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Justifying the Price: What Makes the Rolex Submariner Different from Other Dive Watches

When most people think of luxury dive watches, the Rolex Submariner quickly comes to mind, and that’s not just because of its catchy name. This OG of diving watches has been around for decades. While it isn’t the only diving watch by Rolex, the Submariner is arguably the most popular, which isn’t surprising since it has the honor of being the brand’s first actual diving watch.

The Submariner isn’t just one of the most iconic watches from Rolex; it also qualifies as one of the most popular dive watches ever. Created during a period of history when diving was a popular hobby, the design of the submariner inspired several other dive watches of its era. Many modern dive watches also emulated or paid indirect homage to the Submariner’s clean and elegant design.

Since its first release in the 1950s, the Submariner has been a favorite for watch connoisseurs and collectors. It is often recommended to upcoming watch collectors as one of the must-have timepieces. But buying one of the coolest watches ever made doesn’t come cheap.

As of 2023, Submariner models still in production retail from about $9,100 for the cheapest, steel no-date models. However, more expensive ones, like the 18k white gold submariner model, may cost up to $42,000. You may also buy a submariner in the secondary market as a used vintage or even mint-quality model. The prices on the secondary market may be higher or lower than these figures depending on various factors like the provenance, history, model number, and the specific condition of the watch.

But why would anyone want to splash four to six figures on the Rolex Submariner? What’s it about this watch that makes it such a sought-after piece for collectors and watch enthusiasts? In this article, we’ll explore some of the unique qualities and attributes of the Rolex Submariner that set it apart from other high-end dive watches.

A Rich Heritage

The most valuable timepieces have a rich history behind them, and for a watch that has been around for over 70 years, that’s precisely what you get with the Rolex Submariner. This watch was originally produced in the 1950s, becoming the first diving watch to achieve water resistance to a depth of 100 meters.

As a diving watch, the Submariner was explicitly developed to capitalize on the growing craze for Scuba diving in the 1950s. The high depth range meant divers could have this watch on without fearing damage as long as they stayed within the depth range. It was a game changer for the diving watch industry.

While the Submariner was explicitly made for professional divers, people who ventured into the depths for recreational purposes fell in love with it over time, and the general public soon followed suit.

Another factor that shaped the Submariner’s identity as a tough utility watch was its association with the military. In 1957, the British Ministry of Defence adopted the Submariner as a standard-issue timepiece for the Royal Navy. A few modifications of the conventional Submariner led to the birth of the Submariner Big Crown Ref. 6538. This marked the beginning of the Submariner’s long relationship with the U.K. military, which lasted until the late 1970s. The watch’s military identity became a huge part of its heritage, contributing to its popularity today.

James Bond’s Watch

One of the best things that can ever happen to any watch collection is being perceived by the general public as a celebrity favorite. While most Rolex watches have always been associated with celebrities, royalties, and fashion icons, the Submariner is one collection that demonstrates this really well.

Some of Hollywood’s most famous “men of action” have worn the watch, such as Robert Redford, Burt Lancaster, and Steve McQueen. Having these celebrities as devoted wearers of the submariner has undoubtedly boosted the watch’s reputation – and, of course, its value.

However, the famous individual who has had the biggest influence on the Submariner’s reputation is a totally fictional character. The 007 super spy has given the watch what can be considered the biggest image boost ever.

Sean Connery, who played the super spy character in the original James Bond movie (Doctor No), strapped on a Submariner ref. 6538 in the movie. Connery was a well-known Rolex fan, and enthusiasts have theorized that the watch he had on his wrist for the movie was his personal piece.

The movie cameo forever cemented the Submariner’s nickname as “Bond Submariner,” which has been used to describe several other Submariner models besides the one Connery wore in the movie. This affiliation with the James Bond character contributed to Rolex’s popularity, especially among men who grew up fantasizing about being 007.

Stylish Luxury

The Submariner has always been marketed as a diving watch for professionals (especially in its early years). But the truth is, only a few people would ever wear a $40,000 watch for a dive. The watch is extraordinarily well-built for this purpose, but its utility contributes only a small fraction to its popularity. If there’s anything that made the Submariner so valuable, it has to be its stylish elegance, which makes it useful for everyday wearers.

Over the years, Rolex has invested heavily in enhancing the Submariner collection while maintaining its fundamental design. Consequently, the Submariner remains Rolex’s most recognizable luxury watch and one of the most copied.

The very first submariner was mostly utilitarian. It had a waterproof stainless steel case and could only tell the time. Then, in 1969, the company launched the date complication version. From this point forward, the submariner moved from being just another diving watch to a full-blown luxury piece.

Rolex leaned into this new-found reputation and has produced several variants of this date-time model. The date timeline currently has seven variations, while the original no-date version has only one. Some of the aesthetic-focused submariner models that the company has released to date include:

  • Rolex Submariner ref 1680/8 – A yellow-gold submariner with blue dials and bezels
  • Rolex Submariner ref 16800 – a submariner with Serti dials, diamonds, and sapphires for hour markers.
  • Submariner ref 16803 – this was the first Rolesor variant submariner. It was made from a combination of stainless steel and 18k yellow gold.
  • Submariner ref. 16610LV – also known as the ‘Kermit,’ this watch had an attractive bright green bezel
  • Submariner Smurf ref. 116619 – this reference featured an all-blue dial and a solid 18k white gold case.

Despite the aesthetic focus of these watches, Rolex still maintained the same level of engineering efficiency, ensuring they were all waterproof and durable. In addition to upgrading the design and aesthetics, Rolex didn’t slack on the performance front either. The latest Submariner models are water resistant to a 300-meter depth, a huge upgrade over the original and much more than the average diver would need. In fact, the industry standard depth limit for reactionary diving is only 39 meters.

But in reality, most people who buy Rolex watches aren’t doing so because of its diving performance. They buy the watch for its distinct style, impressive quality, and prestigious name. The price tag is well justified since the Submariner lives up to all of these.

The Submariner collection has continued to evolve as the company adds modern niceties to keep up its reputation as an elegant luxury piece. These upgrades have gone a long way in keeping the value of this watch up and ensuring contemporary Submariner models can compete effectively against some of the best dive watches produced today.

Conclusion

Undoubtedly, the Submariner is one of the most refined dive watches you’ll find on sale today. More importantly, it has decades of heritage to back it up. It is one of the best pieces to consider for those looking to buy the best dive watch without budget constraints. While it is built for heavy-duty use, very few Rolex Submariner watches eventually take a real plunge in the ocean. Regardless, the company has invested efforts in ensuring the long-term durability of this watch so that it preserves its value for a long time to come. And even if you decide to adopt the Submariner for everyday use, the aesthetic brilliance of this watch makes it a perfect luxury piece for every occasion. These factors explain the high price tag of one of the most iconic diving watches ever made.