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The First Rolex Submariner Watch

The First Rolex Submariner Watch Featured Articles Submariner

Rolex produced the very first Submariner in 1953 with this model ref. 6204 watch. The Rolex Oyster Perpetual Submariner would go on to not only become one of the most iconic timepieces in the world, but also one of the most heavily emulated, desired, and studied. The Rolex Submariner was the first diver’s watch from Rolex and followed a legacy that started in 1926 when Rolex released its first water-resistant watch, the Oyster.

Rolex really began its life in making dive watches with Panerai. True enough, early Panerai watches contain Rolex movements, and for a while in the 1930s, the Swiss and Italian companies worked together on military dive watches based on Panerai asking Rolex to help it produce timepieces for the Italian Navy. Rolex learned from this experience but it was not until the 1950s that Rolex would release its own dive watch. The original Rolex Submariner began a long era of experimentation and improvement. The original ref. 6204 was produced for a year or less, and even that same year a few other versions of the Rolex Submariner were being produced or planned. In fact, for most of its early life, the Rolex Submariner went through an intense series of not only evolutionary steps, but also design experimentation. This has led to an extremely rich area for collectors because so many versions existed early on in the model’s history.

The First Rolex Submariner Watch Featured Articles Submariner

Today in 2013 the Rolex Submariner is sized at 40mm wide, which is no larger than medium by most watch standards. The original 1953 Rolex Submariner was just 37mm wide. It was also water resistant to just 100 meters. Rolex quickly increased that to near 200 meters and today the Rolex Submariner is known by everyone to be water resistant to 300 meters. As a dive watch, the original Rolex Submariner has a rotating dive-style timing bezel as well as the iconic case shape that has more or less been represented by all the Rolex Submariner models that came after it.

Aside from the very different dial text compared to most other Rolex Submariner models, the most notable difference is the lack of “Mercedes Benz star” style hour hand. A key element of the Rolex Submariner is the distinct hour hand, designed as such to look different than the minute hand for easy under-water reading. Rolex didn’t get to that until a bit later. The hour markers on the original Rolex Submariner persist today, but Rolex experimented with various versions soon after the ref. 6204 was released. Another interesting design feature is the gold-toned hands and hour markers, which persisted on various Rolex Submariner models through the 1950s.

Given that the Rolex Submariner is such an iconic and popular watch today, it is interesting to see how it all started. The full history of the Rolex Submariner, why Rolex produced it, how they marketed it, and the many versions that followed is the subject for several books. So we’ll end this article with that, and if you happen to find one of these ultra-rare Rolex Submariner watches, consider yourself incredibly lucky.

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  • Ulysses31

    At first I was shocked at how modern it looked, and then I grimly realised that in fact it was the reverse; that modern Rolex watches just look old.  I actually prefer this model; the hands are nice and elegant (no tacky Mercedes logo crap), the markers are modestly sized and there isn’t a shit-ton of self-aggrandising text on the dial.

  • Grinnie Jax

    So this is the culprit of today’s crazy Sub homage era!! And what if somebody will invent the time machine and prevent its occurrence?? Muahahaha

  • Perdendosi

    Ulysses31 Totally agree.  I hate Mercedes hands! And I’m not a huge fan of all the writing on so many subs.  This one is classy and utilitarian in a much better way than most.

  • Zeitblom

    Grinnie Jax And there you have final proof that time machines are physically impossible. Because if they were possible, preventing the rolex sub from coming into existence would have been item 1 on the inventor’s list. Well maybe 2, after the day date.

  • Kris C

    Meh. So little has changed, in all regards, that the biggest bone of contention among people out to purchase a Sub is how many lines of text on the dial is the right amount.

  • DG Cayse

    A magnificent beginning. The subtle evolution of the outward appearance is more than matched by the major technical advances made over the years by the Rolex marque. 
    Thank you for the marque history lesson.

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