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Rolex Submariner, an underwater hero
History & Masterpieces

Rolex Submariner, an underwater hero

Wednesday, 06 March 2019
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Marie de Pimodan-Bugnon
Freelance journalist

“One must be absolutely modern.”

Arthur Rimbaud

It takes passion, a healthy dose of curiosity and a sense of wonderment to convey the innumerable facets of watchmaking…

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5 min read
Rolex Submariner
Fabio Teta
Robustness, precision and reliability have earned the Sub its legendary status. It's a watch I love as much for its history as for its sporting style. When it comes to dive watches, nothing beats it.
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In 1953, the Oyster Perpetual Submariner became the first wristwatch to guarantee water-resistance down to 100 metres. Dive into the story of this legend of the deep.

An athletic build, a wide rotating bezel with graduations, inverted triangles on the bezel and dial, luminescent markers… you can’t judge a book by its cover, but you can judge the Submariner by its looks. It is the blueprint for all dive watches; the one whose properties, tailor-made for underwater activity, have made it a legend. When it first saw daylight in 1953, the Oyster Perpetual Submariner revolutionised the watch world with guaranteed water-resistance to a depth of 100 metres – increased to 200 metres that same year.

Oyster Perpetual Submariner © Rolex
Oyster Perpetual Submariner Rolex

This major breakthrough was a natural continuation of Rolex’s history thus far. After all, this was the brand whose founder, Hans Wilsdorf, a man of great vision, had given the world the Oyster, the first waterproof wristwatch ever: “To my technical assistants, my constant refrain was, from the earliest days: We must succeed in making a watch case so tight that our movements will be permanently guaranteed against damage caused by dust, perspiration, water, heat, and cold. Only then will the perfect accuracy of the Rolex watch be secured.” Undeterred by the vociferous reservations of his peers, who failed to see the utility of a waterproof watch, Hans Wilsdorf persevered and ultimately achieved his goal with the development of the now famous case and its patented screw-down bezel, crown and back. A new era was about to begin: “Other manufacturers had to follow the movement which was to exercise an enormous influence on the entire Swiss watchmaking industry,” wrote Wilsdorf in 1945. “Statistics show that since 1927 waterproof wristwatches, to a value of more than one thousand million Swiss francs, have been exported throughout the five continents.”

In the early 1950s, Rolex broke new ground with Oysters that went beyond ordinary use.
From Everest to the ocean's deep

By the early 1950s, Switzerland’s watch and case manufacturers needed no further convincing that water-resistance was a necessity. Rolex, however, was one step ahead with professional versions of the Oyster that went beyond ordinary use. First up was the Oyster Perpetual Explorer, introduced in 1953 in the wake of the first successful ascension of Mount Everest. Next, that same year, came the Oyster Perpetual Submariner, designed not to conquer the highest peaks but underwater depths, thanks to its rotating bezel with graduations for measuring dive times and, as previously mentioned, guaranteed water-resistance to 100 metres. Compared with the original Oyster, this exploit was made possible by the Twinlock, a new, patented system for the crown with two sealed zones, one inside the tube and one inside the crown, which ensured the case remained hermetically sealed even if the wearer forgot to fully screw down the crown.

Sean Connery made his first appearance as James Bond in 1962, a Submariner on his wrist.

The Submariner immediately won the approval of the pioneering deep-sea divers who tested it for the brand. In a 1953 report, Dimitri Rebikoff, a French engineer specialising in underwater research, praised its performance: “We are able to confirm that this watch has not only given entire satisfaction in diving conditions which were extremely tough and particularly murderous for the material used, but that it has proved an indispensable accessory for all diving with independent equipment.” Explorers from every horizon were quick to adopt this champion of water-resistance, as was the ordinary man in the street, won over by its backstory of exploits and adventures.. and no doubt by the debonair heroics of a certain James Bond. Sean Connery wore a Submariner in his first appearance serving Queen and country in 1962’s Dr. No, and again in From Russia With Love, Goldfinger and Thunderball. His successor, Roger Moore, escaped death by shark in Live and Let Die when he used the “buzz saw” bezel on his Submariner to cut himself free.

Down to 300 metres

While the original Submariner remains a reference, this underwater survival tool has seen numerous evolutions from both a technical and a design perspective. One of the most notable has been the increase in water-resistance to a minimum of 300 metres. The last modifications to the Submariner’s design go back to 2012, when the Oyster case was subtly reworked. The Triplock winding crown with three sealed zones screws securely against the case. Chromalight lume fills the broad markers and hands to ensure perfect visibility in the dark, and a Cerachrom insert added to the knurled unidirectional rotating bezel brings heightened durability.

Oyster Perpetual Submariner Date © Rolex
Oyster Perpetual Submariner Date © Rolex

Movement-wise, the Submariner and Submariner Date are respectively powered by the 3130 and 3135 Superlative Chronometer automatic calibres for precision and reliability. Comfort and robustness are provided by the Oyster bracelet whose Oysterlock safety clasp prevents accidental opening. Not forgetting the Glidelock extension system which allows the bracelet to be adjusted, without tools or accessories, to fit over a dive suit. All features which add up to a true classic among watches, an icon of excellence that has ruled beneath the waves since 1953.

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