The history of the Rolex Submariner

“With this new and elegant dive watch came a new standard for both Rolex and the luxury watch industry at large.” (Hans Wilsdorf)

16. Apr 2019
The history of the Rolex Submariner

When we talk about Rolex, we think about something classic, stylish and iconic, and that is exactly what the Swiss had in mind when they came up with the Submariner. It was in the early 50’s when Rene-Paul Jeanneret, one of the board members at Rolex and amateur diver, challenged the company with a brand-new wristwatch built for diving that could also be fashionable for daily use. Once the idea was presented, a long period of testing and experimenting began. The most notable of these tests is when in 1953 Auguste Piccard and his son tried to set a world diving record of 10.275ft in their bathyscaphe. Attached on the side of it was none other than the Submariner, which survived the incredibly deep dive and kept ticking efficiently right after, it was the beginning of an icon… Much of the inspiration actually came from Panerai, an Italian brand that sold Rolex timepieces at the time and that was specialized in diving equipment. The collaboration from these two companies brought to the birth of a true classic for any watch lover and collector. The Submariner was introduced to the public later that year at the Basel watch fair, initially made available in three models which did not boast the submariner name in the quadrant and were missing some important elements we can find in today’s models like the crown guards, such a big and bulky design would not appeal to the public during those years. When we mention Rolex, we cannot speak of revolution, but more of a constant evolution. We can see this evolution in the various improvements that were introduced to the model in the following years: improved hands and bezel in 1956, the crown guards in 1959, and the date window in 1966 with their classic “cyclops” lens for practicality during immersions. However, what really defined the Submariner’s name and fame as we know it today was of course the movie industry: we can see the timepiece on the wrists of many of the early James Bonds such as Sean Connery in four of his movies. It was also featured in various underwater scenes showing how the watch could be worn in stealthy underwater missions as it could be sported in elegant, suit and tie situations. The appearance in the James Bond franchise really affirmed the Submariner in modern pop culture. These were the ingredients for a complete success defining the most recognisable wristwatch of all time, unmatchable in terms of demand and fame. Along with all the improvements Rolex has brought to the Submariner, the watch is a stable icon in today’s world, bringing a reliable tool to divers, but also delivering a stylish accessory to wear in everyday life.


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