Where would Rolex be without the Submariner? The most popular and instantly recognizable dive watch ever made, it is the model against which all others have been measured since it debuted in 1954. However, despite its global fame, the Rolex Submariner has actually seen some controversy during its six-and-a-half decade run. Throughout that time, there have been a couple of introductions that have divided opinions.
One came along in 1969 when the ref. 1680 brought the date function to the watch. Critics seemed to object on two fronts: first and foremost, many believed that there was little to no use for a date display on a dive watch; secondly, others complained that the date window at the three o’clock, and especially the Cyclops magnification lens over the top of it, threw off the overall symmetry of the dial. Undeterred, Rolex simply split the range in half, producing both a date and no-date version from that point on.
The other contentious move happened with the most recent iteration of the Rolex Submariner. Launched in 2010, the ref. 116610 was released with Rolex’s Super Case, featuring lugs and crown guards twice the thickness of before. A compromise to all those who thought 40mm was too small in the modern age for a sports watch, it stayed the same dimensions on paper but the extra bulk added a significant presence on the wrist. But the graceful sweeping lines of the previous references, which had gone practically unchanged for the last 50-years, were gone and it was a move that lost the Sub as many fans as it gained.
The Rolex Submariner Date ref. 16610
The model which preceded the current one, the reference 16610 was first unveiled in 1989 and has since become highly sought after on the pre-owned market. For a collector, there are a number of plus points in its favor. It has the majority of the modern touches that you need in a tool watch, one you might intend to wear every day, but with just the right amount of vintage nostalgia.
The metal used in for the construction of the Rolex Submariner 16610 is the incredibly resilient 904L stainless steel which is almost exclusively the domain of Rolex. Containing higher proportions of chromium, molybdenum, nickel, and copper than the traditional 316L steel employed by practically every rival manufacturer, it is a much harder metal and more resistant to corrosion. It also has a unique luster when polished, visually setting it apart in a crowded industry.
Inside, the Rolex Submariner ref. 16610 is fitted with the legendary Caliber 3135, commonly regarded as one of the finest mass-produced mechanical movements ever created. The Cal. 3135 is so good, in fact, that it is still the engine inside the latest generation of the date-displaying Submariner, some 30+ years later.
During the model’s tenure, the movement went through a couple of upgrades itself. The original Nivarox hairspring was replaced in 2000 with Rolex’s own Parachrom component, formed from niobium and zirconium, which leaves it completely antimagnetic and around 10 times more impervious to shocks and temperature fluctuations. Five years later, the brand thickened the spring’s oxide coating to further improve stability, which also resulted in it changing color once it reacted with the air. It has been known as the Blue Parachrom hairspring (sometimes called Parachrom Bleu) ever since.
While those elements ensure the strength and reliability of the watch, aesthetically, the ref. 16610 has a pleasing retro note to it. That pre-Super Case profile, the one which hasn’t really altered since the entrance of the ref. 5512 at the end of the 50s, is the perfect blend of elegance and strength. Additionally, the hour markers on the Rolex Submariner 16610 are smaller than on the present-day version, which is fitted with what is known as a Maxi dial among modern collectors. However, the indexes are still framed in white gold, something that Rolex introduced mid-way through the production of the ref. 16800 Submariner that came before. The 18k white gold surrounds for the hour markers provide the watch with a much more elevated appearance than the painted on markers that can be found on the older matte dials.