Rolex is as much a lifestyle as it is a watch brand, but we feel that a hands-on Rolex Submariner review is still necessary as it is meant to be worn and used. The company is a legend, and their products are the cornerstone of an industry that sells dreams, status, quality and ideally, value. Whether or not individual entities in the luxury industry can deliver on these promises is a different story, but what makes Rolex so famous is its consistent ability to actually deliver these goals to a large degree. So today I look at probably the most popular Rolex product, the Rolex Submariner.
For review, I am looking at two Rolex Submariner models in steel. These represent the newest generation Rolex Submariner timepieces and are often referred to as the Rolex Submariner Date and Rolex Submariner No Date. The difference between them should be clear. One has a date window with magnifier over that window on the sapphire crystal, while the No Date has none of that for a cleaner looking dial. While the difference is minor, it is these little differences which are important to Rolex fans, and the price difference between the two is not inconsequential. UPDATE: Check our long-term Rolex Submariner 114060 watch review on aBlogtoWatch for even more.
While I am very well-versed in all things “watches,” I don’t consider myself to be a Rolex expert compared to many people that I know. I have a basic understanding of the brand’s history, the evolution of its products, and what is appealing about watches like the Rolex Submariner. Other people have extremely detailed knowledge of each and every product, hard-to-find timepieces, differences in products as they evolves, etc… The purpose of this review is to discuss the modern Rolex Submariner to the mainstream watch lovers and those interested in why this is a worthy timepiece. In short, the Rolex Submariner started the dive watch craze that made those types of sport watches the most desirable type of timepiece on the planet – and with its crown logo, the Rolex Submariner thematically rules over the lot.
Let me state now that the Rolex Submariner is not the most expensive, most durable, most complicated, or best looking high-end dive watch around. There are dozens of more expensive steel sport watches, and tons that can take much more of a beating. Rolex is also known for making very good, but simple movements (for the most part). Rolex mechanical movements have a reputation for being rather accurate, long-lived, and easy to work on. Many of the watch makers that I’ve spoken to voice positive sentiments in working on Rolex movements. Still, servicing a mechanical watch is not all that cheap.
Inside of these two Rolex Submariner models are two different movements (because one contains the date and the other doesn’t) but practically speaking they are more or less the same. The Rolex Submariner Date (Ref. 116610 AKA 116610LN) contains the in-house made Rolex caliber 3135 automatic movements, while the Rolex Submariner No Date contains the Rolex caliber 3130. Both of the movements feature Rolex’s newer Parachrom hairsprings and have a power reserve of about two days when fully wound. Rolex also has the majority of their watches (including all Rolex Submariner models) COSC Chronometer certified. The 3135 and 3130 are about as good as can be hoped for from relatively basic three-hand automatic movements. No one per se buys a Rolex for the movement, but at the same time, the movements don’t really leave much to be desired given the price and intended use. They are durable and mechanically sound – enough said.
Rolex claims to have invented the water-tight watch case with the Oyster. True enough, they did produce the first commercially noteworthy water resistant watch with the Oyster. For that reason you see the “Oyster” label on a lot of Rolex products, even though there isn’t a Rolex watch called the Oyster these days. It is a signifier that the watch is water resistant. Of course, the Rolex Submariner is more than just that. Originally designed as a commercial diver’s watch in the 1950s, the Rolex Submariner today has a water resistance of 300 meters and a design that is incredibly similar to the original. This design that mixes sport and professional looks is one of the key factors to the design’s success. The dial of the Rolex Submariner is clever, yet easy on the eyes. The black and white design is meant to offer a high contrast for easy reading of the time. The lumed indicators and hands are meant to make it easy to read in the dark. A different style of hour and minute hand are there for legibility, and a special character for the 12 o’clock indicator is meant to make it easy to mentally orient the dial when looking at it from the side.
Rolex also uses 18k white gold on the dial for the hands and hour indicators. A few years ago Rolex switched from a green toned lumed to a blue one. This not only made the lume glow blue, but allows for it to look more white during the day. Rolex also increased the size of the hands and hour markers a few years ago when they introduced their “Maxi dial” style which I personally liked, but of course proved controversial. Every change the brand makes is controversial, even when they did something small such as removing the lug spring bar holes on the exterior of the case. The Rolex Submariner dial is a testament to legibility and functionality. The Rolex Submariner is a tool watch with a slick design that lasted the test of time. It is good because it was never design to be anything more than a good looking, legible dial. It is a tool, and we like tools that work well. Rolex also makes their own dials. Precision machining and printing on the dial is very good. When you look at a Rolex Submariner’s dial closeup, you’ll notice that the lume is evenly applied, and that everything is cut very well.
Even though the Rolex Submariner is a tool watch at heart, Rolex knows it is a luxury item today. So there are little things here and there meant for looks more than function. A good example is the sapphire crystal. Rolex applies a coat of AR on the bottom of the crystal, but not on the top. This allows for the top of the crystal to be reflective and sort of makes it more shiny to onlookers. This is arguably a design decision by Rolex to make their products stand out more. It works too. The Rolex Submariner case has changed very little over the years, but each improvement is welcome. The current size of the Rolex Submariner is 40mm wide, but it wears large for that size. This is because of the lug structure. I would say that the piece wears closer to a 42mm wide watch.
Rolex famously uses plain casebacks on its watches. The Rolex Submariner’s screw-in caseback is devoid of any markings. The watches I have for review were loaned from our friends at the Rolex boutique nearby in Beverly Hills. We agreed not to remove the protective plastic on the sides of case, which you’ll probably see in the pictures. There is also a type of bar code on the side of the case which is a serial identifier. That is removed when people buy the watch. Rolex uses a grade of steel called 904L. Most steel watches use 316L steel. The differences are minor, but involve more corrosion resistance in 904L steel from what I understand. So if your Rolex Submariner spends a lot of time in saltwater, then it will look better.
It is widely known that Rolex is fanatical about their metal. They do a lot of metallurgy in-house, and not all steel of the same grade is made equal. I’ve seen a lot of steel watches in my time and can say that no one makes steel or polishes a case quite like Rolex – and they so do fantastically using high-tech machines in rather large production volumes. This isn’t about tiny details, but rather that the steel of a Rolex Submariner looks and feels a bit different than the steel of other watches. This is of course due in part thanks to Rolex’s amazing brushed finishing that is applied to much of the Rolex Submariner case. Other parts of the case (such as the sides) are given a polished finish. These “alternating finishes” help the case to look its best.
Around the dial is a rotating diver’s bezel which is more or less a standard element on the majority of dive watches. This bezel can be turned by your hand and gives you the ability to line up the 12 o’clock point with the minute hand to measure something that is up to 60 minutes long. This has a purpose while diving, but most people use it to measure short things like parking meters and cooking times while being an at-home chef. The bottom line is that even though the Rolex Submariner is a diver’s watch, a very small percentage of the people who own it dive. Why buy a dive watch then? Well it is really about an appreciation for what a dive watch can do and what it represents. Activity, durability and exploration. While we aren’t engaged in these things all the time, we like to keep capable items near us.
The rotating bezel on the Submariner used to have an aluminum insert with the minute indicators printed on it, but a few years ago Rolex moved over to making ceramic bezels. This was a distinct upgrade and Rolex calls their ceramic “Cerachrom.” Sounds fancy right? The production process of the bezel include engraved numerals and lume. Some dive watches have lume in the entire bezel, but the Submariner is more traditional with a single lume point (pip) at 12 o’clock. The black ceramic bezel is shinier than aluminum, but is much more durable and very scratch resistant. Ceramic bezels are a wonderful thing. Among the various Rolex Submariner models available you can get ceramic bezels in black, blue, and green.
On the wrist, the Rolex Submariner is a very comfort friendly watch. Rolex has had literally decades to improve the design. It feels so natural on your wrist and for a dive watch it doesn’t have a very tall profile either. There is a good reason that many people choose the Rolex Submariner as a daily wear. Aside from being very comfortable, the Rolex Submariner has the added quality of looking good on most wrists. Plus, it has versatile style that seemingly works with everything from jeans and t-shirt to practically a tuxedo. Very few watches can claim that.
Rolex offered a significant bracelet upgrade for its newest generation Rolex Submariner models. The most important elements of the upgrade are the bracelet’s profile and ability to be micro-adjusted. More on that in a second. For years, the Rolex Submariner bracelet was a three-link tapering steel bracelet. Tapering means that the lugs get narrower closer to the deployant clasp. This actually helps the bracelet be more comfortable, and visually makes the case look a bit larger. Few brands make bracelets with tapering links because it increases the numbers of part types they need to produce to make them. Though I recommend tapering bracelets when they are available.
For many years, Rolex deployant clasps stuck out awkwardly under your wrist. With the newest generation bracelets, they offer a much more clean profile – which was a welcome improvement. A lot of people buy the Rolex Submariner over other Rolex watches because of its Glidelock adjustment system. The idea is that you can micro-adjust the size of the bracelet within a few millimeters on the fly. This means that as your wrist naturally expands, you can re-size the bracelet with ease, or increase the size of the bracelet to be worn over a jacket or dive suit. The design and comfort of the bracelet should not be under-estimated, nor should you ignore these elements as a major selling point behind this model of Rolex watch. Sadly Rolex doesn’t offer the Glidelock system with even similar watches such as the Explorer II – though you can get it in the beefier Deepsea models. As an interesting tangent, you should check out the spring-loaded system that Rolex/Tudor designed for the Pelagos here.
Now it all comes down to cost in the end. For some people a Rolex Submariner is a cheap daily wear, but for many people it is an item of aspiration with a price in the several thousand dollars. Over the years, the price of Rolex Submariner watches has creeped up to rather ambitious levels. Rolex still sells them in large quantities. The good news is that unlike many luxury watches, Rolex timepieces tend to hold value very well, and that is especially the case with the Rolex Submariner. While you probably aren’t going to get rich buying one, you will likely be able to resell it for a price close to what you paid for it. That is good news for people who like to upgrade or switch watches every few years, or if you are in a financial pinch.
As I said, the Rolex Submariner Date and No Date models have two different prices attached to them. The difference in price has to do with the date complication and really depends on what you like. Though the roughly $1,000 difference is appreciable. Some people hate the “cyclops” magnifier on the dial and love the clean look of a simple dial. Others feel that it is only a real Rolex with the date window and crystal bubble. For the Rolex Submariner Date ref. 116610LN the price is $8,550, and the Rolex Submariner 114060 is retails for $7,500. rolex.com
>Price: $7,500 – $8,550 as reviewed
>Would reviewer personally wear it: Yes
>Friend we’d recommend it to first: Anyone wanting an absolute classic, do anything, wear anywhere sports watch that can afford it.
>Best characteristic of watch: Has a design that has bared the test of time over and over again, and kept on improving.
>Worst characteristic of watch: Design has been copied countless times and has become in its own genre-defining way, generic.