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The History and Evolution of the Two-Tone Rolex Submariner

February 26, 2019

BY Celine Simon


While many of you already know that Rolex launched the stainless steel Submariner in 1953, it may come as a surprise that it took another three decades for ‘the Crown’ to release a two-tone version of their famed dive watch. Let’s dig into the history and evolution of the stainless steel and yellow gold, two-tone Rolex Submariner models.

two-tone Rolex Submariner

A reference 116613 Rolex Submariner with a diamond-set ‘Serti’ dial.

Two-Tone Rolex Submariner ref. 16803

two-tone Rolex Submariner

The reference 16803 was the very first two-tone Rolex Submariner that was actually produced by Rolex rather than being assembled by a local dealer.

In 1984, Rolex unveiled the very first two-tone Submariner with the reference number 16803. Although two-tone versions of the ref. 1680 do exist, they are watches that were configured at individual dealers, as Rolex only officially offered the reference 1680 in either all gold or all stainless steel. The Submariner ref. 16803 is the Rolesor (Rolex’s term for combing gold and steel on a watch) version within the Submariner ref. 1680x family, where the ref. 16800 is the steel model and the ref. 16808 is the yellow gold version. 

The 1680x Submariners are referred to as transitional models. In Rolex speak, ‘transitional models’ are those that were in production for a short time, but established milestone design enhancements. For instance, this generation of Submariner watches introduced sapphire crystals to the collection (replacing the previous acrylic crystals), boosted the water resistance rating to 300 meters (replacing the previous 200-meter rating), and run on Caliber 3035 movements (replacing the previous cal. 1575).

two-tone Rolex Submariner

The reference 16803 Submariner was available in either black or blue.

The Submariner 16803 features a 40mm Oyster case in steel, with a yellow gold winding crown and a yellow gold unidirectional rotating bezel that is fitted with an aluminum bezel insert. Rolex made the Submariner ref. 16803 in two color-ways: black dial with black bezel and blue dial with blue bezel. On the dial are plenty of yellow gold details, from the lume-filled index surrounds to the luminescent Mercedes-style hands. Some very early models of the 16803 came equipped with the so-called “nipple dial” that has raised gold hour markers, like those found on the all-gold version of the ref. 1680.

Like most yellow Rolesor Rolex watches, the ref. 16803 Submariner’s Oyster bracelet includes yellow gold center links flanked by stainless steel outer links. Rolex stopped producing the Submariner 16803 sometime in 1988.


Two-Tone Rolex Submariner ref. 16613

two-tone Rolex Submariner

The reference 16613 Submariner was virtually identical to the reference 16803 that it replaced; however it received a brand-new internal movement.

To replace the 16803, Rolex presented the Submariner ref. 16613 in 1988. Design wise, the newer Submariner kept a very similar (near-identical) look to its predecessor. That is to say that the Submariner 16613 also sports a two-tone 40mm Oyster case with an aluminum bezel and two-tone Oyster bracelet. The color options are also identical, with black and blue versions of the Rolesor Submariner ref. 16613 available. With that in mind, the biggest difference can be found inside the watch case. Powering the Submariner 16613 is the Caliber 3135 automatic movement.

It is important to note however, that because Rolex produced the Submariner 16613 for about 20 years, the model underwent plenty of enhancements and updates over the years. For instance, Luminova replaced tritium as the luminescence material towards the end of the 1990s, the solid end-link (SEL) bracelets made their debut in 2000, and a few years later, lug holes were phased out.

two-tone Rolex Submariner

In addition to being available in either black or blue, certain ref. 16613 Submariner watches were available with diamond set ‘Serti’ dials.

Additionally, in the early 2000s, Rolex began engraving the watches’ serial numbers, along with ‘ROLEX ROLEX ROLEX’ on the rehaut, and laser etching a micro crown on the crystal as a means to curb counterfeiting. Consequently, a mid-2000’s Submariner ref. 16613 will look and feel quite different from a late 1980’s Submariner ref. 16613.


Two-Tone Rolex Submariner ref. 116613

two-tone Rolex Submariner

Despite retaining the same cal. 3135 movement as its predecessor, the ref. 116613 is a very different watch than the ref. 16613 that it replaced.

Rolex unveiled the current version of the two-tone Submariner in 2009, and with it came a whole host of drastic changes.

On paper, the Submariner ref. 116613’s official case measurement is also 40mm. But hold it next to the previous ref. 16613, and you’ll immediately see that the silhouette of the newer “super case” is far beefier and imposing, thanks to bigger crown guards and fatter lugs. Yet again, Rolex offers the newest two-two Submariner in either blue or black, but the bezel insert is crafted from ultra-modern, Cerachrom (Rolex’s patented ceramic alloy) instead of aluminum. Cerachrom is prized for its resistance to scratching and fading.

The dial has also been given the supersize treatment, with larger lume plots and broader Mercedes-style hands. Plus, the blue dial on early examples of the ref. 116613 is more solid compared to the sunburst finishing of older blue two-tone Submariners. However since its introduction, the blue dial for the ref. 16613 has had its sunburst finishing returned to it; however the larger, ‘Maxi’ hour markers still remain.

two-tone Rolex Submariner

Although the case still measures 40mm in diameter, the ref. 116613 wears significantly larger than its predecessor due to its thicker lugs and crown guards.

The Submariner 116613 also includes a vastly improved two-tone bracelet with solid 18k yellow gold center links and a completely redesigned clasp. The heftier and more durable bracelet and clasp definitely enhance the luxuriousness of the modern Rolesor Submariner.

Under the hood is also the Caliber 3135, but in true Rolex form, the automatic movement has also undergone its own improvements over the years. In 2015, Rolex announced that all their watches would now boast an accuracy rating of -2/+2 seconds per day.

The two-tone Submariner has only been with us for a short 30 years, and judging by its popularity, it is not going anywhere. However, it is interesting to point out that there are no rose gold versions of the Submariner watch – either in solid rose gold or two-tone steel and rose gold. Will this year be the year that Rolex introduces Everose to the Submariner collection? We’ll have to wait until Baselworld 2019 to find out if an Everose Rolesor Sub will be the next chapter in the evolution of the two-tone Submariner.

two-tone Rolex Submariner

Even when they have parts craft from 18k gold and dials set with diamonds, all Rolex Submariners are highly capable dive watches.



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