The Evolution of the Rolex Submariner Date
Ross Povey delves into the history of the Rolex Submariner Date, and educates us on its finer details.
The Rolex Submariner story begins in 1953 when the no-date sports watch began its legacy as one of the most important sports watches in history. In 1969 Rolex introduced the reference 1680 Submariner Date, which was about the most complicated a diver’s watch needs to be. As a Rolex fan I’ve often pondered the question as to why the date function was added. Was it because the brand wanted to cater more for the everyday guy who was wearing the watch or was it, as per the Seadweller, to enable divers who were on commercial dives and decompressing for days on end to keep a track of the days? Either way, the Submariner Date has been a companion to the no-date from 1969 until now. The 200 metre rated 1680 featured the calibre 1575 and the introduction of a new shaped crystal with straight edges and a date magnifier known as a cyclops. The early versions of the watch had the word ‘Submariner’ in red colour before the switch to white text. In 1979 the watch was revisited and updated to include a new unidirectional bezel and sapphire glass, which meant the watch was depth rated to a 50 percent deeper depth of 300 metres. The reference 16800 kept the matte dial with painted hour markers until 1984 when the dials became glossy with applied white gold markers with luminous filling.
The term transitional is often used when collectors make sense of the chronology of Rolex models. The Submariner date perfectly illustrates this with reference 168000. Produced for a matter of months in 1988 before the introduction of reference 16610. It’s virtually impossible to tell the difference between a gloss dial 16800 and 168000 as the only difference is the steel that was used. The 168000 used the new 904L steel, which replaced the traditionally used 316L steel. In 1989 the 16610 Submariner Date was introduced which was again virtually identical to the 168000 except for the movement which was calibre 3135, replacing the 3035 from the 16800. The 16610 had a 21-year run that included the 16610 LV watch in 2003, which was released to celebrate 50 years of the Submariner. The LV had new ‘maxi’ hour plots that were noticeably bigger than a regular 16610 and the watches had a green bezel insert which led to the collector nickname ‘Kermit’ (as in the frog). It’s worth noting that the Kermit is now one of the hottest watches on the modern-vintage market and so it's not surprising that in 2010 with the launch of the reference 116610 Submariner date, with so-called maxi case and ceramic insert, that two versions were available. A black dial with black bezel and also a watch with green dial and green bezel. The new green watch had a new nickname – ‘The Hulk’!
The first two-tone, or to use Rolex parlance Rolesor, Submariner Date was unveiled in 1984 in reference 16803. The watch co-existed alongside the 16800 in steel and 16808 in yellow gold and falls into the era of transitional sports Rolex benefitting from the afore-mentioned sapphire crystals and 300m depth rating. The watches were available with both blue and black dial/bezel combinations as well as an early version with so-called ‘nipple’ dials, where the hour markers resembled…well, nipples! In 1988 Rolex delivered the reference 16613, which was virtually identical to the 16803 but housed the new Calibre 3135 movement. These watches ran for almost 20 years and went through a number of changes to the luminous material used, bracelet construction and the use of lug holes. Then in 2009 the new case style was introduced, with much ‘fatter lugs’ and a ceramic bezel insert. Reference 116613 was still available in the blue or black uniform, but the dials had maxi hour markers and hands.
In 2020 the new era of the Submariner arrived for the Submariner Date. The Submariner for the first time since the late 1950s had a size increase from 40 to 41mm and the proportions of the bracelet were a little different too, with a slightly broader presence. The Submariner Date houses calibre 3235 and comes in four guises: steel with black dial and black bezel plus a version with black dial and green bezel. Rolesor (steel and gold) has a royal blue dial with blue bezel and white gold has a black dial with blue bezel. All the watches feature the new 41mm case and redesigned Oyster bracelet.