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Rolex Submariner 1680 ‘Red Sub’ Official Reference Guide

September 24, 2020

BY Paul Altieri


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 Rolex Submariner 1680

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.

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.

Red Rolex Submariner 1680

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.

Red Rolex Submariner 1680

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

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.

Key Vocabulary

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 Rolex Submariner 1680

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.

Red Rolex Submariner 1680



15 Responses to “Rolex Submariner 1680 ‘Red Sub’ Official Reference Guide”

  1. Paul Thorpe says:

    That’s a hugely comprehensive round-up of the Red Sub. Nice one.
    I’d seen that Watchfinder had described the watch
    as starting from 1966, but I’d always just thought that was an error. Earliest I’ve seen are proto’s from last quarter 68 and 1st Qtr 1969.2.04 million being the earliest. Fun fact the 1575 mvt is not a real thing as it’s a modified 1570 so all mvts are stamped 1570 still – none are stamped 1575!
    On the bracelets some good info there and I had forgot that the early ones came on rivet both Europe and US – also many of the late 60s and early seventies had the year stamped on the blades too eg ’71’

    • Paul Altieri says:

      Yes! That detail about Cal. 1575 movements having bridges marked with “1570” is something that frequently causes confusion among collectors who (mistakenly) cannot seem to figure out how their untouched, all-original watch ended up with a bridge replaced inside the movement. However, open up the back of any 16xx Datejust, and you will likely find the numbers “1570” looking back at you, and this is completely correct!
      As always, thank you for reading Paul! Your additional comments and footnotes help make our blog a more complete resource for our readers!

  2. In London, I bought my first Rolex Submariner in March 1975. I was 19 years old. Submariner was written in red. I paid £192.

  3. Drew Cook says:

    I bought my Red Rolex Submariner 1680 new at Casa Venegas, on Main Street on St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands for $380 (duty and tax free) in February of 1975. Serial #340xxx, I still have it. Its had a Rolex Jubilee bracelet on it since one of the original bracelet’s clasp prongs broke off, the expansion pieces bent, and the flip-lock lost in the early ’80s. I’ve obtained a new Rolex clasp/expansion pieces/flip lock, and I intend to send it to Rolex to have the original bracelet polished, the clasp pieces replaced, and the original bracelet placed back on the watch.

    • Paul Altieri says:

      You will likely pay more to service the watch today than you originally paid for it back in 1975. However, no matter what it costs to service, it will always be worth exponentially more than you paid for it!

      • Drew Cook says:

        What is your opinion on sending the watch with the original (damaged) bracelet to Rolex Service Center and asking them to polish and repair it (replace the four clasp pieces)? I have seen horror stories on YouTube stating Rolex refuses to do this (honor customer requests) and insists on requiring the (quite expensive) purchase of an entire new bracelet.

        • Paul Altieri says:

          We have also heard similar stories (Rolex refusing to repair a bracelet and instead only offering the option of a complete replacement bracelet). Rolex’s objective when servicing a watch is to restore it to full functionality, and this can often require the replacement of components that the owner does not want to be replaced – either due to cost or the collectibility of the original components. Although Rolex’s servicer process can restore a watch to like-new condition, it is also known for its rigidity and many owner requests are not able to be accommodated.

  4. Jim Young says:

    Hi Paul, great red sub description. When I go to sell mine should I have the fat font silver bezel put back on the watch or just included with the newer looking watch? Same question for the older bracelet stamped 7-70.
    In the mid 60’s SEAL Team ONE issued submariners to new arriving teammates. Later it was tudors. When I came aboard in September ‘70 they were down to Zodiac Seawolves. Upon returning from Vietnam 10 of us SEALs decided we needed the real McCoy so we ordered 10 thru a NYC jeweler. In late ‘71 they arrived.
    The subs are feet first fat font slightly open 6’s. We paid $183 each. Probably worth 100 times that now? I guess all the sun and saltwater did me a favor.
    I enjoy your emails.

    • Paul Altieri says:

      As long as you still have the original bezel insert and bracelet (and keep them with the watch), whether you have them installed or not will hardly matter when you go to sell it – the important thing is that you still have them. Swapping the bracelet will only take a matter of moments, and the same goes for the bezel insert (although it does require the use of some special tools). In neither instance will the watch need to be opened up at all, so having the original components swapped on will be a relatively easy process.
      That watch will certainly never be worth less than what you paid for it! Also amazing (by today’s standards) that you were able to order 10 of them at once. Today, given current demand, you may wait many months/years just to get the chance to pay full retail for it!

  5. ermanno magnanini says:

    I bought a red submariner in south africa in 1975 for $250 i wore it every day for almost 40 years original dial and movement,chrystal was replaced and watched serviced once ,went through 3 straps,sold the watch on ebay 5 years ago sold for $13,000 within an hour the buyer reneged on the sale ,much to his dismay at the moment its probably worth $18,000 in fair condition.im glad that buyer cancelled the sale with prejudice,

  6. Redsubman says:

    Quick note, very good friend of mine bought a brand new 1680 Red Submariner Mark VI in 1975 with a US Jubilee band.
    So Red Subs were sold past 1973 and even came original with Jubilee bracelets depending on the AD.

    • Paul Altieri says:

      Back then, Rolex retailers had a lot more freedom with the watches that they sold. Although the Submariner has only ever been officially offered with the Oyster bracelet, there are numerous instances of bracelets being swapped out for the Jubilee, either at the request of the customer or simply to offer something different. Sometimes dials were even swapped out on other Rolex watches (like the Datejust) if the buyer wanted a different color; however Rolex no longer permits their retailers to alter their watches either before or after they are sold.

  7. Pedro Saenz says:

    Good report!! My 1680 was bought in Lima Peru 1976 June by my dad. He was looking for a watch that could be used as a daily beater for surfing. I was 18 and that Tool watch was given to me as I started my University studies.
    I used, and abused it, for decades surfing and Karate were my main sports. Those tool watches were made to be used. Many years later a friend’s father offered me to take it to Switzerland and replace all damaged parts: Cristal, dial and new hands were replacing to a new looking face. Many years later the third dial came in and now the hands are white gold.
    The red Submariner was never red again. Now fully restored and new looking is only worn for special events. Casio’s, Islander and Phoibos are my new surfing partners…

  8. Phil Scheinberg says:

    Hi Paul,
    I recently sold to Bob’s watches my old root beer nipple dialed GMT. Very easy and pleasant transaction. Just didn’t wear it much. I do wear however almost daily my red Submariner which I bought new in Zurich Switzerland in 1970 for $175. I have been an avid diver, both SCUBA and free for much of my 72 years, and this watch has been in virtually every ocean in the world. I am its only owner and wearer and still retain its bill of sale, “wallet”, original box, anchor, hang tag, and original bracelet, etc. It still also retains its original dial, hands and bezel, all with a marvelous patina of use. In spite of its collector value, this watch has become virtually part of my DNA, as it is very reliable, still waterproof, and admirably doing its job. Perhaps one of those very few things in life where there was never any disappointments. Rolex builds good stuff!

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