Early Rolex Submariner Model History
Separating The Fact From Fiction
The Rolex Submariner is the most iconic wrist watch in history. It is also the most widely copied wrist watch in history. Much to Rolex's design credit and despite the fact so many other watch companies have been inspired to borrow from its design language, nobody has ever successfully exceeded or even matched its acumen.
To a large extent, the first Rolex Submariner was also the first real tool watch available for purchase by the public. The first real tool watch which was never made available to that public was also made by Rolex for Panerai, which were made for the Italian Royal Navy. I have written extensively about the history of the Rolex Submariner and SEA-DWELLER, but I have not ever tackled its early history in any significant detail!?!
Note: If you are a fan of the vintage Panerai watches, made by Rolex, I have some deeply, and I mean deeply profound Panerai history, which has never been published, coming up which will be added to Jake's Rolex World sometime during the upcoming holiday season.
Why haven't I covered the early history of the different Submariner watches? Because it is so confusing!!! Over the years I have spoke with many of the worlds top vintage Rolex collectors, as well as many Rolex employees, and nobody seems to know for certain!!!
If you are a reader of Jake's Rolex World, you know I specialize in doing deep research which results in me being able to separate the fact from the fiction–once and for all. I am going to try to separate the early Submariner model history, and with some luck and persistence we will prevail.
1953 Rolex Submariner
Reference 6204: HoneyComb Dial
There have been many spirited debates about what the first Rolex Submariner model was. The best speculation suggests the Rolex Submariner Reference 6204 came first. The Reference 6204 is pictured below with a very rare honeycomb dial. This series of photos comes from my good pal, Eric Ku from 10PastTen.com.
One of the things that is so confusing, is if the Rolex Submariner Reference 6204 came before the Rolex Submariner Reference 6200, why are the Reference numbers out of chronological order? Nobody knows? The consensus it that the Rolex Submariner Reference 6204 came first. The version below has the Submariner | Perpetual designation just below the ROLEX designation on the top-half of the dial.
So what supports the fact the Rolex Submariner Reference 6204 came before the 6200? The Submariner Reference 6204 pictured above has a serial number of 949,143, and its case back is marked from the second quarter of 1953.
As Eric Ku pointed out "This is only the 4th example of a honeycomb Submariner I have ever seen in my many years of collecting and studying Rolex watch history. The honeycomb Submariner is rarer than a Big Crown Submariner, and even rarer than the 3,6,9 Explorer dial version of the Rolex Submariner Reference 6200." The Rolex Submariner Reference with the 3,6,9 dial is pictured below in this story.
Eric Ku further states "Interesting to note, that each of the examples of the Reference 6204 with the honeycomb dial I have examined, fall within the same serial number range of 949,XXX."
Eric Ku and I recently had a conversation on the topic of which came first? The Reference 6200 or the Reference 6204. Eric says the evidence seems to suggest the Reference 6204 came first, and I agree. First of all, the case back on the 6204 is engraved with the second quarter of 1953, and the Reference 6204 NEVER came with a big crown–only a standard winding crown. The 6204 also has the more primitive "pencil hands" that lack the Mercedes Logo marker on the minute hand. Also the second hand has the "popsicle" marker placed out at the very end of the second hand.
So why does the Rolex Submariner Reference 6204 have the "Submariner" designation on the dial and the Rolex Submariner Reference 6200 does not have it, as seen in the photos below in this story? Apparently Rolex had to temporarily stop using the name "Submariner" because they did not have the complete rights to it. So if I understand it correctly, they make the earliest Rolex Submariner models with it, then made some Rolex Submariner models without it, then brought it back permanently after Rolex felt completely confident about its usage.
John Goldberger Chimes In
Confirms Reference 6204 As First Submariner
John Goldberger is one of the leading Rolex Vintage watch experts on earth. He sent in the following photo of a Rolex Reference 6204 which has a serial number of 949,651. John said or confirmed that in his expert opinion, the Reference 6204 was the first Submariner by Rolex. Notice this one has the "Officially Certified Chronometer" COSC designation, toward the bottom of the dial, although it is pretty faded.
1954 Rolex Submariner
Reference 6200: 3,6,9 Dial
My pal Bernhard, who lives in Holland publishes 100Percent Rolex Blog which as he says is "The Blog For Rolex Passionado's." Berhnard is good pals with Philippe who is also a fellow Rolex fanatic, and Bernhard recently published a story on Philippe's Rolex Reference 6200 which was the first model of Rolex Submariner.
Philippe is a world renowned Rolex collector and he recently acquired this grail Rolex which is a Reference 6200 from 1954. Notice how similar it is to a modern Submariner, and at the same time, how remarkably different it is. For instance, it has the very rare 3, 6, 9 Rolex Explorer Dial layout. It has no Submariner designation on the dial. It has stick markers instead of circles for the 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 10 and 11 markers.
The bezel lacks the seconds markers from 0 to 15 seconds you would find on a all modern Submariner models. This watch also has a big crown (8mm), and it obviously lacks crown guards.
The most amazing thing about this very rare Submariner is it's all original. If you are a serious vintage Rolex collector you are probably loosing your mind looking at this crazy Submariner!!! The 3, 6, 9 dial variant of this watch typically have a military provenance and come from the United States.
The early Rolex Submariner models history is still shrouded in mystery as there are still many pieces of the puzzle missing. For instance, the 1954 Submariner Reference 6200 came with three different dial variants, (all with the 3, 6, 9 Explorer Dial) and the 3,6,9 version pictured above was one of the three. The Reference 6300 Submariner movement was a Caliber A296/775 with a Bubbleback. The plexiglass crystal has a Super-Dome shape.
This watch was the first Rolex Submariner model with a 200 Meter waterproof rating, despite the fact it was not designated on the dial. [The depth rating on a big crown was 200 Meters, and on the small crown the depth rating was 100 Meters. The Rolex Submariner Reference was replaced by the Reference 6538 and 5510, both of which had the Caliber 1030 movement.
Note: As I mentioned earlier, there is a lot of mystery surrounding the Reference 6200. In particular, is the question of whether it was the very first Submariner model, or whether the Reference 6204 came first? Later this week we will take a look at the Submariner Reference 6204, which likely preceded the Reference 6200. Of course it is counterintuitive that an earlier model number could have come with a higher number?
A week after Bernhard took the photo of Philippe's Reference 6200 (pictured above) they had a Rolex GTG (named Passion 2011) and other vintage Rolex collectors showed up with very rare Reference 6200s with the 3, 6, 9 dial variant, and Berhnard shared these great photos
Note: It is fascinating to note the Reference 6200 is remarkably similar to the new Ceramic Submariner in the sense it has a Supercase shape. You really see the Supercase shape in the photo below. "Supercase" refers to the fact the lugs are fatter and give the case a blockier/squarer look and shape. Also, this watch was made in 1954, which is the year Rolex introduced the first official Rolex Explorer models, and in particular, 1954 was the first year the original Rolex Explorer was introduced with a black 3,6,9 dial.
I really like the photo above of the wrist shot with the beads. I always like wrist shots, particularly of older vintage watches, because they offer the viewer a true sense of scale and perspective that you just don't get when you look at a studio shot of a watch, by itself. The wrist shot above shows Eric Ku (of 10PastTen.com) sporting his Reference 6200 which is the best known example in the world. The same watch is pictured below.
So how much is an Rolex Submariner Reference 6200 worth today? A great deal. A flawless one in cherry mint condition can go for as high as $250,000.