The Rolex Oyster Perpetual Submariner is one of the most famous watches in the world, and may well even be in first place. Like no other timepiece, it combines two very different properties: it is both a luxury item and a professional piece of equipment. Tried and tested for decades under the most difficult conditions, the Submariner has not only proven itself in underwater use, but rightly earned the nickname “mother of all diving watches”.
Rolex Oyster Perpetual Submariner
Origin of a legend
In the 1940s, a lot happened in the conquest of the underwater world, for example the making of Jacques-Yves Cousteau’s first underwater film. The technical advancement of the self-contained underwater breathing apparatus made it increasingly easy to dive into previously unattainable depths. The risks in this potentially highly dangerous environment for humans, of course, persisted. Although the air supply was increasingly safe, the risk of decompression accidents remained high. Excessive nitrogen saturation under the increased ambient pressure of greater depths could be avoided solely by precise control of diving times, that is to say, reliable, accurate, and underwater wrist watches were needed.
By the mid-1920s, the Oyster enabled Rolex to patent the world’s first waterproof wristwatch, whose performance quickly caused a sensation. The foundation of this progress was technical innovation, crucial features of it being the bolted casings and bezels as well as the screw-down winding crowns. And the fact that the Oyster was really able to withstand the water was shown to the world by the media with British swimmer Mercedes Gleitze crossing the English Channel. Ten hours in cold water did not harm the watch and laid the foundation for Rolex’s underwater expertise.
Then, two decades later, they were preparing for greater depths. René-Paul Jeanneret, member of the Rolex Board of Directors, is said to have played a key role in the initial spark of this new project. A scuba diver himself and also friends with Jacques Cousteau, he was able to persuade Rolex boss Hans Wilsdorf to develop a diver’s watch. And so Wilsdorf, who was usually inclined in favour of technological advancements anyway, gave the starting signal for the construction of the Submariner.
The Submariner was the first wristwatch to guarantee waterproofness to 100 meters depth. Built from solid stainless steel, its sturdy Oyster case was equipped with the newly developed Twinlock winding crown, whose dual sealing system kept moisture out even when the crown was not fully wound back in. The hands and numbers of the watch coated in luminous material provided particularly good readability in poorly lit conditions and at greater depths. And with its adjustable rotating bezel, the Submariner finally offered the diver a simple tool to plan and keep track of his diving time.
And as with the presentation of the Oyster, this moment was accompanied by a spectacular event. The Swiss scientist Auguste Piccard undertook a diving trip in 1953 with his deep-sea diving boat Trieste, to a depth of 3,150 meters. For this, Rolex developed the experimental “Deep Sea Special”, which accompanied Prof. Piccard to the deep on the outer wall of the submarine … only to arrive back at the surface unscathed and fully functional. Almost seven years later, there was another sensational record attempt of the Trieste, which had been developed further in the meantime. This time it was to go to the bottom of the Mariana Trench, the deepest known point of the oceans at the time. And again this time, a renewed version of the Deep Sea Special accompanied the “Bathyscaphe Trieste” in its descent. To a record depth of 10,916 meters.
Nine hours later, the Trieste resurfaced, and the watch was still accurate to the second. It had withstood a pressure of one ton per square centimeter. By telegram Piccard congratulated Rolex: the watch works as well at 11,000 meters depth as it does at the surface.
It was 1954 when Rolex introduced the new Submariner to the general public at the Basel watch fair. The model went through various changes right at the beginning, regarding for example its inscription, but also the waterproofness, which was increased from 100m to 200m in a very short period of time
The Submariner quickly made a name for itself as a reliable instrument that still worked precisely under demanding conditions. Hence, the British Royal Navy decided as early as 1955 to equip their combat divers with the watch. Initially, these were still standard models of the then current Reference 6538, but soon afterwards special models were made at the request of the special forces.
Deep-sea diving developed rapidly in the 1960s. New techniques in the field of saturation diving using new breathing gas mixtures made it possible to extend the previous limits ever further. The increasing interest in undersea natural resource deposits, offshore oil production in particular, played a considerable role here. And so in 1963 Rolex started a collaboration with the French company “COMEX”, specialized in deep-sea diving. The experience of professional divers in their extreme operations was of great value to Rolex and to the evolution of the watch. This eventually led to Rolex launching the next generation of its ultra-resistant diver’s watch in 1967: the Oyster Perpetual Sea-Dweller
At that time, the Submariner was also available with a date display, but its waterproofness was still at 200 meters. Only in 1979, now equipped with new sapphire crystal glass, was this increased to 300 meters. Of course, the following decades would bring extensive renewal. Housing and bracelet are revised several times and the materials used are systematically developed. But “at its core”, it would from now on tick very consistently … as you can see from its mechanism: Since 1988, the Submariner is powered by the legendary Rolex Caliber 3135, up to the present day. Various innovations, such as the highly resistant Parachrom hairspring developed by Rolex, have found their way into making this work, which by the way is the basis of most Rolex watches, one of the most popular and reliable mechanisms of all.
The latest new launch of a Submariner was in 2012, when Rolex presented the current Submariner “No-Date” at the Baselworld with a modern Cerachrom bezel and the new Oyster bracelet. Considering that it celebrates its 65th birthday in 2018, many had expected an anniversary version this year. However, a renewed Submariner was not present at Baselworld 2018, so we can continue to wait with anticipation.
The Submariner References
See here all References of the Submariner in the chronological overview:
- 6536 (“James” Bond Submariner)
- 6536/1 (1st chronometer version)
- 6538A (military version)
- 1680 (Submariner Date)
- 1680/8 (yellow gold version)
- 5514 (“Comex” version with helium valve)
- 5517 (military version)
- 16800 (later 16808)
- 16803 (Rolesor version)
- 16610LV (Anniversary Submariner with Green Bezel – “Hulk”)
- 116618 LN (yellow gold, black)
- 116618 LB (yellow gold, blue)
- 116619 LB (white gold, blue)
- 116613 LN/LB (Rolesor, black or blue)
- 116610 LN
- 116610 LV
- 114060 (“No Date”)
Here is the official Rolex video of the Submariner Date:
Continuously updated article, originally put online in March 2018.