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 one of their most popular line of watches, the Rolex Submariner is a common choice for first-time buyers and seasoned collectors alike. Originally introduced in 1954, the Rolex Submariner line has undergone numerous revisions over the years, with certain vintage references attaining unparalleled levels of collectibility.
Many vintage Rolex collectors prefer the no-date Submariner to its date-displaying counterpart because it is more faithful to the spirit of the very first Rolex Submariner, the reference 6204. The no-date Rolex Submariner is the quintessential dive watch, and its timeless design makes it incredibly versatile and a true classic.
First introduced in 1962, the reference 5513 Rolex Submariner had a very long production run (even by Rolex standards), as it remained in production until 1989. The reference 5513 was almost identical to Rolex’s other, no-date Rolex Submariner at the time, the reference 5512; however, the reference 5513 was fitted with a non-chronometer-certified caliber 1520 movement, and lacked the additional “Superlative Chronometer Officially Certified” lines of text on the dial.
Due to its extremely long production run, a wide range of subtitle variations exists between different reference 5513 Rolex Submariners, and each alludes to the era in which the watch was manufactured. Most obvious among these variations, and possibly the most important to collectors, is the type of dial on the watch.
Initially, the reference 5513 Rolex Submariner was fitted with a glossy, gilt dial that had gold lettering; however, in 1967, Rolex switched to the classic matte black dial with white text that can be found on many other vintage Rolex watches. Due to their narrow production window, reference 5513 Rolex Submariners with gilt dials are considered quite rare and highly sought-after by collectors.
Another dial variation that is of interest to collectors is the “meters first” depth rating, which is also indicative of an early production run. The original gilt dials, and some of the very first reference 5513 matte dials have their depth rating printed with the meters measurement listed first, while all later Rolex Submariner 5513 dials and contemporary Submariner dials have their depth ratings printed with the feet measurement appearing first.
Although it does not contain a chronometer-certified movement, the reference 5513 Rolex Submariner is the classic Rolex dive watch, and its 28-year-long production run is testament to its rock-solid (albeit non-COSC-certified) movement, versatile design, and timeless good looks. In fact, during the 1960s, while on vacation in England, a friend of the Prince of Kuwait purchased himself a brand-new reference 5513 Rolex Submariner with the hopes of impressing his royal companion when he returned home.
As the reference 5513 Rolex Submariner had just been introduced by Rolex a few years prior in 1962, it was still a relatively new design, and was considered to be a state-of-the-art dive instrument, intended to accompany divers and oceanographers as they explored the ocean’s depths.
Given that the original owner purchased this Rolex Submariner with the intent of impressing the Prince of Kuwait, this particular Rolex Submariner 5513 was not destined for a life of rough treatment and abuse, as many of the other reference 5513 Rolex Submariners of the time would have been. The reference 5513 Rolex Submariner was a popular choice for various nations’ military branches, and many were lost or destroyed while in use.
The reference 5513 Rolex Submariner was introduced in 1962, and matte dials replaced gilt dials just a few years later in 1967, a very small percentage of the reference 5513 Rolex Submariners ever produced are fitted with gilt dials – especially considering the 28-year-long production run of the reference 5513 Rolex Submariner. Furthermore, a good number of these original gilt dials were replaced with matte service dials when the watches were sent in to Rolex for repair and servicing. Here’s the original meters-first, two line gilt dial as close as possible to how it looked the day it was produced.
The bezel insert is the original “fat font” insert rather than being a service insert, or one from a later-era Rolex Submariner 5513. The service inserts that Rolex uses as replacements for the watches that they repair has a font that is significantly thinner than the original Rolex Submariner 5513 inserts. Even later-era, original reference 5513 Rolex Submariner inserts have fonts that are noticeably thinner than the original “fat font” inserts that were first fitted to the reference 5513 Rolex Submariners during the 1960s.
This particular bezel insert has a subtle but even fading in its color, yet there are no major marks or scratches in its finish, which is especially rare for a watch of this age. The luminescent pearl in the bezel insert is also fantastically well preserved without any cracks or chips, and its color perfectly matches the patina of the luminous paint on the dial and hands.
Given that it was Rolex’s standard, non-chronometer-certified dive watch, a large number of reference 5513 Rolex Submariners were produced throughout its 28-year-long production run, and a wide variety of subtle differences exist depending on the year that the individual watch was manufactured. With that in mind, a small percentage of all the reference 5513 Rolex Submariners ever produced actually possess the specific qualities that would classify them as rare, collector’s items.
It is these subtle details and seemingly insignificant nuances that define a true collector’s piece, and ultimately have them clamoring and hunting for the pieces. Usually, a lot of these 5513 Rolex Submariners have been fussed with or bear the scars of time, but seeing one that saw royally gentle use is a real treat for the enthusiast.
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.