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The History of the Rolex Submariner

With a history that goes back over 60 years, the Rolex Submariner is among the most popular luxury watches of all-time. The timepiece is a staple in the Rolex family and the darling of its sports watches. Among collectors, the Submariner has achieved iconic status. Perhaps it has something to do with the illustrious names attached to it: Jacques Cousteau, James Bond, Sean Connery and the British Royal Navy. Beyond the marketing hype, however, the Rolex Submariner is the ultimate marriage of performance and style.

Rolex Submariner, Early Ocean Conquest

The Rolex Submariner can trace its history back to the early 1950s when a member of Rolex’s board of directors, Rene P. Jeanneret challenged the brand to develop an innovative sports watch specifically for scuba divers. Jeanneret maintained that this diving watch should also be elegant enough to wear on a day-to-day basis. Hans Wilsdorf and his team then set out to create a timepiece with a heightened level of water resistance in mind. Wilsdorf also insisted upon self-winding movement and the screw-down crown. Rolex Submariner

In 1953, the team was finally ready to meet the challenge set by Jeanneret. The company’s team of engineers put together a timepiece working closely with oceanographers Auguste and Jacques Piccard. The father-son duo was set to take their “bathyscaphe” to a world record depth. How deep? Try 10,275 feet below the ocean’s surface. The two sides worked together to test the early experimental models of what would eventually become the Submariner. As the deep-sea submersible came back up to the surface, the timepiece was still working perfectly and shining brightly.

Rolex Submariner, A New Standard

The following year, Rolex introduced the Submariner model 6204 at the 1954 Basel Watch Fair.

Two models were introduced, Reference 6204 and 6205. Both were water-resistant and could withstand depths of up to 100 meters. This was a feat no diving watch could even hope of achieving in the 1950s.

Rolex Submariner

One year later, the Reference 6200 was released, which is widely considered the holy grail of the Submariner. This version was water-resistant to 200 meters and included an “explorer-style” “3-6-9” dial. None of these first three models featured the word ‘Submariner’ on the dial yet. The clean aesthetic as well as the proprietary caliber movement built in-house served as notable selling points for Jeanneret. Rolex released this new gentleman’s dive watch to the public in 1955.

Rolex Submariner Popular Amongst Everyone

First and foremost, the Rolex Submariner was the ideal diving companion among professionals and amateurs. Beyond the sturdy construction, the new Submariner appealed to divers and oceanographers. Maybe mainly for its handful of utilities and tools developed specifically for them. The rotating bezel kept track of air time when divers were submerged. The handy flip lock clasp (now known as “triplock”) solved limitations pertaining to wet suits and neoprene gloves for convenient handling.

Rolex Submariner

In 1956, Jacques Cousteau released a documentary film about the Mediterranean Sea entitled The Silent World, which eventually won an Academy Award. 

For the rest of the decade, Rolex steadily released updates to the Submariner. Most notably, the introduction of the chronometer-certified Rolex caliber 1030 was an important update for the 6538 and 6536 that improved the internal mechanisms. The 6538 is specifically what James Bond wears. The Rolex Submariner didn’t have mass appeal until the 1960s when it showed up on the wrist of Sean Connery in several James Bond 007 films. The watch sparkled especially in some of the most iconic underwater scenes of one of pop culture’s most legendary characters.

The Quest For Perfection with Rolex Submariner

The baseline design and mechanics remained relatively untouched. But there were sporadic innovations that continued to flow in the years to come. A cyclops magnifying glass was added in 1966 to augment the underwater legibility. By this time, the Submariner had already become an icon. This marked the introduction of precious metals to the collection. A helium escape valve, 31 jewel movement and Super-LumiNova hour markers all added a new dimension in Rolex’s quest for perfection.

Rolex Submariner

The continued technical improvements over the decades have made the Submariner one of the most iconic watches of all-time. As far as the design is concerned, Rolex has only made minor changes to the timepiece. The lasting legacy of the Submariner is loud and clear. It’s a watch that’s durable enough to withstand an underwater stealth mission. Yet it’s elegant enough to fit right in at any black-tie affair.

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