The Rolex Submariner is perhaps the most iconic luxury watch of all time. Its overall design has changed very little since its introduction in 1953, which is one of the main reasons behind its long-lasting success. That being said, aficionados know that the different Submariner generations vary in their finer details. One of the most discussed features is the evolution of the Submariner’s dial. In this article, we’ll be shining a light on some of our favorite dials in this timepiece’s long history.
For all their consistency, Rolex has actually released a wide range of Submariners. Over time, the crowns have varied in size and come with or without a crown guard. There have been gilt dials and versions with a date display as well as time-only models. The list goes on and on. Rolex fans often give different models and dials nicknames to make them easier to identify. This is made all the more relevant by the fact that the manufacturer rarely releases official production numbers, adding another layer of mystery to this storied company. Let’s explore a selection of the most interesting Submariner dials from this collection’s decades-long history.
The “Two-Liner Dial”
The two-liner dial gets its nickname from the number of lines of text on the lower half of its dial. At its debut in 1953, the Submariner ref. 6204 only featured a single line with the model name on its dial’s lower half. This was soon followed by the ref. 6536/1, which saw the addition of an upper line for the timepiece’s depth rating, “100/330.” Both the Rolex logo and “Oyster Perpetual” inscription have remained a part of every Submariner dial since the very first watch.
In 1956, Rolex introduced the so-called “big crown” ref. 6538, perhaps better known as the original “Bond Submariner.” Sean Connery wore a ref. 6538 as James Bond in 1962’s Dr. No, creating an instant icon. This model also happened to be the first Submariner to come with a four-liner dial (it was also available with a two-liner dial). The four-liner ref. 6538 had the following inscription: “200m = 660ft / Submariner / Officially Certified / Chronometer.” Rolex has continued to produce two and four-liner editions with varying text for changes in water resistance. They’ve also updated the lower two lines to read “Superlative Chronometer / Officially Certified.”
Nowadays, two-liner dial generally refers to two specific Submariner models: the ref. 14060 from 1990 to 2002 and its replacement, the ref. 14060M. The ref. 14060M premiered in 2002 and exclusively had two lines up until 2007, when Rolex added two more lines reading “Superlative Chronometer / Officially Certified” once the watch had passed their strenuous chronometer testing. Rolex ceased production of this model in 2012. The reason the refs. 14060 and 14060M are so popular is their close resemblance to classic Submariner models from the 1960s. This is why many consider these two watches the last of the classic Submariners.
The “Double-Name Dial” or “Tiffany Dial”
The Tiffany dial is not specific to one Rolex model. In the late 1950s, Rolex and renowned New York jeweler, Tiffany & Co., teamed up to sell dual-branded watches. It was an obvious partnership, considering that both brands are among the biggest names in luxury goods. Tiffany & Co. started stamping their name on the dials of all Rolex watches sold in their Fifth Avenue location, so this dial is not exclusive to the Submariner.
In the case of the dual-branded Submariner, “Tiffany & Co.” was added above the model name. The result was a dial with five lines of text above 6 o’clock. Rolex and Tiffany & Co. stopped working together around 1990. Since then, the demand for Submariners with a Tiffany dial has been on the rise.
The “Tropical Dial’
So-called “tropical” dials also appear on multiple Rolex models. These dials actually get their nicknames as a result of a production error. A minor chemical imperfection causes these dials to change color after extensive exposure to sunlight.
Tropical Submariner dials have faded beautifully from black to brown. Each is entirely unique and irreplaceable. However, it can be tricky to find original tropical dials, as some watch sellers deliberately create fake versions. That just makes finding a legitimate tropical dial Submariner all the more special!
The “Maxi Dial”
The term “maxi dial” actually refers to a series of dials used in the Submariner ref. 5513. In fact, there are five different maxi dials, from the Mk1 to the Mk5. The maxi dial series ran from 1976 to 1984. Before we look at what sets these dials apart, let’s look at what they have in common.
Each maxi dial has large hour indices for increased readability, especially under water. This is especially practical since the Submariner is a diving watch. Another shared feature is an altered version of the iconic Rolex crown, which is narrow at the bottom and wider at the top. While it may sometimes be difficult to tell, each maxi dial also has open 6’s in its depth rating.
Now to the differences: The Mk1 has its depth rating above the “Submariner” model name. This is flipped on all later maxi dials. Other variations include the use of serif or non-serif fonts and the placement and width of the “Submariner” inscription. All in all, the various maxi dials are more similar than they are different. It’s all about the details!
The “Red Sub”
One of the most iconic Submariner dials is known as the “red sub.” This timepiece, the ref. 1680, was the first Submariner to have a date display at 3 o’clock. A Cyclops lens sits above the date, magnifying the numbers and making them easier to read. Whether or not you need a date display underwater is a matter of debate and why Submariner purists prefer no-date models. Today, however, the Submariner Date is more popular than its no-date counterpart.
While many modern Submariners have a magnified date display, the ref. 1680 sets itself apart from other Submariner models with a splash of color. Rolex decided to print the dial’s “Submariner” inscription in red, creating a beautiful contrast with the black background and white text below. This model was likely produced from 1969 to 1973. As is so often the case with Rolex, these dates are just an educated guess. Some say production started as early as 1966, while others claim the red sub was manufactured until 1975. Whatever the truth may be, there’s no doubt about this model’s important role in the history of the Submariner.
As stated before, this is far from an exhaustive list of the different Submariner dials. We encourage you to go discover other editions on your own. Perhaps you’ll find a new favorite! However, just know that vintage Rolexes don’t come cheap. You are buying into one of the most important legacies in watchmaking history, after all!
The History of an Icon – The Rolex Submariner
Understanding the Rolex Submariner in 60 seconds