A Battle of the Decades: The Iconic Submariner of the 1960s versus the Legendary Submariner of the 1950s

HM Jewelers
August 30, 2023
min read

demonstrating that Rolex gets it right from the start.

The fact that the present collection proudly carries the unmistakable history of its premiere model from more than 60 years ago is evidence of the workmanship of Rolex's enduring charm. However, a fascinating tale of ingenuity and pioneering spirit is hidden under the recognisable façade. Despite the fact that Rolex watches have a strong sense of tradition, the company has always been a leader in technological innovation and ground-breaking mechanics. Their extensive list of innovations and patent successes is proof of their commitment to improvement.

However, the road to invention is a long and painstaking one, made up of slow, gradual stages. As a result, some models may seem to be essentially unchanged from one decade to the next, but below, the constant quest for perfection persists.

Our new blog series delves into this fascinating story to reveal the subtle transformations that take place inside particular Rolex clocks. And where better to start this investigation than with the most recognizable and sought-after of them all: the renowned Rolex Submariner.

The mysterious 1950s submariner battles the swinging 1960s submariner in an epic showdown of eras!

submariner showdown

Rolex emerged as a true visionary in the glittering horological scene of the 1950s. This period gave rise to several astonishing inventions, including the beloved dive watch, the Explorer, the GMT-Master, the Day-Date, the Turn-O-Graph, and the Milgauss.

Each watch, with its unique personality and function, contributed to establishing Rolex as a pioneer in the field of horology, a reputation that had already begun to take shape since the release of the Datejust in the middle of the 1940s.

However, the Submariner stood out among this galaxy of brilliance and left an enduring imprint on the horological sky. The Submariner played a significant role in propelling the Rolex name to unrivalled popularity, far more so than its competitors.

Here it is: the pioneer, the first timepiece with the enviable waterproof rating of 100 metres. This watch broke all rules, gliding flawlessly from the boardroom to the ocean's depths. It was the perfect blend of tough resilience and impeccable legibility.

Rolex Starbucks vs Rolex Hulk

This miracle was an unquestionable instantaneous success. Its early years, however, were rife with difficulties and changes, just like those of any bold debutante of the 1950s.

The Submariner travelled through an amazing nine different references between its spectacular debut in 1953 and the conclusion of the decade. In quest of horological perfection, some people walked side by side with their matched counterparts.

As we evaluate the history of Submariner references, a fascinating story emerges, each bearing witness to Rolex's unrelenting quest for excellence:

  1. Reference 6204 (1953): The ground-breaking initial model that started a tradition of excellence.
  2. Refer to 6205 (1954) for a watch with a more assertive posture, thicker case, and regally larger crown.
  3. Ref. 6200 (1955–1956): A bold "Big Crown" submarine with a 200-meter water resistance.
  4. Ref. 6536 (1955–1959): The Cal. 1030 movement elevates a slimmer profile and a smaller crown.
  5. Reference 6536/1 (1957–1960): The revered 6536's younger sibling, now with a chronometer-rated movement.
  6. Ref. 6538 (1956–1959): The prized "Bond Sub," worn by Sean Connery in Dr. No, is a chronometer-rated Big Crown timepiece that epitomises elegance and accuracy.
  7. Reference 5510 (1958): Corresponding to Reference 6538, now strengthened by the Cal. 1530 movement.
  8. A modified version of the ref. 6536 with a smaller crown and the honour of being called a "Superlative Chronometer," the ref. 5508 was produced from 1958 to 1962.
  9. Ref. 5512 (1959–1980): The pinnacle of all that came before, embodying excellence with a dash of originality, and laying the groundwork for a storied lineage that continues to this day.

The '50s Submariner Against the '60s Submariner: Untangling the Evolution of the Date Display

Date Display

The Submariner underwent a significant alteration that sparked discussions among watch enthusiasts in the murky timeline. The mysterious ref. 1680 introduced a ground-breaking feature—the date display—starting a contentious transformation from a purely functional watch to a sought-after prestige symbol for businesses.

The necessity of a calendar function for brave scuba divers was questioned by critics, who discounted its applicability at the depths of risky underwater missions. Unfazed, Rolex carried on, introducing the Sea-Dweller with a date feature and expertly catering to the most daring divers.

The Submariner series split into two distinct realms with the introduction of the ref. 1680: the no-date Submariner, which is made entirely of stainless steel, and the date version, which is available in a beguiling variety of precious metals and beguiling hues.

When the ref. 1680 adopted a golden appearance in 1969, detractors of their assertion that it was a sign of wealth strengthened their arguments. However, it had already attained an irreversible level of popularity, ensuring its unavoidable ascent to renown.

Beyond the controversy around the date display, the divisive Cyclops magnifying glass was revealed. Although it improved reading, it broke up the dial's almost flawless symmetry, which generated conflicting reactions. However, the copies with dates turned out to be much more successful than the original.

The ref. 1680 and its predecessor, the ref. 5512, have a lot in common underneath the surface. Unaffected by a successful formula, Rolex kept the same case design and 200-meter water resistance. Nearly ten years after the Sea-Dweller's first release, the ref. 168000 introduced the Triplock crown innovation, bringing the Submariner's water resistance to its present 300 metres.

Early examples of the ref. 1680 were gifted with an extraordinary splash of colour, the word "Submariner" taking on a startling red tinge, giving rise to the endearing moniker "Single Red Subs" among collectors. However, the ref. 1680 underwent various changes over the course of its historic journey, much like a work of art that is constantly growing; this is a tale that can be explored another day.


The Rolex Submariner, the pinnacle of sporting timepieces, may appear to be unaltered, but it is always evolving underneath the surface. Similar to a professional athlete honing every millisecond, Rolex is driven by an unrelenting pursuit of perfection that keeps them at the pinnacle of their profession. The Submariner is a symbol of excellence that has stood the test of time and personifies this unyielding attitude.

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