If you’re a Rolex fan, you know about the elusive (and exclusive) Red Submariner ref. 1680. And if you’re a new collector, you’re almost certainly going to know it. The Rolex Submariner “Red Sub” is one of those unicorn Rolex watches – the kind of rare, sought-after vintage watch that every collector wants to have in their collection. Today, these watches are tough to find, and they trade hands for a steep premium above their non-red counterparts.
Already considered highly collectible, if you ever have the means and the opportunity to buy an original Red Submariner 1680, it’s a pretty safe bet that this watch will hold great value. So to prepare you for the possibility that you may one day stumble upon a Red Sub and need to inspect all of its unique character traits, we have made this comprehensive guide on the Red Submariner to help you out. In addition to the investment side of this iconic model, it’s also a lot of fun to learn about these grail-worthy timepieces that everyone keeps talking about. So, ready to dive in?
Red Rolex Submariner
Red Submariner Key Features:
Case Diameter: 40mm
Materials: Stainless steel
Dial: Matte black; ‘SUBMARINER’ name in red letters
Bezel: 60-minute rotating timing bezel
Crystal: Acrylic; Cyclops lens above the date
Movement: Rolex Cal. 1575
Water Resistance: 200 meters / 660 feet
Strap/Bracelet: Oyster bracelet
Click here to learn more about the very first Rolex Submariner.
What is the Red Rolex Submariner?
Before we dive into the history and key features of this watch, we should probably tell you what all the hype is about. The ‘Red Submariner’ name refers to an exclusive group of watches from one reference of the Rolex Submariner that was produced with the ‘SUBMARINER’ name scrawled in red text across the dial. This feature was relatively short-lived and exclusive to the reference 1680 Submariner, making this dive watch one of the most collectible vintage timepieces on the planet.
Quick History of the Red Rolex Submariner 1680
The Rolex Submariner 1680 was officially introduced in 1969 and continued to remain in production until approximately 1980 (some records have ref. 1680 production numbers date back as early as 1966); however, the Red Submariner was only produced for the first part of the ref. 1680’s production run (until approximately 1973). However, the exact dates are disputed (some will say red-text dials were fitted to watches up until 1975); however, it’s clear that the Red Submariner was produced for at least these years. With that in mind, only a handful of the original Red Submariner dials are still in existence today, since many reference 1680 watches that required replacement dials ended up receiving the later-era version with all-white text.
When the ref. 1680 appeared on the market, it was the first Rolex Submariner to feature a date complication. Although the classic time-only Submariner dive watch had been a fixture in the industry and was the first timepiece to be achieve a water resistance rating of 330 feet or 100 meters, the arrival of the ref. 1680 was still rather early in the long history of the Submariner as we know it today. It is also worth noting that while the very first Rolex Submariner had a depth rating of 100 meters and the current-production model features a 300-meter depth rating, the reference 1680 offered users an official water resistance rating of 200 meters or 660 feet.
Concerning the Red Submariner 1680, there are 7 dial variations if you include the incredibly rare service dial variant, which some collectors don’t (more on this later). Eventually, sometime starting around 1973, the Red Submariner 1680 was replaced by a version with a dial that had the ‘SUBMARINER’ name in white letters, ending the era of Red Submariner watches.
5 Facts About The Red Rolex Submariner 1680
1. No Other Rolex Submariner Has Featured Red Submariner Text
Since Rolex stopped producing the Red Submariner 1680 in the 1970s, every subsequent rendition of the Submariner has been fitted with an entirely black and white dial. This design choice makes it incredibly easy to spot one of these rare, Red Submariner watches, as the name and color instantly stand out against the monochromatic color profile of the watch. While this unique feature makes the Red Submariner watches easy to spot, it doesn’t make them any easier to find for sale!
2. The reference 1680 Was The First Submariner To Offer a Date Function
When Rolex unveiled the ref. 1680 (the very first watches being Red Submariner watches) it was the first Submariner to be equipped with the date window at 3 o’clock and the magnifying Cyclops lens affixed to the surface of its acrylic crystal. Due to the added date feature, a new movement was needed, so with the introduction of the ref. 1680 and the arrival of the Red Submariner, this watch was outfitted with the Caliber 1575 movement, which was basically the same as the existing Caliber 1570, just upgraded with an added date function.
3. The Ref. 1680 Is The Only Submariner Date To Feature An Acrylic Crystal
After the reference 1680, all subsequent date-displaying Submariner references (beginning with the reference 16800) left the Rolex factory with flat crystals made from synthetic sapphire. This feature makes the reference 1680 truly unique, as it is the only date-displaying Submariner to have ever been fitted with an acrylic crystal.
4. There Are Seven Dial Variations Of The Red Submariner 1680
One of the attractions of collecting the Red Submariner 1680 is that there are many dial variations – seven to be exact. Digging through the complex information and numerous differences until you get your hands on the exact one that you want is part of the exciting challenge of collecting the Red Submariner.
5. The Red Submariner 1680 Was Originally Outfitted With A “Fat Font” Bezel
When the Submariner 1680 first was launched, it was outfitted with what we now refer to as “fat font” bezels because of the thicker numbers. These original bezels tended to fade over time so they were often replaced with newer, ‘thin font’ bezels by Rolex during routine servicing. Accordingly, hunting down a Red Sub 1680 with its original fat font bezel can be tricky, but worth the effort.
Key Features of the Red Rolex Submariner 1680
While the Red Sub wasn’t produced for all that long – especially in the scheme of the lengthy and complex history of the Submariner – the Red Submariner 1680 featured a slew of different key features. Most of these come down to the different dial variations, but we also want to introduce you to the unique bezel and early bracelets used on this watch.
Red Rolex Submariner 1680 Bezel
The bezel on the Submariner is incredibly important, as its timing capabilities allowing divers to perfectly and safely time their ascent into the water. Like other vintage Rolex Submariner watches, the bezel on the reference 1680 is bi-directional in motion, rather than being unidirectional like on modern Submariner watches. It is worth noting that in addition to being the only Submariner Date to be fitted with an acrylic crystal, the ref. 1680 is also the only Submariner Date to ever feature a bi-directional timing bezel.
Additionally, there is another special trait to keep an eye out for when you are looking at Red Rolex Submariner 1680 bezels. Like we mentioned in the quick facts, the original bezel inserts fitted to these watches were actually ‘fat font’ bezels, characterized by its thicker font used on the Arabic timing numerals.
Many times, these fat font bezels were replaced over time by their owners because they faded or received scratches and dents. If you happen to find a Red Rolex Submariner 1680, you truly have a really great and valuable watch on your hands. You won’t always come across a Red Submariner with its original fat font bezel and it certainly isn’t a make-it-or-break-it factor; however, a Red Sub that still has its original fat font bezel will definitely be worth a premium when it comes to determining resale value.
Red Rolex Submariner 1680 Bracelet
Five different bracelets were manufactured by Rolex for the Submariner 1680. The first Red Submariners were fitted with 7206 Swiss-made, rivet-link bracelets with 80 end pieces. Rolex then replaced that with the 9315 folded link Oyster bracelet, which is often considered to be the ‘correct’ bracelet for most Red Submariner watches (depending on their specific year of production).
Expert tip: To ensure that it is an original, coveted, 9315 folded link bracelet, the ‘9315’ code should be stamped just before the end piece on one of the links. Additionally, the end-links will also be stamped with either 280 or 380.
Rolex Red Submariner 1680 watches can also be found with USA-made Oyster bracelets. Additionally, there are also the 9315 solid-link bracelets, which were introduced in the late 1970s and have been known to grace some Red Submariner 1680 watches, although you will also see it on other earlier models as a service replacement bracelet. This bracelet is easily the most modern and robust bracelet for the Red Submariner; however, when it comes to resale value and collectibility, these bracelets are generally considered to be less desirable.
Red Rolex Submariner 1680 Dials
The Rolex Submariner 1680 was produced with a total of 8 different dial variations (including the version with all white text), and these are typically referred to as MK1 through MK8 (often appearing as MKI to MKVIII, with MKVII corresponding to the dial with all-white text for the ref. 1680). Included in this is also the rare Red Submariner Service dial that features LumiNova instead of tritium. Below, we’re going to outline each of these dials and their unique features.
MK: MK stands for “Mark” or “Make” (a designation of the different dial styles)
Open Sixes: On the Red Submariner 1680 dials you will see the depth rating printed in both meters and feet. The watch offers users 660 feet of water resistance, and on the different dial variations, you will see the Arabic numeral sixes printed with an open and closed font. The open font sixes we refer to as ‘open sixes’ and it is one of the key ways to differentiate between the different variations.
Closed Sixes: The numeral 6 on ‘closed sixes’ dials features a closed font.
Meters First: You will always see the depth rating on the dial of the Red Submariner 1680 printed in both meters and feet. However, on some earlier dials, the meter depth rating appears first, thus designating it as a ‘meters first’ dial.
Feet First: The Red Submariner 1680 will always display a depth rating. On the ‘feet first’ dials, the feet depth rating appears before the meter rating, and the trait is representative of later-era styles of Red Submariner dials.
Red Submariner MK1 Dial
Fitted to the Red Rolex Submariner 1680 until approximately 1969, MK1 dials will all be of the meters-first variety with their red ‘SUBMARINER’ name printed on top of white letters. Additionally, MK1 Red Submariner dials will feature closed sixes, and concerning the font for the ‘ft’ of the depth rating, the ‘f’ in ‘ft’ curls up above the ‘t’ slightly.
Red Submariner MK2 Dial
The first MK2 dial appeared in 1970, as did the MK3, which is nearly identical in its overall appearance. However, there are subtle differences that separate these two variations of Red Submariner dials. Like the MK1 dials, MK2 dials will be of the meters-first variety and will have the red ‘SUBMARINER’ name printed on top of white. However, MK2 dials will feature open sixes, and the top of the ‘f’ does not extend as far as on MK1 Red Submariner dials.
Red Submariner MK3 Dial
Red Submariner MK3 dials are incredibly similar to MK2 dials and are also of the meters-first variety with open sixes. However, while MK2 dials have the red ‘SUBMARINER’ text printed on top of white, MK3 dials will have it printed directly onto the dial surface, and the ‘f’ in the depth rating is shorter than it appears on MK2 Red Submariner dials.
Red Submariner MK4 Dial
Mk4 Red Submariner dials are the earliest versions of the feet-first variety, first appearing near the very end of 1970 and remaining in use for about a couple of years. MK4 dials feature the red ‘SUBMARINER’ text printed on top of white, along with very distinct open sixes for the depth rating.
Red Submariner MK5 Dial
Just like the MK4 version, the MK5 Red Submariner dials are of the feet-first variety with open sixes, although the 6’s are less open on MK5 dials compared to the MK4. Additionally, unlike the MK4 dials, the MK5 style features the red ‘SUBMARINER’ name printed directly on the dial surface without a white base layer, and the MK5 dials remained in use slightly longer than the MK4, despite first appearing at a relatively similar time.
Red Submariner MK6 Dial
The MK6 dial is the last Red Submariner dial to be fitted with tritium luminescence. Like other later-era Red Submariner dials, the MK6 is of the feet-first variety, and just like the MK5, it features its red ‘SUBMARINER’ name printed directly on the dial surface without the additional white base layer. However, while the MK5 features open sixes, the MK6 features closed sixes, and the ‘S’ in the word “Superlative” has a noticeably more curved appearance.
The Bonus Dial: Luminova Service Dial
When you own a Rolex, you can send it to the Rolex for service or repairs to have broken parts replaced, and this can also include the dial. Around the mid-1970s, Rolex stopped producing the ref. 1680 with dials that featured the ‘SUBMARINER’ name in red, and instead switched to dials with all white text (sometimes referred to as MK7 dials); however, these are not Red Submariner dials. With that in mind, there are certain Red Submariner dials that were not originally fitted to Red Sub watches, and this style is known as the Red Submariner Service Dial.
Produced sometime after the switch to photoreactive LumiNova, this is a very, very rare variation of the Red Submariner dial (sometimes referred to as MK8), and you can tell it apart from the rest by the fact that instead of reading “Swiss-T<25” under the six o’clock hour marker, it reads ‘Swiss’ -since no tritium is used on these Red Submariner dials like on the MK1 through MK6.
It’s also important to note that if a Red Submariner dial was replaced outside the original Red Submariner production years, in the vast majority of instances, the dial would have been replaced with the now-standard, monochromatic black and white dial – which is a huge shame since this would significantly decrease the overall value of the watch.