Launched in 1953, the Rolex Submariner is the first divers’ wristwatch to be waterproof to a depth of 100 metres (330 feet) – now 300 metres (1,000 feet).
The Rolex Submariner is perhaps the most instantly recognisable timepiece on the planet – and one of the most coveted, too. The embodiment of timeless elegance and luxury, it’s an example of precision engineering and unmatched craftsmanship, it has served as the inspiration for many of the high-end watch models on the market today, yet to date, none have ever managed to rival it.
After all, such iconic designs are difficult to emulate, let alone exceed, and with its breath-taking aesthetic, robust case and distinctive bezel, the Rolex Submariner is something quite special indeed. Nearly 70 years on from its initial launch, has become a timeless status symbol that many aspire to own, and thanks to its waterproof capabilities, it’s as much as a watch for the diver and the explorer as it is the wealthy businessman.
But there have been many editions of this classic timepiece over the years, each bringing with it its own unique appeal whilst staying true to the roots of its original design – so which, exactly, is the best Rolex Submariner model of all time? If you have £10,000 in the bank, do you go for a new No Date or a used Bluesy? Here, we take a closer look.
Ref. 124060 (‘No Date Sub’)
The ref. 124060 is known as the ‘basic’ Submariner, or as many enthusiasts call it, the only pure Sub’. With the omission of the date aperture, the ref. 124060 is the closest model we’ve seen to the original Submariner, which was launched all the way back in the 50s. Boasting Rolex’s latest generation 41mm case, the new Submariner wears slightly larger than its predecessor, but retains the same 300m water depth rating as well as the black unidirectional “Cerachrom” bezel.
The ref. 124060 was introduced in 2020 along with various other new Submariner models and featured several updates from the ref. 114060 – amongst others including a slightly wider bezel and smaller crown guards.
The ref. 126610LN (lunette noir for black bezel) is another timeless and classic Sub’, and one that is favoured by true fans of the Submariner design. Beating within the new 41mm Oystersteel case is the 3235 Rolex manufactured caliber, COSC-certified and equipped with a 70-hour power reserve. It features the same black uni-directional “Cerachrom” bezel as the aforementioned ref. 124060.
The 126610LN was also introduced in 2020 (a busy year for the ‘ol Sub’) and features the same updates we see with the ref. 124060.
Ref. 126610LV (The Starbucks)
The ref. 126610LV (lunette verte for green bezel) is the last full steel modern Sub’ in the catalog. Nicknamed the Starbucks by fans, it replaced the love-or-hate Hulk, which was discontinued back in 2020. The Starbucks features a green uni-directional “Cerachrom” bezel matched with a black dial, creating an aesthetic that’s quite intriguing and reminiscent of the ref. 16610LV Kermit.
Many refer to the Starbucks as the Shermit (which is for ceramic Kermit). It’s a model that is beloved by many, as it introduces some colour to an all-steel Submariner, making it a great choice if you’re looking for a Sub with a little extra character.
Ref. 126613LB (The Bluesy)
The ref. 126613LB (lunette bleu for blue bezel) is a fan favourite and is nicknamed the Bluesy due to its blue bezel and dial. This two-tone model is crafted in steel and luxurious yellow gold, with the crown, bezel, hands, and bracelet centre links all finished in gold. Like all modern Submariners, the movement in charge of timekeeping is the 3235 caliber, which is trusted, reliable, and robust.
The Bluesy has been one of the most desirable Submariners for many years, and even some of the older models (ref. 116613LB) can still go for a pretty penny online, making it a great investment piece for the future as well as looking great on your wrist.
The next two-tone option in the Submariner lineup is the ref. 126613LN, which features the same black uni-directional “Cerachrom” bezel we’ve seen on earlier models. Like the Bluesy, this reference has the crown, bezel, hands, and centre bracelet links crafted in yellow gold, and it’s perhaps the classiest option that features gold in its construction.
From two-tone to full-on gold, next up, we have the ref. 126618LN which is fully constructed in 18K yellow gold matched with that black “Cerachrom” bezel. A striking yet luxurious configuration that remains a crowd favourite, it’s not one we see too often, as most opt for the ref. 126618LB.
This reference was also introduced at the 2020 onslaught of new Submariners and is very reminiscent of the ref. 1680 which was introduced in the late 60s.
The last full (yellow) gold option in the catalogue is perhaps also one of the most striking Submariner models in the whole Rolex range. The ref. 126618LB features a full 18K yellow gold case and Oyster bracelet, matched with the lovely blue “Cerachrom” bezel and dial. This is also, unfortunately, another lesser-spotted model and some might say, an acquired taste; for many, models in gold are considered a little too ostentatious, with many preferring more understated timepieces.
This model is also reminiscent of the ref. 1680 introduced in the late 60s, although back then, there wasn’t a nomenclature difference between Rolex’s blue and black models.
Ref. 126619LB (The Cookie Monster)
The Sub’ with the most whimsical name of them all is the Cookie Monster, named after the Sesame Street character and in reference to an interesting combination of a blue “Cerachrom” bezel and a black bezel. This particular model is constructed in full 18K white gold, making it one of the most subtly opulent of all.
As you may know, there are a few different Rolex models that are not listed in the catalogue, commonly known as off-catalogue timepieces and reserved only for a select and lucky few. These are usually factory-set with precious stones and just look the business. Here are a few model examples.
The ref. 116659SABR is an extremely special model, and one we rarely see. As you might recognize from the ‘9’ at the end of the reference number, this model is crafted from 18K white gold and features the 40mm case of the previous Submariner model. Elevating this model is the rotating bezel set with blue sapphires and diamonds, while the lugs and crown guards are also set with diamonds. Despite its opulence, the watch retains its impressive 300m water resistance rating.
Don’t like the blue dial option? Not enough bling for you? Well, there is another option. What about a pave-set dial option? This example elevates the Submariner to a level of prestige previously unseen.
Ref. 16613 Serti
Within the Rolex community, the Serti name refers to a dial that’s been ‘set’ with diamonds. These are not often found within the catalogue these days – within the sports models, at least) – but as you can see from the five-number reference, they were common with the previous Submariner models.
Most famous vintage models
Although there are plenty of new models of the classic Submariner to choose from, many watch collectors prefer vintage models, some of which sell at eye-watering prices that only increase with age. Here are some top options to consider if you’re on the hunt for one:
Ref. 6204 (The OG)
The original and first ‘true’ Submariner, the ref. 6204, was produced in 1953 and features a classically sized 37mm steel case with a minute 5.3mm case. Still, it featured a respectable 100m depth rating and remains one of the most loved and desirable options to date.
Ref. 6538 (The Big Crown)
The Big Crown Sub’ is famous for numerous reasons, the first of which being its crown. As the name suggests, the crown is larger compared to earlier models, which makes it unique. But one of the biggest reasons it has become so highly sought-after is the fact that it featured on the wrist of actor Sean Connery when he portrayed the role of superspy James Bond in the blockbuster film, Dr. No.
Even before the second-hand explosion we saw in 2020, the Big Crown sold for nearly $500,000 at an auction in Christie’s New York.
The COMEX Sub’ is famous for its association with military and deep-diving research teams like COMEX (Compagnie Maritime d’Expertises), a groundbreaking French diving team, in the 60s and 70s. What’s more, the ref. 5514 featured a helium escape valve, and it was the only Submariner to ever feature this technology.
The ref. 5514 was never sold to the public but was based on the ref. 5513, which was. The ref. 5514 features a large “COMEX” scripture on the dial, making it rather easy to spot – and even today, the COMEX remains one of the most sought-after Submariners ever.
Which one should I buy?
The question on everyone’s lips is, ‘which one should I buy?’
It’s fair to say that the majority of enthusiasts will end up buying a Submariner thanks to its iconic status and unrivalled design, and with such a wide range of models available, it can be difficult to know which one to choose.
For fans of vintage charm, there are some great pre-owned models on the market, and if money is no object then you can get your hands on a truly unique model that is guaranteed to stand the test of time – not to mention, appreciate in price.
Having said that, all Rolex watches are known for holding their value remarkably well, so look for one that suits your tastes and budget and you can’t go wrong.