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Watch Review

The Meters First Submariners

Paul Altieri

If you look at the dial of a Submariner today, you’ll see that its water resistance rating displays the measurement with feet first, followed by meters. 1000 ft = 300 m. Rolex, it wasn’t always this way. Some highly collectible vintage Rolex models are those referred to as Meters First Submariners. Let’s have a closer look at three particular vintage Submariner models that began with dials showing the meters measurement first, only to be replaced with dials that displayed feet first.

Meters First Submariners
There are many examples the Rolex 5512 being a Meters First Submariner.

Meters First Submariner 5512

In the Submariner’s long history, the ref. 5512 stands out for being the first to include crown guards on the case. Introduced in 1959, this particular model ran until about 1979 and as expected, Rolex modified the dial over the course of its manufacturing period. As you look over the different variations of the Rolex 5512 this quickly becomes apparent.

One of the main dial changes to the Rolex Submariner ref. 5512 was the move from two lines of text to four lines of text. This happened when the 5512 became chronometer-certified—switching from Caliber 1530 to Caliber 1560 (eventually Caliber 1570). So, the first generation models did not include the “Superlative Chronometer Officially Certified” text on the dial while later models did.

Early models of the Submariner 5512 displayed the meters first: 200m = 660ft. Rolex changed this around 1969 to have the feet printed before the meters: 660ft = 200m. The Meters First Submariner ref. 5512 can be a two-liner Submariner or a four liner Submariner, while the Feet First Submariner ref. 5512 watches have four lines of text.

Meters First Submariners
Amongst the 5512’s there are many 5513 Meters First Submariners. (Credit: 5513mattedial.com)

Meters First Submariner 5513

When the Submariner ref. 5512 became the chronometer-certified Submariner option, Rolex introduced the non-certified Submariner ref. 5513 shortly after in the early 1960s to be sold alongside it. Naturally, because it’s not COSC-certified, Submariner ref. 5513 models are two-liner Submariner watches.

The earliest Submariner ref. 5513 examples were equipped with glossy dials with gilt text. These examples are Meters First Submariners. Around 1969, Rolex made the switch to matte black dials for the Submariner ref. 5513. There is where it gets tricky though because, during this period, there are examples of matte dial Meters First Submariners ref. 5513 and matte dial Feet First Submariner ref. 5513 models. Rolex eventually began exclusively producing matte dial Feet First Submariner 5513 versions in the early 1970s.

>Since the Submariner 5513 was in production until the late 1980s, it’s much more difficult to find a Meters First Submariner 5513 today than its feet first counterpart.

Meters First Submariners
Even the 1680s have a Meters First Submariners, but not all of them are like that.

Meters First Submariner 1680

While the Submariner 5512 and 5513 are no-date versions of the famous Rolex diving watch, the Submariner ref. 1680 is the date version. In fact, with its introduction in 1969, the ref. 1680 was the first Submariner that came with a date window.

Yet again, Rolex slowly modified the dials of the ref. 1680 during its history, which today means that there are so many dial variations of this vintage Submariner to collect! The most collectible among them are the early versions dubbed Red Submariners—named so because SUBMARINER on the dial is printed in red. It’s generally accepted that there are six distinct dials of the Red Submariner 1680, labeled by collectors as Mark I – Mark VI.

Mark I, Mark II, and Mark III dials of the Red Submariner ref. 1680 displayed the meters first. TheseMeters First Submariner 1680 watches were eventually replaced with feet first water resistance depth ratings from the Mark IV dials onwards. Furthermore, Rolex also replaced the red text of the Submariner 1680 with white text in the mid-1970s.

200m to feet meters first submariner watches
All modern Rolex Submariner watches have “feet first” dials.

Since first making the switch in 1969, every single Rolex Submariner watch that has been manufactured since has left the factory with a “feet first” dial. This means that among all the various Submariner references that have been produced throughout history, only a few can be found with either meters first or feet first dials. Additionally, since Rolex no longer manufacturers meters first dials, and all service replacement dials follow the feet-first format, so meters first Submariner dials are becoming increasingly rare with each year that passes.

Why did Rolex make the switch from meters first to feet first on their diving watches, you ask? While nothing is ever certain with Rolex, it’s assumed that it was part of the effort to grow sales in the US market and Americans use feet as a distance measurement rather than metric-based meters. Regardless of the reasoning, these changes that happened five decades ago are still with us today, and now present a wonderful assortment of collectible vintage Rolex watches that enthusiasts go crazy for!

200m to feet Rolex Submariner 5512 meters first
This vintage Submariner ref. 5512 has a 4-line gilt dial. Note the “meters first” signature on it.
Paul Altieri