 600+ feet.
The model 6200, believed to be the first Rolex diving watch (released in 1953) was powered by the A.296 movement, unlike models 6204 and 6205 which were both fitted with an improved version--the A.260 movement. In addition, the model 6200 featured a bi-directional bezel and a dial that strongly resembled that of Explorer prototypes. Its case was thick and coupled with an over-sized crown. Nowhere was the word Submariner engraved on the watch; rather, the crown was marked with the word "Brevet" under the coronet. The model had a depth rating of 660 feet.
It was the model 6204 that was officially introduced as the first Submariner at the Basel Spring Watch Fair in 1954. It had a depth rating of 600 feet. It also featured a new dial that had round hour markers with rectangles at the 3, 6, and 9 positions. What was special about this model was that it was the first version to carry the name "Submariner" in very small print on the dial. Another model that made its appearance in 1954 was the 6205, almost similar to the 6204--the only difference being that the 6205 was rated to a depth of only 330 feet under water. All these early Submarines used gilt printing on glossy black dials. In addition, Radium paint was used for the luminous indices.
Major Facelifts During the Mid and Late 1950s
The earliest models 6204 and 6205 were renumbered as 6538 and 6536, respectively, in 1955. Along with these changes, other prominent updates included the following:
All these models were marked with "Submariner" in large print (as opposed to the previous smaller print) above the 6.
The new 1030 movement and Mercedes hands were introduced in the model 6536.
The model 6200 received the Mercedes hands in 1955 and was made available with both the standard Submariner dial and the Explorer-styled dial.
A key change came in the form of a redesigned Submariner bezel in 1956. It now started featuring individual minute marks for the first 15 minutes. This gave the watch a unique look. In addition, the triangle positioned on the bezel was painted red. However, these changes did not continue for long as the bezel was redesigned once more--this time featuring squared font numbers and a triangle that was no longer red. Some other notable changes during this period included the addition of a thicker case and a larger Brevet crown. In addition, in 1958 the model 6200, renumbered as the 5510, was fitted with the new 1530 movement.
A New Wave of Submariners in the 1960s
The new wave of Submariners started with a chronometer version--model 5512. Launched in 1959, it was fitted with the 1570 movement and was the first model to feature the crown guard (or shoulder) with squared ends. These shoulders were added as a protective measure for the winding or setting mechanism. By the early 1960s, the crown guards had a more pointed appearance at the ends. Later, in the mid-1960s, the crown guards started looking rounded. Also, the 1560 movement replaced the earlier 1570 movement and the words "Officially Certified Chronometer" appeared on the dial.
Another major Submariner model making its way to market during this time was the 5513, powered by a non-chronometer 1530 movement. The main attribute complementing the 5512 and 5513 models had been their over-sized crown that later became a standard feature of the Submarine line. The model 5513 was worn by Roger Moore in the movie "Live and Let Die," and to this day is the most popular and memorable Submariner.
Another major change was a shift from Radium paint for the luminous indices to the Tritium-infused paint. In addition, Rolex discontinued the use of gilt or silver gilt dials and in their place introduced white printing on the Submarine watches. The chronometer Submariner models were also engraved with the words "Superlative Chronometer Officially Certified."
In 1966, Rolex introduced yet another masterpiece: model 1680. It was the first Submariner to be equipped with a date feature. It was a significant development because it transformed the image of the Submariner from a specialist watch to one that could be worn by anyone. The word "Submariner" was painted in red in this model. Also, the bubble-shaped crystal in earlier versions had given way to the thicker yet flatter crystal in this new model. This change allowed the Cyclops magnifying bubble to be positioned over the date aperture.
Early Rolex Submariners for Military Use
The first Rolex Submariner was issued to the British Royal Navy in 1954. It was a version of the model 6204. Later, a version of the 6538 was specially adapted for the British Royal Navy and the Royal Canadian Navy. The most popular version issued to the British Royal Navy had been the model 5513 in the year 1968. What made this special was its large diamond-shaped hour hand; the tip of the second hand had a similar shape. In addition, the letter "T" was engraved inside a circle on the dial, just above the word "Submariner," signifying the switch from Radium to Tritium as the luminous material used on the dial and hands. A model identical to the 5513 had also been designed for the British Royal Marines in 1972. It was numbered 5517. It was different from 5513 only in one aspect--it featured a bezel that had individual minute markings all the way around. In model 5513, the markings were restricted to the first 15 minutes.
All the models described above look quite different from the ones that are available today. This may be the reason why these are the most sought-after vintage models. People are passionate about collecting them, their popularity is not restricted to their profile of a diver's watch, and they sell for very high prices. People also love to collect them because of their stylish, sporty look and the ongoing connection to the legendary James Bond.
Reference 5508 appeared about 1957-58, and this watch is actually the reference 6536, but with the new 5508 reference number. This reference number change was made to evolve all Submariners into 55XX reference numbers starting in the late 1950s... which would last through 1990, when the last 5513 models were last produced. The ref. 5508 was guaranteed waterproof to 100m/330ft and existed with and without the inscription of "Chronometer" on the dial.
I have sent the Rolex 5508 submariner to the Rolex center and is now waiting for the quotation for thorough check and servicing.
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