A homage to the star of the show

The Rolex Submariner came in 1953, after the development of the Oyster case in 1926 and the historic crossing of the English Channel, by the British swimmer Mercedes Gleise. Rolex developed the Submariner to improve a watch with the most advanced water-resistant features possible, namely, the automatic movement, so it could work by itself without having to wind it up, and the screwdown crown.

The first Submariner, the Ref. 6204, was launched in 1953, and was quite different from the Submariner we know today. It had a thick Oyster case with a large 8 mm crown. The hands were pencil-shaped and had a simple black dial with hour markers in geometric shapes filled with lume, an proudly displayed the “Submariner” name, as it was trendy to do back then. However, some models had other names like “Sub-Aqua” or “Submariner Perpetual” – or no name at all.

The Submariner, which back then had more in common with the Turn-O-Graph than anything else, was a simple, sturdy tool watch that was used for diving – and available back then for just $150 – around $1,500 today.

Its great success outside its main application came only in the 1960s, after the most fashionable secret agent of all time, James Bond, wore a Big Crown Submariner (precisely, the Ref. 6538) in the 1962 blockbuster, Dr. No.

A vintage Rolex Submariner, now with 200 meters water resistance

From the appearance of the ref. 6538 on the wrist of Bond, the Rolex Submariner skyrocketed to glory, bringing the whole brand with it and becoming the style icon that we know today.

The diver watches, from 100 meters to infinity

The first diver watches, like the Submariner and the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms were certified water-resistant to 100 meters (91 for the Fifty fathoms, as the fathom is a marine unit measuring a bit over 1.8 meters). Still, technical advancement brought this limit forward very soon, with many timepieces reaching 500 meters and more, down to the present record of watches like the Omega Seamaster Planet Ocean Ultra Deep Professional, which safely reaches a depth of 10,928 meters (the deepest on Earth).

Every famous – and not so famous – company has manufactured at least a diver’s watch, and quite possibly, it echoes the style of the Submariner. This watch is so famous that it is almost impossible to do something completely unlike it.

This is also one of the reasons why the Rolex company has decided to use many ways to differentiate its watches from its competitors’, which also include the use of a different kind of steel, the 904L, instead of the 316L used regularly by the watch industry. The effect, when compared one against the other, can be noticed. However, the 316L might lack that lustre, but it is less easily scratched than the 904L.

The Rolex Submariner today

Divers watches have become a shadow of their past

Anyways, the use of diver watches today to monitor safe diving has been superseded by diving computers.

However, a diver watch like the Submariner is a testament to the more heroic times of undersea exploration. And it looks perfect as well at the wrist.

A modern dial of the Submariner, today


You can find much more about horology and its fascinating history in The Watch Manual, a thorough e-book that explains all the basics about watchmaking and its protagonists.

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