Rolex has always been an innovator. While it wasn’t the first luxury watch company to develop a diver’s watch, many will argue that it was the first brand to perfect it. The Rolex Submariner itself has evolved throughout the years to offer such mainstays as the unidirectional timing bezel and the Triplock waterproof crown. Many editions of the Submariner are available and include several metal options, dial and bezel colors, and movements. But none is as iconic as the black dial Rolex Submariner.
A Brief Rolex Submariner Dial History
The Submariner is one of the most exciting watches to collect because of the many dial variations available within the line. It isn’t unheard of for a collector to have a particular dial type in mind when shopping for a Submariner watch. To better understand how we came to know the modern black dial Submariner, we must first explore its incredible history.
The first Submariner to come to market in the 1950s featured a simple gilt dial topped with pencil-shaped hands and minimal text reading “Rolex Oyster Perpetual Submariner”. The now-iconic Mercedes hands arrived shortly thereafter with the subsequent references. The depth rating and “Officially Certified Chronometer” text was added onto the dial next, and the depth rating increased from 100 meters to 200 meters, which was reflected in the updated text on the dial to denote its greater water resistance.
The next several years saw many changes to both the outward appearance of the case and the movement that beats within. During this time, the dial saw many small changes to the wording of the text and also saw a shift from glossy dials to matte part of the way through the production of the ref. 5513. This edition of the Rolex Submariner saw much success and remained in production until the late 1980s. Several changes were made to its dial, including the font type and the size of the luminous plots, making it an exciting watch to search for on the used Rolex market.
The next major upgrade came in the 1960s with the ref. 1680. This beloved vintage Submariner was the first to feature a date display. Early variations of the ref. 1680 also can feature the Submariner name in red just above the depth rating, earning it the nickname “Red Submariner” among collectors. In the 1980s, the depth rating was increased to 300 meters with the introduction of the transitional ref. 16800.
This edition originally kept the same matte dial as its predecessors; however, it was updated to a gloss dial with white gold surrounds for the hour markers, which continued over onto the ref. 168000 that followed. Next came what many consider to be the first “modern” Submariner, the ref. 16610. The dial which featured luminous hour markers with white gold surrounds was carried over from the previous generation, giving the ref. 16610 a more contemporary feel and a slightly more luxurious aesthetic than vintage Submariner references.
The Kermit ref. 16610LV, with its stunning green aluminum bezel insert, was introduced to celebrate the collection’s 50th anniversary and received larger hour markers on its dial. This is the first instance of the modern Maxi dial, which appears throughout the 6-digit ceramic bezel generation that remains in production today. The ref. 16610V is a prized collector’s item as it was the only Rolex with both an aluminum bezel and a modern Maxi dial. All other Maxi dial Rolex watches are also accompanied by a ceramic bezel.
We would be remiss if we didn’t also mention the iconic “No Date” Submariner ref. 14060, which is distinguished by a dateless black dial. Many collectors seek the No Date for its clean, symmetrical aesthetic that closely resembles earlier-model Rolex Submariner watches. This edition was replaced in 2012 with the “Cerachrom” ceramic bezel version, which also notably includes a modern black Maxi dial.
This brief history brings us to the current Submariner generation. The Oystersteel ref. 116610 with a black dial and bezel is the modern version of the archetype of the contemporary dive watch with its stunning Chromalight display, larger Maxi hour markers in white gold surrounds, and date aperture prominently displayed at the 3-hour marker.
Even if you aren’t very familiar with the Rolex brand itself, chances are that you’ve laid your eyes upon this classic edition of the brand’s iconic dive watch at some point. Add a tough Oystersteel finish and a stunning ceramic bezel insert, and you’ve got all the makings of a true heirloom watch that will be cherished for many lifetimes to come.
The Ongoing Rolex Submariner Legacy
The Rolex Submariner has seen quite the transformation, from its days as the James Bond watch, to the stunning ceramic bezel diver with a Maxi dial that remains in production today. The black dial saw more changes than any other feature, making it an intriguing element of the Submariner to be studied an pursued. While the line also saw the addition of a vibrant blue dial and mesmerizing gem-adorned Serti dials in champagne and rhodium finishes, it is the black dial version that remains the most sought-after for its timeless, enduring style.