24.05.2022 - Rolex

Rolex Submariner: Changes over time

The Submariner is often seen as the staple Rolex model. However, as a result of this, it is sometimes overlooked or considered bland. 

But there is a lot more to the former James Bond favourite than meets the eye, with slight variations and models making for quite the collection.

Over the past 20 years there have been more than 20 variations of the Submariner in various sizes, metals and colours. 

Changes over the years

The Rolex Submariner was originally created as – and still is – a diver’s watch but many of the fans of the model don’t actually use it for the sport and just love the iconic design and look.

And it’s a clear favourite and still being produced around after almost 60 years. Over the years the Submariner has been constantly improved and innovated with some major aesthetic changes.

It’s seen new movements, a new bezel function and vastly improved water resistance to name a few changes but it’s important to note there have been many reference numbers matching to models that vary slightly – or in some cases a lot – from the previous offerings.

Here we take a look at some of the noticeable changes over the years.

Dials and their text 

The earliest Submariners date back to 1953. Some of the earliest models were dated by the serial number and a stamp inside the caseback.

There are two main dial variations for the reference 6204: one with the words Oyster and Perpetual spread apart, one with Oyster Perpetual placed close together and one rare one that has the words Sub Aqua instead of Submariner.

The honeycomb dials are a good indication of earlier models as they are often matte and mottled.


Today’s Submariners can be spotted by their ‘Mercedes hands which have a round piece near the point of the hand. Earlier models just had plain pencil hands, while the seconds hand had a small lollipop at the tip.

The picture below (REF 6205) starts to look more like today’s Submariners with the distinctive new hands in place. One thing that is noticeable is the length of the hands with the minute hand reaching to the chapter ring in later models. 

Image from Hodinkee


The movement of the Submariner faced major evolution. In the early days vintage reference 1680 was equipped with self-winding calibre 1575 and an anti-shock device. In 1972, Rolex added a stop-second to the movement. But the 1680 needed hands to be turned to advance the date – a day at a time.

Today new-generation Submariner and Submariner Date models are equipped with calibre 3230 – released in 2020 – and calibre 3235, self-winding mechanical movements developed in-house by Rolex. 

Their architecture, manufacturing and innovative features make them precise and reliable. They are fitted with the exclusive blue Parachrom hairspring that is up to 10 times more precise than a traditional hairspring in case of shocks. Both movements have power reserves of an impressive 70 hours.

Coloured metal

Today, you can buy a Rolex Submariner in gold, white gold, two-tone (gold and steel), Oystersteel and stainless steel, but originally you could only buy one in stainless steel. This is because divers didn’t want to risk diving deep in 18k gold.

This is often a popular watch for any collector of this series because it has played a vital role in the history of dive watches and in the industry.

Modern technology

The Chromalight display is the brand’s recent innovation – a luminescent material for the dial, that improves visibility in dark environments, which is a vital feature for divers. 

Both Submariners and Submariner Dates now feature this. The hours and hour markers are coated and filled with a luminescent material that emits a blue glow in the dark.

Rolex Submariners in stock

Luxe Watches has a great range of new and pre-worn Rolex Submariners in stock at our new Epping boutique. 

If you need help to source a model you’ve seen, our buyers can help so contact us today to make an appointment.