No one could argue that the contemporary Rolex Submariner is a beautifully impressive timepiece, in the same way that no one can deny the vintage examples of the world’s favorite dive watch are the epitome of understated cool.
However, both modern and classic have their drawbacks. The Super case and Maxi dial of the current lineup are not to everyone’s taste—the thicker lugs and crown guards, and enlarged indexes, represent Rolex’s compromise for those desperate for the Sub to grow beyond its time-honored 40mm dimensions. Additionally, the brand’s patented Cerachrom bezel, while virtually indestructible, will never develop the unique patina many collectors live for.
The modern Rolex Submariner, while functional, is not to everyone’s liking
Conversely, the models from the first quarter century or so of the Sub’s existence are missing several features that make later references easier to live with day to day. Tough sapphire crystals, for example, did not replace the former plexiglass until 1979. The rotating bezel didn’t become unidirectional until 1981. And of course, the performance of a modern caliber will always outdo those from yesteryear. Added to that is the fact a vintage anything is usually more fragile than its present day counterpart.
Perhaps the best solution all round is a Submariner with the very latest in innovations, wrapped up in a body still steeped in golden age nostalgia.
The Rolex Submariner ref. 14060
In 1990, Rolex finally got around to replacing the glorious ref. 5513, a reference that started life in 1962 and one which spawned MilSubs as well as acting as the test bed for the Helium Escape Valve, later to go on to find a permanent home on the Sea-Dweller.
The Rolex Submariner 14060
The model that superseded it was the ref. 14060, generally seen as the bridge between the then and now, and the last of the classic Submariners.
First, the traditional. Like every Sub beloved by the purist, the 14060 is a no-date. The introduction of a date feature on the ref. 1680 from 1969 split fans down the middle, not so much for the complication itself but for the inclusion of Rolex’s Cyclops lens over the three o’clock window. It was argued, with some justification, that the new addition ruined the symmetry of the dial.
Elsewhere, the bezel insert is aluminum, still especially robust but open to fading when exposed to seawater or UV light, bringing with it an appearance distinctive to each specific watch.
The case is the final pre-Super example, retaining the slender, sweeping profile over the far more brawny models of today’s catalog. And, for an extra cherry on top, it is the last to have lug holes, and nothing turns a collector’s head quite like a lug hole. It means switching the original hollow link Oyster bracelet for a leather strap or even a NATO is conspicuously easy, giving one watch three very distinct looks.
Now for the updates. The ref. 14060 became the first no-date Sub to have both a sapphire crystal and a Triplock crown, the components working together to ensure a waterproof rating of 300m, up from the ref. 5513’s 200m.
The Rolex ref. 5513 (pictured above) was only rated up to 200m
Inside, the former Cal. 1520 was replaced with the Cal. 3000, bringing the watch into line with the standard Rolex balance frequency of 28,800vph.
While the Cal. 3000 was certainly a more modern movement than before, it was missing a couple of features which were included as a matter of course on most other Rolex engines.
The most glaring omission was the Breguet overcoil, the brand opting instead for a flat hairspring. A customary presence in mechanical timepieces for over 200 years, the overcoil ensures greater accuracy by providing a more consistent tension to the spring. With the 14060 put out as the least expensive Submariner, the absence of the piece could well have been to keep prices down.
Regardless, the Cal. 3000 was engineered well enough to eventually go on to gain certification from the Official Swiss Chronometer Testing Institute, but not those ticking inside the ref. 14060. Borrowing another aesthetic from its 5513 forerunner, the 14060 was always a ‘two-liner’, never including the ‘Superlative Chronometer Officially Certified’ tag on its dial that comes from passing its COSC tests.
The ref. 14060M
Nearly a decade later, Rolex made enough of a change to the ref. 14060 to warrant adding a suffix to its reference number, but not one big enough to merit a new number altogether.
The Rolex Submariner 14060M (“m” meaning modified
Standing for ‘Modified’, the ref. 14060M was released in 1999 with a revised caliber, the Cal. 3130. The no-date version of the base Cal. 3135 which had been powering the Submariner Date series since 1988, the Cal. 3130 brought with it many of the elements missing from the previous iteration.
The Breguet overcoil was reinstated, a larger balance wheel fitted and the balance cock replaced with a full balance bridge.
All told, it gave the Cal. 3130 an improved performance, and its physical size, 28mm diameter and 6mm in height, lent it an inherent strength; perfect for the toughest of tool watches.
Even so, the first generation of the ref. 14060M were also two-liners. Rolex still seemed reluctant to submit the watch to the scrutiny of the COSC, and so they were not qualified as chronometers.
It wasn’t until as recently as 2007 that the brand sought official approval, leaving collectors with the choice when purchasing a 14060M of going for a formally sanctioned four-liner Superlative Chronometer, or sticking with the cleaner dial and more vintage-inspired two-liner.
Are the ref. 14060 and the ref. 14060M the absolute best of both worlds when it comes to the Rolex Submariner? There are certainly plenty of points in their favor.
Each preserves the iconic shape of the great vintages of the past. Each has the classic dial uncluttered by date windows and magnifying lenses. Yet both also contain modern movements, with the sort of bombproof reliability upon which Rolex has long built its reputation.
The Rolex Submariner 14060M
In fact, the caliber in the ref. 14060M is the same one still used in the contemporary watch, some 20-years later.
Coupled with that is the patina-attracting bezel, something that will continue to set each individual watch apart as time goes on and, perhaps best of all, they are still some of the most attainable examples on the pre-owned market today. Entry into the ‘last of the best’ club starts at around $5,500 to $6,000.
With a history going back over six decades, each reference of the Rolex Submariner is a masterpiece. As such, there is no such thing as choosing the ‘wrong’ model. But for all around versatility, the ref. 14060, the link between old and new, is in a league of its own.