Modern Icons: A Rolex Submariner Collector’s Guide

Posted by Mike Johnson on in Articles, Collector's Guides

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Introduction

Rolex needs no introduction. A pioneer in the field of dive-watches, the Rolex Submariner is the most-imitated watch in the entire world. In fact, it’s one of the most instantly recognizable watches of the last century. For many hobbyists, the Submariner is the ultimate grail, a watch that many spend a life-time saving for and pursuing.

Some may do it for the “status” that wearing a Rolex affords – but to do so would be selling yourself short. For the true watch aficionado, owning a Sub is a ticket to owning an important piece of dive-watch history. Not many other watches can lay claim to the long and interesting story that belongs to this iconic dive watch.

For vintage watch fans, finding the perfect vintage Sub is all about the details. Rolex is a very experimental company, and because of that you see many variations within each reference. It’s part of what makes collecting Submariners so interesting and rewarding. And of course, each individual piece can carry with it a unique story of it’s original owner that only adds to the appeal.

This is not an exhaustive guide. We spend just a few paragraphs for each model, intending to give would-be collectors a general overview of the Submariner lineage. There are many resources online that provide a deep-dive into the history of an individual reference, and all of the nuances of that particular model’s evolution. Many details in this guide are disputed or in disagreement from different sources, but we’ve done our best to compile the most accurate information available.

Pre-owned Buying Tips:

  • Buy the Seller: Like with most pre-owned watch transactions, make sure you are buying from a reputable seller before making an offer. Sellers who post prolifically in Rolex communities (like RolexForums, or VintageRolexForum) can often be verified by other members of the community.
  • Watch for Replacement Parts: Many vintage Rolexes have been serviced at some point in their lifetimes. Often times, worn parts like the hands, dial, or bezel are replaced with NOS Rolex replacement parts. This can create strange incongruencies, like Superluminova hands over a tritium dial. Make sure you ascertain the age of each individual part before paying full-price. All original models fetch top-dollar, of course.
  • Verify the Engravings: Most Rolex parts have engraved serial numbers or model numbers. This includes the movement, the case, and the bracelet. Detailed pictures of these engravings can help you tell if a part is an original or a replacement. The actual reference number for the watch is often found between the lugs, so be sure to verify that as well.
  • Ensure Papers and Boxes Match: Some sellers attempt to put together a full box-set using receipts, papers, or materials found on eBay. Don’t be fooled. Ensure that each of the supporting documents lines up with the reference you are trying to acquire.

For more detailed buying tips, check out Hodinkee’s fantastic article: 9 Basic Things You Should Always Look At Before Buying a Vintage Rolex.

Vintage Rolex Submariner Models

Reference Material Year Movement Date Rarity Used Price
6204 Steel 1953 – 1954 A260 Extremely Rare $20k – $30k
6200 Steel 1954 – 1955 A296 Extremely Rare $115k – $225k
6205 Steel 1953 – 1957 A260 Extremely Rare $20k – $40k
6536 Steel 1955 – 1959 1030 Rare $15k – $25k
6536/1 Steel 1955 – 1959 1030 Rare $15k – $25k
6538 Steel 1955 – 1959 1030 Rare $90k – $120k
5510 Steel 1958 – 1959 1530 Rare $80k – $120k
5508 Steel 1958 – 1962 1530 Rare $16,310 – $24,215
5512 Steel 1959 – 1978 1530, 1560, 1570 Rare $12,049 – $33,994
5513 Steel 1962 – 1990 1520, 1530 Common $7,675 – $12,609
5514 Steel 1972 – 1978 1520, 1530 Rare $58,452 – $118,717
1680 Steel 1967 –1979 1570 Common $6,281 – $9,344
16800 Steel 1979 – 1988 3035 Common $5,646 – $8,000
16803 Gold/Steel 1983 – 1988 3035 Common $6475 – $7929
16618 Gold 1988 – 2001 3035 Common $16,995 – $20,821

Modern Rolex Submariner Models

Reference Material Year Movement Date Rarity Used Price
116618LN Gold/Ceramic 2010 – Present 3035 In-Production $24,921 – $27,054
116618LB Gold 2010 – Present 3035 In-Production $22,750 – $24,895
116613LB Gold/Steel 2010 – Present 3135 In-Production $10,394 – $11,300
116613LN Gold/Steel 2010 – Present 3135 In-Production $8,895 – $10,300
16610 Steel 1987 – 2010 3030 Common $4,750 — $5,613
14060 Steel 1990 – 2012 3030 Common $4,399 — $4,950
14060M Steel 1998 – 2012 3130 Common $4,581 — $5,556
114060 Steel/Ceramic 2012 – Present 3130 In-Production $5,875 — $6,350
16610LV Steel 2000 – 2009 3135 Common $7,675 — $12,725
116610LV Steel/Ceramic 2010 – Present 3135 In-Production $7,650 — $8,150

Pricing data pulled from latest sales on WatchPatrol, Ebay, and Chrono24

Rolex Submariner Models

Rolex Submariner 6204

Rolex Submariner 6204

Rolex Submariner 6204

60 years ago, Rolex released the first Submariner, a watch that would later become a world-wide icon. The simple dial was inscribed with only the logo and words: “Rolex Oyster Perpetual: Submariner”, surrounded by a beautiful “gilt” dial and chapter ring. The “pencil-shaped” hands seen here were only produced for a year before being replaced with the now standard “Mercedes” style hands, making this particular model extremely unique.

Like most vintage Submariners, there are a few different variations of this model, with small differences seen on the dial and bezel markings. Many believe that Jaques Cousteau wore this model in his early expeditions, adding to the model’s historical importance.

Seeing as many of these watches were worn hard and used underwater, you’re not likely to see one in good condition come up on the secondary market anytime soon.


Rolex Submariner 6205

Rolex Submariner 6205

Rolex Submariner 6205

The 6205 was the second iteration of the 6204, released just a year after the model’s debut. Here we now see the iconic dial and hand combination that would remain virtually unchanged for over half a century. Another early model that was only produced for a few years, this reference is extremely rare. Sharing the gilt/radium dial, movement, case and bezel of it’s predecessor, this model can be considered a small evolutionary step in the development of the legendary Submariner.

Although not as popular with collectors as the 5510 and 6538 big crowns, the 6205 remains a landmark in the evolution of the submariner design language.


Rolex Submariner 6536

Rolex Submariner 6536

Rolex Submariner 6536

The Rolex Submariner 6536 builds on the success of it’s small-crown predecessors with a slight increase in case size to 38mm. In addition to that, the A260 movement was eventually replaced (in the 6536-1) with the new 1030, Rolex’s first bi-directional automatic movement. It should be noted that the 1030 eventually became Rolex’s first officially certified chronometer grade movement – a detail revealed by a “Officially Certified Chronometer” line printed on the dial.

Some other minor details to watch for: The “red-depth rating” 6536 – which has “100m = 330ft” printed in red text on the dial – is an ultra-rare variation of this model. It is said that only a handful of them are reported to exist, with examples fetching a massive premium at auction.


Rolex Submariner 6538

Rolex Submariner 6538

Rolex Submariner 6538

Enter the Submariner 6538, the first of the Submariner “Big Crown” models which are so prized by collectors. Worn famously by Sean Connery’s 007 in “Dr. No”, this model regular fetches astronomical six figure prices at auction.

There were several variations of the 6536, with both 2-line and 4-lines of text printed on the bottom of the dial. Keep in mind, the original bezels had a red triangle at 12 o’clock, which seems to be completely faded away in many vintage examples.

The 6538 was also the first Rolex to be rated at 200m, this would not change until the 1980’s with the release of the 300-meter rated 16800.


Rolex Submariner 5510

Rolex Submariner 5510

Rolex Submariner 5510

The rarest of the “big-crown” vintage Rolexes, the 5510 was only produced for a year or two before being replaced by the larger cased 5512/5513. Estimates show that only 400 – 600 5510s were ever produced.

This watch also utilized a new movement, the Rolex Calibre 1530. Similar in many ways to the 6358, the 5510 employed a thicker case (to accommodate the new movement) and a slightly different curve and shape to the lugs.


Rolex Submariner 5508

Rolex Submariner 5508

Rolex Submariner 5508

The mysterious 5508 was the last of the Rolex “small-crown” (and no crown-guard) Subs to be produced. Keep an eye out for the “exclamation point” dials, a subtle (yet extremely rare) feature found in only a small subset of the 5508’s. At 6 o’clock, there is a very small luminous dot below the rectangle that makes it look like an “exclamation mark”.

While the 5508 marked a company trend towards standardization, it was also the last of the Subs to carry many of the watches original characteristics.


Rolex Submariner 5512

Rolex Submariner 5512

Rolex Submariner 5512

The 5512 and 5513 enjoyed a very long run as Rolex production watches. Both contained movements based on the calibre 1530, and finishing on the case, bracelet and movement were more or less equal.

These models marked the introduction of the “crown-guard”, a protective steel protrusion designed to protect the crown stem from shock. This design element would become standard on the Submariner for all future generations.

The 5512 ceased production in 1978, while the 5513 lived on. This limited run on production has caused prices for the 5512 to exceed the 5513 by some margin, although both can be had in the low 5-figures.


Rolex Submariner 5513

Rolex Submariner 5513

Rolex Submariner 5513

The Submariner 5513 enjoyed quite a few minor evolutions during it’s epic 40 year run. In 1966, the “gilt gloss” dial was replaced with a “meters first” matte dial. A “non-serif” version of the typography printed on the dial was introduced in 1970. And in 1976, the size of the lume plots were increased (known by collector’s as the “Maxi-Dial”).

Because of it’s long production history, the 5513 is relatively common and easy to find. Still, it commands a premium over it’s more modern counterparts.  Additionally, the many iterations and slight detail changes on the 5513 make it one of the more interesting vintage Rolex Submariners to collect.


Rolex Submariner 5514

Rolex Submariner 5514

Rolex Submariner 5514

The Submariner 5514 is essentially a special release of the 5513 issued specifically for COMEX (Compagnie Maritime d’Expertises) divers, a French company specializing in engineering and deep diving operations.

The difference between the 5514 and the civilian 5513 is the existence of a HEV (helium escape valve) on the side of the case, a feature reserved for deep-sea saturation divers who had to worry about the watch becoming pressurized inside their suits.

This is an extremely rare model, with production numbers limited to only 150 pieces. Prepare to pay exorbitant prices for one in good condition.


Rolex Submariner 1680

Rolex Submariner 1680

Rolex Submariner 1680

Before 1967, Rolex considered a “date” to be a fairly useless feature on a dive watch. And they’d be right, except for the fact that the majority of their actual customers didn’t take their watch diving.

So in the 1680, we get the famous Rolex date window complete with the “cyclops”, a magnifying bubble attached directly to the crystal to magnify the date window.

Amongst collector’s the date window is a very divisive feature, luckily there are plenty of no-date versions to choose from for those who can’t quite warm up to it.


Rolex Submariner 16800

Rolex Submariner 16800

Rolex Submariner 16800

The Rolex 16800 is considered a transitional model by many, and was the first Rolex Submariner to sport a sapphire crystal and high-beat movement.

Being transitional, it has a combination of elements that vintage and modern collectors look for – matte dial, tritium lume, and modern sapphire crystal. This is sometimes seen as a less desirable feature as it doesn’t fully appeal to collector’s in either camp.

For what it’s worth, this model was also the first model to be rated to 300m. It combines the vintage aesthetics of the old subs with the modern capabilities of the new ones, a great value at $5 – $8k.


Rolex Submariner 16610

Rolex Submariner 16610

Rolex Submariner 16610

And now begins the modern Submariner era with the Rolex 16610. Retaining many of the stylistic trademarks of it’s predecessors, the 16610 employs a new dial using white gold to surround the markers. Here we see the Submariner begin to shed a bit of it’s tool-watch aesthetic to appease the luxury buyers in search of a bit more “bling”.

Don’t get me wrong, this is still an essential sub and a rugged mechanical watch to boot. The Calibre 3135 is considered one of the most reliable and accurate movements on the market today, and at $4 – $5k it remains one of the most attainable models in the line.


Rolex Submariner 16610LV

Rolex Submariner 16610LV

Rolex Submariner 16610LV

Marking the 50th anniversary of the Rolex Submariner line, the Rolex 16610LV is known by some collector’s as the “Kermit”. Not to be confused with the “Hulk”, the 16610LV is one of Rolex’s two iconic green watches. This particular model differs from the ‘Hulk’ with it’s standard black dial and green bezel, as opposed to the matching green dial and bezel of it’s younger sibling.

Other than the color variations, the ‘Kermit’ shares it’s specifications with the 16610 – a 40mm 904L stainless steel case, maxi-dial, 3135 movement, trip-lock crown and tapered 20mm bracelet make it a classic sub with a twist.


Rolex Submariner 14060

Rolex Submariner 14060

Rolex Submariner 14060

Introduced in 1990, the 14060 brought back the purity and simplicity of the “no-date” dial. With the date and cyclops now gone, the 14060 exhibits a perfection of dial symmetry that represents what may be the essential form of a dive watch dial.

In 1998, Rolex replaced the radioactive tritium with superluminova. Other than that, it remained relatively unchanged throughout it’s production.


Rolex Submariner 14060M

Rolex Submariner 14060M

Rolex Submariner 14060M

In 1999, the Submariner 14060 transitioned to the model 14060m. What’s the difference? Not much. They are exactly the same apart from a movement upgrade, replacing the 3030 movement with the new and improved calibre 3130.

The calibre 3130 comes with a Breguet overcoil and a full balance bridge, which offered a bit more shock resistance and stability.

At around $4500, the 14060 and 14060m are the best values of the available Rolex Submariners. It has the proportions and design of the vintage classics, along with the quality and materials of modern Rolexes. Truly a perfect sport watch.


Rolex Submariner 114060

Rolex Submariner 114060

Rolex Submariner 114060

Introduced in 2012, the Submariner “No-Date” 114060 is a design iteration on the classic 14060 sub. Upgrading it’s aluminum insert for a black cerachrom (ceramic) bezel, an upgraded bracelet, and a slightly upgraded case – the 114060 might be the ultimate generation of the Submariner for the purist modern collector.

The upgraded oyster bracelet features Rolex’s new generation of OYSTERLOCK safety clasp and glidelock dive extension, allowing for fine adjustments in 2mm increments without using any tools. The ceramic bezel also gives that watch a much higher quality feel than the older aluminum inserts. These watches can be purchased second-hand for around $6k, but are also available new.


Rolex Submariner 116610LV

Rolex Submariner 116610LV

Rolex Submariner 116610LV

Fitted with a green cerachrom bezel and matching green sunburst dial, the Rolex Submariner 116610LV ‘Hulk’ has become an iconic reference in it’s own right. Popular with fashionistas and tool watch fan’s alike, this green dive watch is one of the most unique and eye-catching submariner models you can buy.

The watch is produced using some very interesting manufacturing processes – including the much higher quality green ceramic bezel, which requires a very precise and laborious method. It’s not a watch for everybody, and some may think you are “trying too hard”, but it’s hard to argue with the uniqueness of this green dive watch.


Additional Resources

A special thanks to HQMilton for allowing me to use their beautiful vintage watch photos.


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About the Author
Mike Johnson

Mike Johnson

Mike Johnson is the managing editor and primary contributor to 60clicks.com. Born into a military family as the son of US Navy pilot, Mike spent many of his formative years studying Computer Science and User Experience Design. When not obsessing over watches, Mike spends time hiking, traveling, and spending time with his family in Phoenix, Arizona.


 

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