100% Certified Authentic

Vintage Rolex Submariner Buying Guide

Vintage Rolex Submariner Guide

Since its creation in 1953 and introduction to the world in Basel in 1954, the Reference 6204 Submariner has become one of the most popular vintage Rolex watches in the brands history. More than 60 years later, the Submariner has stood the test of time and become one of the vintage Rolex collector's dream finds.

Features of the Rolex submariner

In the old days, Rolex watches were given as gifts and issued as part of required military equipment. Today, they have become iconic status symbols, and many executives spring for a new Rolex simply from an appearance standpoint. However, the old Rolex Submariner models has a different feel. It seems to take us back to the days when "men were men," as evidenced by its preferred status with divers as well as celebrities and businessmen.

Celebrity Status: The Submariner As Part of Movie History

famous rolex submariner wearers

Sean Connery was probably the person most responsible for catapulting the Rolex Submariner to fame when he wore a Reference 6538 and Caliber 1030 on a striped NATO strap in Dr. No, 1962's James Bond epic. Roger Moore continued the 007 tradition with his Reference 5513, Caliber 1530/1520 Submariner watch featuring a saw-blade bezel.

By the time Steve McQueen came along, the Rolex Submariner was well-entrenched in popular culture, but the young actor brought attention to the brand by wearing his "favorite" Reference 5512, Caliber 1530, 1560, 1570 Submariner nearly constantly. His watch was worn on a U.S.A.-made rivet style Rolex oyster bracelet. It featured a "feet first" dial and a bezel insert with the 12-o'clock marker turned to the six-o'clock position. This watch was auctioned in 2009 for $234,000.

There is also speculation that McQueen may have owned another Rolex Submariner. This one featured a Swiss-made oyster bracelet with wider center links than the American-made model. In 2011, a watch appeared for sale on Ebay whose owner claimed to have acquired it from Bud Ekins, the famous stunt man who worked with Steve McQueen on many movies. Allegedly, the watch was given to Ekins by McQueen and then passed along to the individual who offered it for sale. There is still some debate about whether this watch was truly owned by McQueen and given to Ekins, but the provenance is interesting nonetheless. The story is that McQueen "won" this Rolex in a deal with a motorcycle salesman when McQueen agreed to buy a motorcycle at list price if the man would throw in his watch. The salesman agreed, and McQueen passed the watch on to Ekins. It was so similar to McQueen's own watch that the stuntman wore it every time he stood in for McQueen and no one ever noticed the difference!

For the most part, McQueen was seen wearing his own Reference 5512 Submariner. This watch can be seen in The Towering Inferno (1974) and in countless photos of McQueen on other movie sets and while racing, which was a personal passion for him.

Meanwhile, other actors also wore Submariners in their films, such as George Hamilton with his Reference 5513 in Jack of Diamonds (1967); Robert Redford with a Reference 1680, Caliber 1570 in All the President's Men (1976); Lloyd Bridges with an 18-karat yellow gold Reference 1680 in Airplane! (1980); Robert DeNiro in Deer Hunter (1978); Sharon Stone, who wears a steel Reference 16610 in Sphere (1998); and Charles Bronson, who wears a non-date Submariner, either Reference 5512 or 5513, in The Mechanic (1972).

What Are The References and Calibers for All Rolex Submariners:

Here is a detailed list of Submariner references and their calibers that can be useful in identifying these watches:

Reference Year Caliber(s)
6204 1953-1954 A260
6200 1954-1955 A296
6205 1954-1955 A260
653A 1955-1959 1030
6536/1 1955-1959 1030
6536 1955-1959 1030
6538 1955-1959 1030
5510 1958-1959 1530
5508 1958-1962 1530
5512 1959-1978 1530, 1560, 1570
5513 1962-1989 1520,1530
1680 1967-1979 1570
1680/8 1969-1978 1570
16800 1979-1988 3035

If you are interested, we might also have some vintage Rolex Submariners in stock.

Browse for vintage Rolex Submariner's.

Notes on Special Submariners

  • The Reference 1680 Submariner was the first model to feature the date window at the 3-o'clock position.
  • The word "Submariner" was written in red from 1967-1973. However, it is not clear exactly when Rolex discontinued the red lettering because of photographs that show the red lettering on stainless steel watches through the 1970s. After 1974, all watches featured white lettering.
  • The Reference 1680 was produced from 1967 through 1979 and featured an acrylic crystal. It also featured a non-quickset date and a matte dial. It was the first Submariner to feature the flip-lock oyster bracelet. The Reference 5512 and Reference 5513 also featured these locks.
  • Stainless steel bracelets have been standard on the Rolex Submariner. In the 1950s the bracelets were Swiss made and featured a "Big Logo" with 20 mm end pieces. The "Big Logo" means that the Rolex logo on the clasp is larger than that of other rivet-style bracelets or straps. Today's watches feature the standard-sized logo and were produced in both Switzerland and the United States. The Swiss bracelet has the model number stamped on the wrist side on the link that is closest to the clasp, while the U.S.A.-made bracelets do not have this number. Both the United States and the Swiss made expandable stretching links on the oyster-style bracelet. The Swiss used model 6636 with 20 mm end pieces and wider center links for bracelets created in the 1950s and the 1960s. The U.S.A.-made bracelets have narrower center links and no model number on the underside of the bracelet. The Swiss bracelets are considered more valuable.
  • The 16800 "Transitional" Submariner, which appeared in 1979, bridged the gap between the 1570 Caliber Reference 1680 Submariner and the modern version. The new features on this watch included a sapphire crystal, quickset date, screw-link oyster flip-lock bracelet and higher beat Caliber 3035 movement. By 1983, the dial had transitioned to the white gold bordered markers and the gloss finish seen today. The date wheel was also phased out.
  • Finding a Reference 16800 with "crackled" or "spider" gloss dials due to wear have become a statement in the collector's world.
  • The Reference 1680 yellow gold Submariner with a black and blue dial appeared in 1969 and was manufactured through 1978. It features "nipple" style markers and the gold oyster bracelet reads "Patented."