The dawn of Rolex’s diver: the no-guards Submariner

More than iconic, the Rolex Submariner could be better defined as the progenitor of professional watches, i.e. the model that gave rise to all those timepieces, particularly in vogue today, which are referred to as ‘sports’ watches. Although Rolex made it its flagship, the so-called ‘professional’ watches were produced by an endless number of different maisons and were, in the beginning, objects destined for specific, precisely, professions.
Let’s discover together the dawn of Rolex’s diver: the no-guards Submariner.

In our instance, the Submariner is one of the earliest examples of a diver, a timepiece with outstanding shock and water resistance, and consequently intended for all those who were involved in diving, marine patrols and reconnaissance. Rolex embarked on the Submariner project in the early 1950s, a period when the brand reached its creative peak, as in less than a decade it unveiled to the world almost all the models still considered most successful today.
In fact, on the occasion of the Basel Fair in 1953, Rolex presented a preview of its newborn creation, which took up the features of the reference 6202 belonging to the Turnograph model. The Turnograph is the real father of the Submariner, from which Rolex draws its inspiration in terms of both the case and the dial.

Rolex 6202 Turnograph. Credits: Phillips

References 6204, 6205 and 6200

The first three Submariners to appear in the Rolex catalogues are references that share the same manufacturing background but, at the same time, have clear distinguishing features.

Reference 6204

The Reference 6204 represents the first expression of the Submariner, the one unveiled in 1953 in Basel and the one with the most similarities of all with the Turnograph. For example, the reference 6204 does not feature the iconic Mercedes spheres but it does inherit from the aforementioned model the “pencil” hands and the peculiar seconds sphere, with the luminescent material dot at the end. The movement fitted on both the 6204 and 6205 is the A260, shared with several other models of the time. Both the reference 6204 and 6205 have a maximum water resistance of 100 meters, guaranteed by the 5mm crown with Rolex logo and hyphen. Although some features make the 6204 a prehistoric configuration of the Submariner, especially in regard to modern performances, it introduces the name ”Submariner” which stands out on the lower part of the dial.

Rolex 6204 with pencil hands and “Submariner” writing. Credits: Phillips

Reference 6205

Released a year after the 6204, in 1954, the Reference 6205 features the same case, insert, movement and water-resistance. However, this iteration, towards the end of production, introduces the now famous Mercedes hands, which improve both aesthetics and legibility over the dial.

Rolex 6205 with the newly conceived Mercedes hands. Credits: Christie’s

Reference 6200

Introduced alongside the reference 6205 in 1954, the 6200 embodies in the eyes of collectors one of the most iconic and desirable versions of the Submariner. To begin with, it represents the first “big-crown” in history. This term, coined by collectors, refers to the three Submariner models (6200, 6538 and 5510) that feature an 8mm oversized crown and a more substantial case. They are usually rarer than the ‘standard’ configurations with 5mm crowns and provide a far greater appeal.
Reference 6200, in particular, was produced in only a few hundred examples, very few of which have survived to the present day in acceptable condition, so that this reference embodies one of the most difficult Rolex watches to obtain to date. In addition, the 6200 introduced a dial very dear to enthusiasts, known as the “explorer” dial because of the indices 3, 6 and 9 in Arabic numerals. This configuration would later be replicated on models intended for the military, which are also extremely sought-after. The ‘explorer’ dial combined with the Mercedes hands makes for an incredibly fascinating combination, as does the thicker case. In addition, the movement also differs from the references 6204 and 6205, with Rolex opting for the A296 calibre.

References 6536, 6536-1 and 6538

The references 6204, 6205 and 6200 can be considered as Rolex’s first attempts to provide its customers with instruments capable of supporting them during their submarine activities. However, from 1955 onwards, the Genevan company introduced a new generation of calibers and incorporated major aesthetic modifications to its model.

Reference 6536

Introduced in 1955, this version embodies one of the rarest Submariners in terms of production numbers, despite remaining in the catalogue until 1959. In addition to this, the reference 6536, not to be confused with the more common 6536-1, shares features with both the latter and the reference 6538, which, let us recall, belongs to the “big-crown” family. Specifically, the 6536 presents an oversized case similar in size to that of the reference 6538, but at the same time, bears a crown of standard dimensions like the 6536-1, which is 6 mm. The contiguity between the 6536 and 6538 is clearly visible on the cases, in the vicinity of the reference hallmark and on the case back, where you can often see the inscription “6538” blotted out and “6536” next to it. The movement is the new 1030 calibre, common to all three references.

The über-rare Rolex 6536. Credits: Phillips

Reference 6536-1

Launched in 1956, it certainly represents the most common of the three versions, although not comparable with today’s quantities. Also remaining in production until 1959, it has experienced various dial configurations, distinguished by the graphics and colours of the depth markings. The insert also underwent a major evolution, going from the initial non-graduated configuration to the final one with a red triangle at 12 o’clock. Like the very rare 6536, the 6536-1 also has a small 6mm crown and the index at 6 o’clock is often lighter, a trick used to improve visibility in dark conditions.

Reference 6538

The “big-crown” par excellence, the reference 6538 embodies the perfect synthesis of practicality and aesthetics. Its oversized case and 8 mm crown make its dimensions extremely modern. As with the reference 6536-1, the 6538 also featured different inserts and dials throughout its life and was discontinued in 1959. The reference 6538, although less rare than the 6200 and 6536, is the one that has most appealed to collectors, thanks to the modern features of its case and dial, as well as its extreme versatility in both use and aesthetics. The dials have followed a constant evolution and some of them bear, especially towards the end of production, the inscription ‘Officially Certified Chronometer’. Thanks to the large dimensions of the crown, and consequently of the gaskets, the reference 6538 reached the incredible depth of 200 meters at the time, a pride for the Geneva-based maison.

References 5508 and 5510

The references 5508 and 5510 represent the last stage of the so-called “no-guards” Submariner, that is without the crown protectors that would be introduced by Rolex as early as 1959 on the newborn reference 5512. Both references share the new calibre 1530, an evolution of the 1030, while in terms of the case, the 5508 features a small crown, while the 5510 embodies the third member of the prestigious “big-crowns” family.

Reference 5508

Produced between 1958 and 1962, the 5508 was the only version of the Submariner without crown-guards to remain in production after 1959, the year in which, as already mentioned, Rolex introduced the reference 5512. In the first period of production, the 5508 presented classic dials with both 2 and 4 inscriptions, that is with the addition of the chronometry inscription. From 1961, however, this reference also featured dials with an exclamation point, indicating the absence of radium in the indexes and hands, in favor of the less dangerous tritium.

A perfect example of Rolex 5508. Credits: Phillips

Reference 5510

Only produced in 1958 in a few hundred units, the reference 5510 best represents the transition between the first Submariners with no guards and the future references 5512 and 5513. The dial does not bear the OCC inscription but only the words ‘Submariner’ and the depth, the latter usually in silver. In addition, on the reference 5510 the gold-coloured graphics tended to turn orange, a peculiarity very rarely found on other references. Like the 6538, the 5510 has a water resistance of 200 m, guaranteed by the 8mm crown.

A “big crown” Rolex 5510 with copper graphic. Credits: Phillips

Despite the fact that only six years elapsed between 1953, the year the Submariner was presented, and 1959, Rolex gave birth to no fewer than eight references, which themselves often do not remain identical throughout their entire lives. An incredible amount of case studies and details, which makes the first Submariners gold mines for enthusiasts who want to try their hand at knowing them inside out.

The history and evolution of the Rolex Submariner is undoubtedly among the most interesting for collectors, both because of the status of this watch and the great variety of nuances with which any enthusiast can engage. Sometimes, however, it can be complex to navigate through the small details that make each watch unique and, if you want to be sure of the total coevality of a Rolex Submariner and thus protect your investment, as well as enrich your collection with a prestigious timepiece, we invite you to contact our experts to find the perfect Rolex together.

written by Lorenzo Rabbiosi

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