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Today we’ll be talking about the Rolex Submariner, a watch that needs no introduction. We will be going into a brief history of the Submarines without a date, and letting you know what our favorite version of this legendary Rolex Sports Model is. In the interest of brevity, we will start with the reference 5512 as it marks the next wave of Submariners, following the very hard to find references that preceded it. The 5512 and the submariners that follow (other than the 5514/17) are still accessible to the masses, whilst the previous references are very hard and expensive to procure.
Rolex 5512: 1959–1978
A 5512 with special crown guards courtesy of Phillips-
The 5512 marked a significant departure in the appearance of the popular Rolex design. Crown guards, or "Shoulders" were added to the crown side of the case to protect the crown from collision. In the early watches these shoulders were pyramid-shaped and ended in points. Later watches were manufactured with rounded shoulders.
The first few ref. 5512 models that came out did not bear the chronometer (Superlative Chronometer Officially Certified) writing on the dial, and actually were not chronometers at all. Later on, the ref.5512 Submariners were equipped with a chronometer certified caliber 1560 and 1570 movement, bearing the chronometer writing on the dial (so-called 4-line writing).
The 5512 ceased to exist in 1978, and the ref.5513 Submariner kept going on. This watch had a long production run, so there’s a good amount on the second-hand market. Be aware that slight differences in the dial can create huge differences in price. If you know what you’re doing this can translate into the good deals.
Rolex 5513: 1962-1990
The 5513 was first introduced in the early 60s and it had a long 27-year run. Most of the changes during it’s near 30 year run had to do with the dial. The bezel and bracelet also went through some changes as well.
We could write a whole article around the different dial variations of the 5513. For brevity the 3 main dial variations are gilt, matte and glossy. Comparing the 5512 to the 5513, we can say the 5512 is much rarer, and benefits from the chronometer certification versions which the 5513 never got. This however creates 4 lines of text, instead of the 2 on the 5513. The 5513 has a much cleaner aesthetic which many collectors prefer.
Rolex 5514/5517: 1972-1978
A 5514 - Original photo courtesy of Phillips-
The Rolex 5514 is also known as the “COMEX” submariner as it was made for the Compagnie Maritime d’Expertise, a professional oil diving company. These submariners had a special gas escapement valve. Less than 200 of these were made so these are super rare and fetch very high prices at auction.
The Rolex 5517 also known as the “MILSUB” was made in limited numbers for the Ministry of Defense. The MILSUB had certain features that would differentiate the civilian and military Subs: fixed spring bars, a larger bezel, and a bezel material of German silver which would typically dent upon impact, versus cracking or breaking. The MilSub is one of the priciest vintage Rolex watches, as it had very low production numbers (1,200 estimated) and serious historical value.
Rolex 14060/M: 1990-2012
The ref. 14060, can be seen as the bridge between older and new subs, and is the last of the classic Submariners. The 14060 is a no-date. The introduction of a date feature on the ref. 1680 was controversial, not so much for the addition of a itself (this had been done in the SeaDweller for a while) but for the inclusion of Rolex’s Cyclops lens over the date. Many argue (including myself) that the cyclops ruins the symmetry of the dial.
The case is the last case before the introduction of the Maxi case. It has the slender profile that will fit almost any wrist. It’s also the last model to have lug holes, which is very desirable for easy strap changes. The 14060 also left behind the acrylic crystal for a sapphire.
The ref. 14060 is the first no-date Sub to have both a sapphire crystal a Triplock crown, and a waterproof rating of 300m (up from the ref. 5513’s 200m). The Cal. 1520 was replaced with the Cal. 3000 a more modern movement than its predecessor.
It seems the 14060 is able to walk the thin line that separates modern and vintage well. Prices also remain very attractive compared to other models.
Rolex 114060: 2012-2020
In 2012 the No -Date Submariner line took a huge leap, with the introduction of the 114060. The 114060 acquired many of the modern Rolex innovations we take for granted, including the "Maxi Case" with "Chromalight" hour markers, ceramic bezel, blue Parachrom hairspring and bracelet with "Glidelock" extension system. The 114060 marks the beginning of the “Modern” no-date submariner.
To be clear the Rolex maxi case was first introduced in 2005 with the release of the new generation GMT-Master II. The first watch to feature the new maxi case was the GMT-Master II reference 116718. The maxi case was then carried into the submariner (with date). It wasn’t until 2012 that the Submariner without date received the maxi case.
The Maxi case measures the same 40mm in diameter as its predecessor, but wears completely different on the wrist. With beefier lugs, a wider bezel, and thicker profile, the Maxi case watches wear much larger. As stated Chromalight blue lume replaced green Superluminova. According to Rolex the blue lume is much more visible at greater depths. The Glidelock clasp introduced the ability to make micro-adjustments to the bracelet on the fly.
Rolex 124060: 2021
In 2021, the Submariner line got a number of subtle upgrades, including an improved case profile, slimmer lugs, a better bracelet and a new In-House Movement. The case is now 41mm instead of 40mm
So what's our favorite reference? Well it's a tie. We love the 14060 as it straddles modern and vintage almost perfectly. The case fits well on almost any wrist. We are forever fans of matte dials, and so the 5513 would also fit the bill as it is a very accessible vintage Rolex offering. Ones with really nice crystals and creamy patina have this timeless look that will forever be popular.
So there you have it, that covers the most popular no-date submariners from the 5512 onwards. We have a feeling you'll be happy with whichever you choose, especially with pre-owned prices on Rolex references continuing to climb.