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Rolex Submariner: A Timeline & History Of The Legendary Dive Watch

submariner timeline

This post is a guest contribution from Niamh Jordan, founder of whichwatchnext.com

The Rolex Submariner is arguably the most iconic and recognizable dive watch in history. It has been the go-to watch for divers since 1953. 

In this blog post, we’ll explore the timeline of the Rolex Submariner. Looking at all the main events in the almost 70 years that the Submariner has been around.

Table Contents

Rolex Submariner Timeline

Here is a breakdown of the main events of the Rolex Submariner dive watch collection. From the very beginning.

YearRolex Submariner Event
1953First Rolex Submariner was created.
1954The Submariner was showcased at the Basel Fair.
1959Crown guards were added and case size increased to 40mm.
1963Submariner was in the first James Bond movie.
1967The Submariner Date was released.
1979Rolex started using sapphire crystal in their Submariner collection.
1984First two tone steel and gold Submariner was released.
1987First Submariner made from 904L was released.
200350th anniversary of Rolex, celebrated with the release of the first green Submariner.
2008First Submariner was released that had a ceramic bezel.
2020Submariner case sizes increased to 41mm

1953: First Rolex Submariner

Rolex Submariner Advert 1955 (Which Watch Next)

In 1953, Rolex released their first Submariner dive watch. This dive watch was pretty simple, and didn’t have many of the features we see on a modern Submariner today.

Sadly, Rolex did not make the world’s first dive watch. That instead was made by another Swiss watchmaker; Blancpain. Who released their Fifty Fathoms dive watch in 1953.

However, the Rolex Submariner was the first commercially made dive watch ever released. 

Yet, to this day though, there is still confusion on which Submariner reference was the first one released. It was either the reference 6204 or 6205.

The Rolex Submariner was showcased to the world at the Basel Fair (now known as Baselworld) in 1954.

1959: Crown Guards

When you look back at the earlier models of the Rolex Submariner, you’ll notice that there are no crown guards on any of them.

Crown guards weren’t added on the Submariner until 1959. Also in 1959, Rolex went up in case size, from a 37mm to a 40mm case.

The Rolex Submariner Ref. 5512, was the Submariner reference that had many variations of crown guards.

First, Rolex fitted this Submariner with square crown guards, then eagle beak crown guards. Then they changed them to pointed crown guards.

Rounded Crown Guards on a Sub Ref. 124060

Finally Rolex used rounded crown guards on their Submariner 5512, in 1963. 

The rounded style of crown guard has stuck. With rounded crown guards now featured on the majority of modern Submariners today.

1963: James Bond Wears A Submariner

The Rolex Submariner got its big movie break when Sean Connery wore a Submariner Ref. 6538 in the first James Bond movie; Dr. No, in 1962.

james bond submariner

Dr. No (left) James Bond Submariner (centre) Goldfinger (right)

Sean Connery then went on to wear the same Submariner in another three James Bond movies; From Russia with Love (1963), Goldfinger (1964), and Thunderball (1965).

The Rolex he wore was even nicknamed the James Bond, due to its appearance in so many Bond movies.

The Submariner is in over seven James Bond movies, from 1962 till 1989. With the Rolex Sub being worn by four of the James Bond actors so far.

That includes Sean Connery, George Lazenby, Roger Moore, and Timothy Dalton.

1967: Submariner Date

In 1967, a date complication was added to a new version of the Rolex Submariner. With the release of the Submariner Date.

This made many Rolex purists get up in arms, believing that the date window would ruin the look of the dial. They wanted to keep the aesthetic the same. They didn’t want to over complicate the dial.

However, nowadays the Rolex Submariner Date is a huge part of the Submariner line.

1979: Sapphire Crystal

The first Rolex Submariner to feature a sapphire crystal was the Submariner Date Ref. 16800.

Compared to acrylic crystal, the new sapphire crystal was much more scratch resistant, and is also very strong.

Sapphire crystal is now standard on all modern Submariners.

1984: Two Tone Submariner

Bluesy Submariner Ref.126613LB (Rolex)

Rolex has its own term for a two tone, gold and steel watch. They call it a Rolesor.

The very first Submariner Rolesor was the Ref. 16803, which was first released in 1984.

Since the 80s, this Submariner has been nicknamed the Bluesy. Due to its blue dial and blue bezel. 

There also is a black dial and black bezel version too.

The Bluesy’s two tone is steel and yellow gold. The Bluesy is still in production today. Rolex released an updated version of this Rolesor dive watch in 2020.

1987: 904L Steel Submariners

From 1988, Rolex started making their new Rolex Submariners out of 904L steel.

Rolex was one of the first watchmakers to do this. The very first Submariner made from this steel was the Submariner Ref. 168000. This Submariner is very rare, as it was only in production for around 7 months.

Today Rolex makes all their Submariners from 904L steel, and since 2018 Rolex started naming this steel, as Oystersteel.

2003: The Kermit

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Rolex Submariner. Rolex released their first green Submariner, with the reference 16610LV.

The LV at the end of the reference stands for Lunette Verte. Which is French for Green Bezel.

This watch was nicknamed the Kermit by Rolex fans. 

The Kermit (left), The Hulk (right)

This Submariner was considered controversial at the time. With Rolex fans either loving or hating the new green dive watch. 

However, a greener and even more controversial watch was later released and replaced the Kermit. It was called the Hulk. It not only had a bright green bezel but had a bright green sunburst dial too. 

Then in 2020, the Hulk was replaced with the Kermit II. A newer version of the original Kermit. With a green bezel, and also back with sporting the matte black dial. Rolex went back to a more classic aesthetic.

2008: Ceramic Bezels

rolex submariner ceramic bezels
Ceramic Blue Bezel Insert from the Smurf Submariner

Rolex released their very popular Submariner Ref. 116619, which featured a ceramic bezel insert for the first time on a Rolex Submariner.

This blue Submariner was nicknamed the Smurf, to the dismay of some Rolex fans.

Ceramic is shinier and more durable than aluminium bezels. Ceramic fades less, it’s resistant to UV rays, and it’s more scratch resistant. 

2020: Modern Submariners

Today, the Rolex Submariner is more popular than ever. It truly has stood the test of time.

They’re more powerful than ever, with the latest Submariners equipped with the Caliber 3230 and the Caliber 3235 (with the date complication).

These Rolex in-house automatic movements are COSC certified and have a power reserve of up to 70 hours!

Plus all the modern Subs have a Cerachrom ceramic bezel insert, a water resistance of up 300m (1,000ft), and are made from Oystersteel. Also the case size was upped to 41mm in 2020.

Today the Submariners are still one of the best dive watches around, and have really set the way in which a dive watch should look like. A true iconic timepiece from Rolex.

Every Rolex Submariner Model To Date

Here is an entire list of all the Rolex Submariner models with their references and approximate year of production.

Rolex Submariner ReferenceYears of ProductionExtra Info.
62041953 – 54First Submariner(maybe)
62001954 – 55
62051953 – 57First Submariner(maybe)
65361955 – 59
6536/11955 – 59
65381955 – 59James Bond Submariner
55101958 – 59
55081958 – 62
55121959 – 78
55131962 – 90
55141972 – 78
55171972 – 78
16801967 – 79
168001979 – 88
168031983 – 88Bluesy Submariner
1680001987 – 88First 904L Submariner
166181988 – 2001
166101987 – 2010
140601990 – 2012
14060M1998 – 2012
16610LV2003 – 10The Kermit
116619LB2008 – 20The Smurf
116610LV2010 – 20The Hulk
116613LB2010 – 20
116613LN2010 – 20
116618LB2010 – 20
116618LN2010 – 20
1140602012 – 20
1240602020 – Present
126610LV2020 – PresentThe Kermit II
126613LB2020 – Present
126629LB2020 – Present