Submariner watches or, by their full name, the Rolex Oyster Perpetual Submariner series, are designed by the Swiss luxury watchmaker as part of a line of sports watches intended for diving. Paul Hornblow the director of watches of Wales, says; “Make no mistake, resistance to water submersion and corrosion is one of Submariner’s most steadfast features, but the timepiece is more commonly known as one of the most successful wristwatches ever made”. The demand for this classic is so high that authorized dealers often have trouble keeping it in stock, which is why most people source pre-owned models. Ever since its release in 1954, the Submariner has known only success, a trend that was catalyzed by its appearance in popular culture.
Eager to learn more? Below you’ll find a list of three extraordinary facts about the history of the Rolex Submariner.
3 Facts about the Submariner that will bedazzle you
1. It set a world first
The Swiss brand has a penchant for achieving world firsts in terms of commercial watchmaking and the Submariner builds on three such historical accomplishments to deliver a fourth. To make things even more iconic, everything is encoded in the name of the timepiece.
The first innovation took place in 1926 when the Rolex Oyster was crowned the first-ever hermetic and waterproof wristwatch. Before this milestone, rust, humidity, and dust particles slipping into the movement were common drawbacks of such timepieces. This watch was also the first ever to cross the English Channel at the hand of the first ever British woman to accomplish the feat. After over 10 hours of being submerged in cold water, the Oyster was still in perfect order. Hermetically sealed cases are now an industry standard because of Rolex.
The second world first included in the Submariner is the launch of the perpetual movement in the 1931 Oyster Perpetual. The Oyster was also included in the Submariner’s complete name precisely to indicate that it served a decisive role in the creation of the latter. Albeit not as impactful as the first, the self-winding unidirectional rotor of this release basically eliminated the need to ever worry about manually winding your watch. The amount of energy stored in this mainspring was nothing short of exceptional for the beginning of the 20th century, as the Oyster Perpetual could run autonomously for up to 35 hours. All automatic modern watches now share this perpetual movement.
Thirdly, 1945 saw the release of the DateJust, which was the first ever watch that had an automatically changing date on the dial. This was the first wristwatch model to display the date in the window, rather than by means of a sub-dial.
These three, alongside what was then decades’ worth of experience in quality timepieces, were combined to create the 1953 Submariner, reference 6204, which set the record for the first ever watch to be waterproof at a depth of 100m (or about 380ft).
2. Who wore it
Few luxury watches have attained the fame that is now showered on the Submariner. The model became an icon on its own, which is the likeliest reason why you’ll have to struggle to find one available at a dealership. The Submariner symbolizes much more than celebrity and status, so much so that some owners venture as far as to believe it holds a certain amount of totemic power. One of the first ever celebrities to wear a Submariner is the naval officer turned explorer and innovator Jacques-Yves Cousteau, in a 1954 documentary The Silent World.
The documentary itself is credited to be one of the first films to showcase the depths of the ocean floor in colour and, until Michel Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11, it was the only documentary film to win the Palme d’Or award. Sean Connery’s James Bond, which seems to have been retrofitted with exceptional technical capabilities in the 1954 Live and Let die definitively and irreparably brought the Rolex model to the eyes of the global audience. The list of celebrities who own and wear versions of the wristwatch can go on endlessly, but here are some of the most impressive.
Steve McQueen, Ernesto “Che” Guevara, Diego Maradona, Johnny Depp, Eric Clapton, Saul “Slash” Hudson (the lead guitarist of Guns N’ Roses), Cindy Crawford, David Beckham, Tom Hardy, and Brad Pitt, all wore, at one point or another, the iconic Rolex Submariner.
3. The Big Crown
In the world of Rolex watchmaking, several Submariner models are credited with bringing unique details to the series. One year after the release of the Submariner reference 6204, the manufacturer added the now famous 6200. This particular issue is quite a legend in luxury vintage collecting circles. Its nickname, “The Big Crown”, refers to its relatively large 8mm Brevet winding crown, which includes the Rolex coronet and the “BREVET” text right underneath.
The explorer-style dial, noticeable by its design (3/6/9 numerals in-between simple, baton hour markers and an inverted triangle for 12 o’clock), was also pioneered by the 6200 and ended up being used in several other references including the 6538, 5510. Another interesting feature introduced by the ref. 6200 are the now ubiquitous Mercedes-style hands, although their length is larger in this particular series than it is in subsequent ones. With an estimated 300 examples of “The Big Crown” available, it’s no wonder that they now go for about $130,000 each.
Always in Fashion
Although not the most expensive Rolex ever sold, the Submariner series is definitely one of the most iconic line of timepieces from the Swiss manufacturer. From becoming the world first wristwatch to successfully function at the depth of 100m to the famous personalities that have worn and continue to wear it, as well as the details that set it apart from other Rolex watches, it’s highly unlikely that the Submariner will ever go out of fashion.
Most importantly, the value of these watches is bound to go up alongside their popularity, which makes investing in them a worthwhile deal. Given the appropriate level of care and maintenance, there’s every guarantee that a Submariner today will be worth more in a few years’ time. This is not even considering vintage, established models that tend to go for tens of thousands in auctions.
This content is sponsored by Paul Jenkins.