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A Vintage Rolex ‘Red Submariner’ Watch With An Actual History Of Military Service

A Vintage Rolex 'Red Submariner' Watch With An Actual History Of Military Service Hands-On Submariner Pre-owned Rolex exchange website Bob’s Watches receives numerous Rolex watches, many of which come with powerful stories. In this series, owner of Bob’s Watches Paul Altieri will share real stories about real Rolex watches and discuss what makes both the watches and their very personal histories so unique and appealing.

As Rolex’s most popular line of watches, the Rolex Submariner gets a fair amount of attention – both from contemporary enthusiasts and vintage collectors alike. Despite having a design that has remained largely unchanged since its initial introduction in 1954, Rolex’s Submariner watches – especially well-preserved vintage references – frequently receive the most attention (and brings in the highest prices) at auction.

A Vintage Rolex 'Red Submariner' Watch With An Actual History Of Military Service Hands-On Submariner

Not all Rolex Submariner references are considered equal, and it is the subtle differences between them that ultimately accounts for tens of thousands of dollars at auction. Collectors generally seek out references that were either the first (or last) to feature a specific characteristic, or references that have some slight variation that helps set them apart and makes them unique. If the watch satisfies both of these requirements, such as the reference Rolex 1680 “Red Submariner,” then it is almost certainly going to be a target for collectors.

A Vintage Rolex 'Red Submariner' Watch With An Actual History Of Military Service Hands-On Submariner

At the heart of the reference 1680 Rolex Submariner beats Rolex’s 26-jewel caliber 1575 movement. The reference 1680’s 40mm stainless steel case offers users 200 meters of water resistance, which is more than adequate for the majority of real-world applications. Some early examples of the 1680 Rolex Red Submariner feature a movement that is stamped as a caliber 1570 on the lower bridge; however, the movement itself is actually a caliber 1575 since it has the addition of a date complication.

For some, the Rolex Red Submariner represents the entry point into serious Rolex collecting. Produced between 1969 and 1979, the Rolex Submariner 1680 marks the addition of the date complication and Cyclops magnification lens to Rolex’s Submariner line of watches. A small batch of the very earliest reference 1680 watches featured the Submariner name printed in red ink on the dial, instead of the white ink that can be found on all subsequent models.

A Vintage Rolex 'Red Submariner' Watch With An Actual History Of Military Service Hands-On Submariner

Due to their limited production numbers, Rolex Red Submariners are considered quite rare, and generally sell for significantly more than their equivalents with white text. Additionally, their rarity has only increased over the years, as it was a standard practice for Rolex to replace damaged Red Submariner dials with white-text, service dials when watches were sent in for servicing.

In the years immediately following its introduction, the Rolex Submariner was not regarded as a luxury item, but rather as a precision timekeeping device – one favored by professional SCUBA divers and members of the military. As a result of their tool-watch status, many early Rolex Submariners received a fair amount of abuse, and a relatively small number of these watches have managed to keep all of their original parts.

A Vintage Rolex 'Red Submariner' Watch With An Actual History Of Military Service Hands-On Submariner

In 1969, a young U.S. Marine purchased a brand-new Rolex Red Submariner 1680 reference from an authorized dealer in San Francisco, California. That Marine wore his Rolex Submariner during the entire time that he was stationed in the Philippines during the Vietnam War, and it faithfully served alongside him, until his retirement in 1984.

After retiring from the military, the Marine continued to use his Rolex Red Submariner as his primary timekeeping device. For many years thereafter, he used this very same Red Submariner on a variety of sailing and diving excursions, and despite its age and consistent use, the watch itself remained in remarkably good condition and retained the vast majority of its original parts.

Today, that same watch serves as a fantastic example of everything a collector should hope for in a Rolex reference 1680 Red Submariner. The decades of constant use and saltwater exposure have made the black finish on the aluminum bezel insert fade to a lovely, light blue-gray color – one that can only be earned through time and wear. Additionally, the original tritium-based luminous hour markers on the dial have been entirely untouched and allowed to develop a rich, orange-cream-colored patina.

A Vintage Rolex 'Red Submariner' Watch With An Actual History Of Military Service Hands-On Submariner

Beyond the remarkably well-aged, and well-preserved dial and bezel insert, the case and lugs are nice and thick, with zero signs of over-polishing. The knurling on the crown and edge of the bezel is still very well-defined, and it matches the sharp but unpolished lines of the case.

Part of the reason vintage Rolex Submariners are so treasured by collectors is that there are a relatively small number that remain in all-original condition. Historically, Rolex was a manufacturer of premium tool-watches, and many of the earlier Rolex Submariners ended up in the hands of military personnel, or those whose jobs required a durable, and ultra-reliable timepiece.

A Vintage Rolex 'Red Submariner' Watch With An Actual History Of Military Service Hands-On Submariner

Due to the rough life that many vintage Rolex Submariners have lived, the vast majority are no longer in collector-worthy condition. Although their robust design and precision build quality allow them to retain their functionality over the years, many have lost some of their original parts throughout the decades.

The reference 1680 Red Submariner is one of the most iconic Rolex models of all time, and it is arguably the first reference where the Rolex Submariner starts to take its contemporary, date-displaying form. All Rolex Red Submariners will generate a fair amount of interest among collectors at auction; however, seldom does an example surface with such a complete and well-documented record of the watch’s life and ownership history.

A Vintage Rolex 'Red Submariner' Watch With An Actual History Of Military Service Hands-On Submariner

The story of this Rolex Red Submariner’s military service perfectly illustrates why so few of these watches still remain in all-original condition today. Additionally, the story highlights Rolex’s history as a manufacturer of precision tool-watches, rather than luxury goods, giving additional historical context to this particular watch and its intended use.

A primary reason people choose to collect vintage Rolex references over contemporary models is because of the history that older, pre-owned watches carry with them. Vintage watches bring with them more than just the design and monetary value of the watch itself. Instead, they also represent a snapshot of the entire watch industry – taken from Rolex’s perspective – at a particular point in time.

A Vintage Rolex 'Red Submariner' Watch With An Actual History Of Military Service Hands-On Submariner

The reference 1680 Rolex Red Submariner is among the most desirable vintage Rolex Submariner references for collectors to own, and the extraordinarily well-documented history of this particular reference 1680’s military service has helped make it an entirely unique addition to any serious Rolex collection.

Paul Altieri is founder of Bob’s Watches, the leading online destination for used Rolex watches, where he created the Pre-owned Rolex Exchange Concept, which allows consumers to see both the buy and sell prices for a pre-owned watches, adding transparency to the market. Paul is also a watch collector and has many rare collectible watches in his collection.

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  • A_watches

    i imagine this is going for under $1k right, its going to cost loads to make it look new again: replace the bezel, the crystal, polish out the scratches, and the movement is going to need a serious service after so many years of abuse

    • MEddie90

      The point for most vintage collectors is that it shouldn’t look new, many like the faded bezels, the sharp lines of an unpolished case etc. For me personally I don’t mind a vintage watch with some fading, patina and a few scratches, in-fact I can see the appeal but this is a bit much for me, maybe if it came with a replacement plexi glass i’d be ok but otherwise its just too beaten up.

      I can also appreciate comments about buying history, I can understand if it was owned by a relative or friend, if it had some personal connection to yourself but buying a watch because it was in a war seems a little unusual to me, I’d much prefer a less used vintage watch that I can add my own scratches to and pass down to my kids but hey, i’m not part of the insane vintage Rolex craze we’ve been seeing for the past few years so i’m not really the one to ask.

      • A_watches

        ooohhh, surely if you wear it a few years it wouldn’t look so new…

        but i guess humans want instant gratification, particularly those with a deep enough pocket to buy one of these, they are unlikely to be overly patient and most likely live a relatively sedentary life so won’t be able to bang it up over the next decade diving or going to war etc..

        • MEddie90

          The thing with new watches is that they generally dont age like the old ones, the ceramic bezels don’t fade, the lume and dials dont patina etc. Plus many vintage models differ from the new versions, in the case of a sub the new ones have a maxi case and dial, applied markers etc hence why some collectors like the older models.

          Either way though I agree about the need for instant gratification, you see it in guitars and many other industries too, scratched up items going for way more than is reasonable because its trendy and people want to look like like they have some sort of history with an item. Its almost as bad as the trend of selling pre-distressed items but at least then they generally don’t go for such insane prices.

        • Boogur T. Wang

          I think, with something like this, people who buy this are paying for the back-story as much, if not more, than for the actual watch itself.
          Hell, it’s their money. A bit of the Walter Middy I guess.

    • srs144

      LOL

  • BrJean

    This watch should be selling in a bundle with scratched Zippo lighter of that marine.

    • Boogur T. Wang

      I see what you did there.
      And, you are correct.

  • I can understand the watch having sentimental value to the owner – a value that cannot be measured in dollars – but buying a vintage watch in that condition makes very little sense to me. You’re wearing someone else’s history – a history that you had no part in shaping. Sure the watch saw service in Vietnam. But YOU didn’t. It’s like purchasing a Superbowl ring at an auction.

    • A_watches

      But you can pretend you were in Nam, and its one over your hedge fund colleagues who wears one of those awful oversized 46mm hublots, no class!..look at that patina, those unpolish lugs, so real and authentic

      • laup nomis

        “I’ve seen things, man”….

        • Kuroji

          It looks like it may be been through the digestive tract of a tiger.

    • srs144

      I think collectors value original parts and unpolished cases, no matter how beaten up it may look optically. Quite frankly, with just a new crystal (and keep the original one when you re-sell it down the line) this would look pretty awesome.

    • Kuroji

      Or a used Heisman from OJ.

  • laup nomis

    If a watch has been worn by a Medal of Honour/ Victoria Cross recipient, then maybe it should be in a museum. Otherwise I’m only really interested in my own family history.
    Likewise watches should be worn, and wear and patina is fine, but within reason. I don’t mind what people collect, but I don’t see the attraction in this other than its rarity as a red Sub’.

  • Raymond Wilkie

    This is an classic visual example of the effects of mans inhumanity to man. Unless you were an avid collector and wanted that particular watch/movement i can’t see why you would buy this. It should have been buried with him.

    • cluedog12

      If the marine was approximately 30 years old in 1969, he’d be 77 today.

      Greedy relative would be a good guess, but perhaps the fellow is still alive and decided to trade it in for a Lange with a big date.

      Speaking of greed, Rolex and Patek would love it if people started burying themselves with their watches. Antiquorum and Watchtime could jointly run a weekly open casket watch-spotting feature, so the collecting community could anticipate which models were about to rocket up in value.

      • Raymond Wilkie

        Now that is just plain daft and a touch creepy.
        Sure, a watch is a great thing to hand down but do you seriously think that all this brave man has been through with his trusty watch that he would trade it in like an out of date iPhone ?
        In this instance the man ( if deceased ) should not have been separated from his watch. .

      • Maybe he was buying a new Invicta and someone graciously offered to take his shitty old Rolex in trade for $20.

        • laup nomis

          Yeah. I think he got a good deal on an old Patty Philips too. Got $75 for it, you can get one of them fancy Japanese ‘seekoo’ for that.

  • Tom

    Incredible. Truly amazing to look at. Unfortunately entirely out of my price range. This place is great for very unique and affordable (£100 or less) watches https://royaletimepieces.com

    • Raymond Wilkie

      $63.90,………..Not quite in the same league.

    • MEddie90

      Trying to appeal to vintage sub fans with a cheap skelotonised dress watch… does spam get any less tacky and obvious? Who on earth falls for this stuff?

    • laup nomis

      Crikey some one has nicked your designs.

      I’ve seen what look like Exactly the same watches, but with a whole variety of different names on them, on Banggood and Ali-express, for $2-$15. Maybe $17 for the most ornate.
      You want to look into it…

      Love your profile picture, very photogenic……….

      • Raymond Wilkie

        Thanks, but i’ll pass.

        • laup nomis

          I did too. A mechanical watch for $15?
          Got to be some serious shortcuts. If you read the reviews the power reserve is usually “it stops while you still wearing it”, and sub-dials are “decoration”.

      • Bill W

        Banggood, Ali-express, maybe a Spooge by W.atch T.rading F.oundry. 🙂
        Credit goes to Mark Carson.

    • Bill W

      Speaking of SPONSOREDPOSTS, Tom, you should pay for one…

    • CryptoReporter

      Can you please send a sample watch so I can do some destructive testing on it to see how it holds up?

      • word-merchant

        Do you think ‘Tom’ is the Tom Collom as mentioned as a Director here: https://www.endole.co.uk/company/10255759/royale-timepieces-limited

        If so, I hope for the future of his company that he’s not Director of Marketing.

        • Bill W

          Same guy?

          • laup nomis

            Cripes his profile picture might actually be him after all, if above photo is him. (Although I wouldn’t be as sure that the watches his were too)

            Well researched word-merchant and Bill W 🙂

      • laup nomis

        Might be difficult as many of these Chinese cheapies are broken on arrival.
        What’s the betting the site disappears when he’s sold enough stock, and before all the warrenty claims avalanche in.

  • TrevorXM

    Just don’t let the nutty Rolex collectors know that the watch spent the majority of its life in the junk drawer in the kitchen at home where it got most of the “military use patina” banging up against screws and spare change and home repair tools.

    • The gorgeous faded ghost bezel is a result of a lifetime of lovingly scrubbing the toilet with Clorox.

      • Kuroji

        It also looks like is has been through the washing machine a few times.

    • Or it got all of that “character” when its owner (distinguished military career not elaborated upon) was drinking and whoring outside Subic Bay. Let’s face it, that’s were a lot of the ‘action’ was during the Viet Nam war. Just because the owner was in the military while he owned the watch doesn’t give the watch a “military history” in my book. No combat stories where the watch was involved? That’s like selling his socks as also having a military history. Imagine the patina on those socks…

      • laup nomis

        Agree. It said while he was stationed in the Philippines during the Vietnam War. I not certain, but I’m fairly sure there weren’t many Viet-Cong in the Philippines, or even any fighting.

  • Bill W

    OK, this really seems like a SPONSOREDPOST. Maybe I’m wrong; maybe no $ was exchanged. But it kinda reads like advertising.

    • Bill W

      I checked the website and this watch does not seem to be in the current inventory, FYI.

    • SuperStrapper

      I agree with you, but I did clearly note that the article does not name a cost of acquisition (either by them from G.I.Joe the Vietnam vet or for someone to obtain it from them) nor does it have a link to an ad or listing for the watch.

      Perhaps despite running a watch retailing business Paul (Bob?) Kept this for himself because he’s a rabid rolex guy? then it would just be a gushy fan article written by a sales guy, which is what this reads like.

  • word-merchant

    Now there’s money to be made, I await the Janis Trading ‘Pre-loved’ Homage to Rolex Owned By Military Folk range with a level of interest bordering on rabid.

    I’ve even written some dialogue for their ad campaign:

    “We take one watch, one dude, one hammer, one minute and one thousand bucks to realise each unique Janis Trading Pre-Loved watch…

    Janis Trading. Because if the original idea was good, the copy must be even better!”

    • Bill W

      I bought a Protos that Sir Chayton Marshall IV pre-loved the sh*t out of whilst fox hunting. It is priceless to feel like royalty.

      • word-merchant

        Surely not ‘The Chayton IV Horologium Wrist Magnificant’? I truly believed that piece was a myth, like the infamous 1984 Rolex ‘Day-Toner’ model issued to those who worked on the first HP Laserjet, or the IWC ‘Big Pylon’ issued to long-serving electrical engineers of distinction, etc… etc…

        Please, for all our sakes, post photos.

  • Marius

    “Paul Altieri is founder of Bob’s Watches, the leading online destination for used Rolex watches.” To be honest, this doesn’t seem like SPONSORED POST. No sireee, not at all.

    What I especially like about this article (again, it’s not a Sponsored Post!) is that its writer is absolutely accurate with the description of this fine and pristine timepiece. Allow me to give you some quotes:

    “…and despite its age and consistent use, the watch itself remained in remarkably good condition and retained the vast majority of its original parts.”

    “Today, that same watch serves as a fantastic example of everything a collector should hope for in a Rolex reference 1680 Red Submariner.”

    “The decades of constant use and saltwater exposure have made the black finish on the aluminum bezel insert fade to a lovely, light blue-gray color – one that can only be earned through time and wear.”

    “Beyond the remarkably well-aged, and well-preserved dial and bezel insert, the case and lugs are nice and thick, with zero signs of over-polishing.”

    This article was brought to you by Bob`s Watches — where each and every watch that Bob sells comes with a POWERFUL STORY. One last time, and this is for the vicious and nasty commentaters: this is NOT a Sponsored Post!

  • ConElPueblo

    Calling a Red Sub “rare” is downright laughable. You can at any time find 50 to 100 specimens for sale, all over the world. Come on, it was in production for several years! Spot adding to the hype, it’s getting pathetic.

  • Marius

    If Paul Altieri is the owner of this company, then why did he decide to call it Bob`s Watches? This has to be the irony of the century.

    • Berndt Norten

      Bob’s his uncle?

    • Kuroji

      “Paul’s Watches” didn’t sound seedy enough.

    • Omegaboy

      He altieried his name.

  • wallydog2

    The inverse-snob in me wants to say I don’t care about Rolex. But then mystique rears its head and I wobble.
    There’s something about “been there-done that/ been around the block/the-stories-I-could-tell” patina that’s so…so visceral, so unfair.

  • SuperStrapper

    Rolex collectors are ridiculous. Putting it’s supposed collector value aside, I wouldnt pay a nickel for this thing.

  • cluedog12

    I’m not a Rolex collector, but I can appreciate difference in look and feel that the vintage Submariners and Daytonas possess over their modern descendants. It takes me back to a time when steel bracelets were rolled and worn aluminum bezels had to be replaced every few services.

    The modern Rolex Submariner is a better built watch – it’s not even that close, but this is a watch designed to serve, rather than impress. I can understand why collectors appreciate these banged up examples, even if it’s not my wheelhouse.

  • JunkHoarder

    Why would I want some grunts beater? The bezel is nice but that’s about it.

    Also a serious question: does “stationed in the Philippines” mean he wasn’t even in the ‘Nam?

    I should start selling busted-up Vostok Komandirskies with the description “may or may not have been worn in Afghanistan”.

  • Dénes Albert

    For that money one could buy a brand new dive watch from a number of reputed houses (including Rolex itself) with vastly superior movements and lume as well as significantly more resilient crystal, case and bezel. Vintage Sub collecting is an unfathomable disease.

    • Omegaboy

      Get a new Rolex, stick it in a rock tumbler, then expose to a black light for a month. Voila! I agree with you. Though I love older watches, why would someone want one that’s been so abused?

  • Jon Heinz

    Looks gnarly but I wouldn’t go submarinin’ with the crystal looking like that.

  • Steve Bowden

    @Paul Altieri I have a quick question…or for anyone who can answer. I noticed that the dial at the bottom of the featured watch does not say ‘Swiss Made’. Instead it appears to read ‘Swiss – T < 25' (or something close to that). Can anyone well-versed in Rolex Lore explain the significance to me? Compared to most in these comments I am a watch noob, trying to find my way in the dark with sub-par lume.
    regards

  • Andrew Hughes

    I have to admit that this old beater does more to make me interested in Rolexes than some modern models by the company. I prefer tool over luxe.

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