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International Watch Magazine

The ‘non-date’ Submariner

Though Rolex chronographs (Daytona’s included) are generally accepted as the most sought after prize in any collector’s cabinet, there is a credible contender emerging for the crown of ultimate collectability. This Barrera to the chronograph Naseem is the Submariner diving watch.

With the invention of the Aqua lung scuba apparatus by E Gagnan and J. Cousteau, the world of underwater exploration suddenly became far more accessible. Rolex, yet again, was just that bit quicker than their competitors to see the potential market for diving watches created by this de development.

In the mid 1950’s Rolex introduced the Submariner reference 6200, 6204 and 6205. Although no one is a hundred percent sure which exact reference was released first, the general consensus seems to favour the 6204. They all used a bubble back, cal.A295 movements measuring 9 3/4 lignes except for the big crowned ref: 6200 with its ‘Explorer’ dial, which has a 10 1/2 lignes cal.A.296 movement.

Submariners which lack the protective shoulders for the winding crown (i.e. pre-1961) are collectively known as ‘James Bond’ Submariners. In truth, this is incorrect, as the phrase should only pertain to the references 5510, 6536 and 6538 which later featured in the films; Dr No and Goldfinger. Names aside, the serious collector should be more concerned with the dial - all ‘non-shouldered’ models should have lacquered dials with gilt index printing. Restored or even original matt replacement dials are unacceptable and can devalue pieces by up to 80%.

The previous cited references: 6536 and 6538 came out in 1956/57 with the new less bulbous ‘non-concealed’ movements cal: 1030. The dials now boasted the depth equivalents they were capable of withstanding, 100 metres for the 6536 and 200 metres for the 6538 thanks to its slightly chunkier body and large winding crown. At current prices this works out at about £35.00/m!

Rolex produced several other ‘James Bond’ Sub’s such as the refs: 5508 and 5510 until the early 60’s when Rolex made their biggest breakthrough - the ‘Trip Lock’ or protective shoulders for the previously vulnerable winding crown. The Submariner in the shape of ref: 5512/5513 was now invincible. The two references differed only in that the movement fitted in the 5512 was Chronometer rated. Interestingly the 5512 was produced for about seven years, whereas the 5513 with its cheaper movement remained in production for 26 years. A case of never mind the quality, feel the width?

References 5512/13 also had lacquered dials until approximately 1968 when these were replaced with matt versions. These are deemed less desirable by collectors, although the most collectable of all the 5513’s were only ever produced with matt dials - those with the famous insignia of COMEX emblazoned across the middle.

Comex (Compagnie Maritime E d’Expertise) were a diving company based in Marseilles that specialised in deep sea diving for the oil industry. With money no object, they were able to develop techniques such as the decompression chambers that enabled their divers to smash records for depth and endurance.

Rolex, alert as ever to the potential, struck a deal with Comex exchanging advertising rights for watches. One problem though, the watches had never been tested in the rigourous environment Comex divers worked in and, well, didn’t work! The divers quickly found that the helium trapped in the case during the dive caused balances to fail and, on occasion, the glasses to be blown off when the divers de-pressurized in the chambers - not a happy situation.

This problem led to yet another milestone for the Rolex Watch Co. Ltd. With the collaboration of COMEX, they developed the gas escape valve used today by companies such as Omega, Breitling and Officine Panerai.

These non-date COMEX Submariners references 5513/5514 should all have matt dials hence modern replacement dials, identifiable by the white gold frames around the numbers, are unacceptable to the collector, turning a £9,000 watch into a £4,500 watch. That’s if £4,500 can be deemed unacceptable!

Rolex’s domination of this sector grew again when they became involved in, some say unwittingly, a piece of celluloid that would firmly imbed the Submariner into the minds of every gadget-loving male.

In Live and Let Die, Roger Moore’s debut Bond used a ref: 5513 to free himself and Jane Seymour from an untimely end in the shark tank. His trusty Submariner was fitted with a buzz-saw bezel that was used to cut through the ropes. he also used it to, how can I put it, remove a garment from a certain Miss Caruso by using the watches ‘super intensified’ magnet to slide down her zip. And who said Rolex didn’t make complications!

The final change to the non-date Submariner came in 1988 resulting in the ref: 14060, which remains in production today. The watch now enjoys a sapphire crystal glass, unidirectional bezel and white gold markers on the dial. But poor old sub, still no chronometer movement.

Rolex have not advertised the Submariner individually since that time.

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