If Rolex had only ever made one model of watch, chances are they still would have had one of the strongest reputations of any manufacturer, so long as that model had been the Submariner.
Since its release in 1954, it has become an emblem of the brand and of horology in general—an authentic icon of design and one emulated by practically every other watchmaker at one point or another. It also holds the distinction as the most counterfeited watch in the world—there are now more fakes on the market than the real thing.
During its six decades at the top, it has undergone a myriad of changes and upgrades and been made available in a host of different metals and color schemes. While still one of the most accomplished dive watches around, its true rarity value, and the reason for its meteoric rise in status, has been its versatility. A Sub can be worn with anything, and is such a recognizable symbol of good taste, it can get you in anywhere.
The 80’s saw the Sub’s first foray into the blue, a striking two-tone Rolesor example that matched a steel and yellow gold case with a contrasting blue dial and bezel. Spurred on by the success of this earliest divergence from the traditional monotone face, Rolex has gone onto release a number of versions in a variety of combinations.
Below, we’ll take a look at the brand’s color-enhanced models of an all time classic.
Rolex has been making blue Submariners for a long time.
The Rolex Submariner Blue: A Rolesor
That first blue reference, the Submariner ref. 16613, was an intelligent combination of showy and workmanlike, a best of both worlds mix that caught the imagination as much as the eye.
The ruggedness of stainless steel next to exquisite yellow gold, with all its luxurious connotations, is an arrangement that Rolex has been getting right since they coined the Rolesor name in the 30s.
On the ref. 16613, the metallic tones were complemented by a blue sunburst dial that gleamed with an internal iridescence, its color shifting hue in varying lighting conditions. Surrounding it, the blue aluminum bezel had a similar sparkle.
The blue Sub was an immediate favorite, enjoying a 20-year production run until finding its replacement in the ref. 116613LB in 2009. Packed full of enhancements, this new Rolesor model kept the age-old 40mm dimensions, but its well-muscled Supercase gave the whole watch a much bigger wrist presence, with Rolex succumbing grudgingly to the trend for larger watches but not wanting to alter their bread and butter creation too drastically.
This reference of the Blue Rolex Submariner also features a beautiful dial.
Along with its beefed up shoulders, the 116613LB also shifted to an ultra tough Cerachrom bezel and a flat, even Maxi dial, with its fatter hands and hour markers.
Inside, it retained the same Cal. 3135 movement, with Rolex wisely deciding there was no point meddling with a winning formula. A subject of almost constant subtle upgrading, the caliber found in more of the brand’s offerings than any other, introduced the new Parachrom Bleu hairspring to the 116613LB. Ten times more shock resistant than traditional springs, it further battle-hardened an already extremely capable watch.
The blue Rolesor Subs have always had a go-anywhere aesthetic. Neither too flashy nor too utilitarian, the skillful blending of different colors across versions old and new can match both formal and casual occasions.
Blue Rolex Submariners also come out in yellow gold.
The Yellow Gold Submariner Blue
A watch that does away with the notion of understatement, the all yellow gold Sub is certainly an arresting sight, but one tempered enough by the addition of its blue dial and bezel to avoid any hint of gaudiness.
Following a similar life cycle as the Rolesor blue, the gold ref. 16618LB first appeared two years later in 1990. With the same case style, it has the slimmer lugs sweeping elegantly into the bracelet that purists consider the most well proportioned of all the Sub’s many iterations. The pre-Maxi blue dial with its slender hands and smaller, gold-ringed indexes is beautifully readable, even with the contentious lens over the date window at three o’clock; The Cyclops—splitting opinion since 1954.
As with its two-tone sibling, the ref. 16618LB experienced a long, fruitful run, earning its retirement 12 months earlier when the 116618LB was launched in 2008.
The upgrade stuck with the same aesthetics and class leading innovations as most of the latest generation of Rolex sports watches. A more purposeful looking physique and with the vibrant sunburst blue dial swapped in favor of a smoothly uniform replacement, to better coordinate with the matte tones of the Cerachrom bezel.
The Oyster bracelet also received a substantial modernization, as it had on the Rolesor example. Much maligned in its earlier versions for its fragility, the newest form of the band was given solid end and center links that added a real feeling of sturdiness, along with that most beautifully over-engineered of all features, the Glidelock clasp. Securing the watch to the wrist with all the surety of a closing bank vault, it allows for the bracelet to be extended in simple 2mm increments up to 20mm, all the better for easily slipping the watch over the sleeve of a wetsuit, or just to loosen it up as the wrist expands during the day.
Unashamedly opulent they may be, but the two brilliant yellow gold, blue dial Subs are still more than a match for an underwater adventure.
The Rolex Smurf is made of white gold.
The White Gold Submariner Blue
In 2008, Rolex upped the luxurious ante when they brought us a Submariner crafted for the first time in 18K white gold.
Immediately taking the trophy as the most expensive model in the Sub family, the Submariner ref. 116619 is topped with the same lacquered blue dial and Cerachrom bezel as its stable mates, but is a more low-key head-turner than its yellow gold alternatives.
Following the tradition for unfortunate nicknames that started with the two green Subs, the Kermit and the Hulk, this latest splash of color quickly became known as the Smurf. Not the kindest epithet certainly, but one that at least shows more imagination than the ‘Bluesy’ label attached to the first of the Rolesor versions above.
Crafted from metal forged in Rolex’s own foundry, the white gold used for the Smurf is solid all the way through, as opposed to the Rhodium-plated examples found on many competitors’ watches. It means that a scratch in the surface reveals nothing but more gold, whereas lesser models can turn a milky yellow color that needs refinishing.
As lavish and well appointed as it is, it is still an example of the world’s favorite dive watch, with all the impressive specs that go with the distinction. The Oyster case and Triplock crown safeguard the Sub to 300M under the ocean, and that cutting edge bezel is unidirectional to keep an accurate eye on submersion times.
Would you wear a solid white gold Rolex on a Scuba dive? Well, that’s owners’ privilege, but it’s comforting to know a pricey piece of horologic art is going to survive an unplanned dip in the pool.
The three blue Submariner references, whether brand new or vintage, are standout, playful versions of a genre-defining timepiece.
Possibly the most iconic watch ever made, the Sub feels like it’s always been with us, and the addition of a bold color scheme gives it a welcome, contemporary freshness.