The Rolex Submariner is one of the most iconic timepieces of all time. Often praised as the most famous watch in the world, Rolex’s diver is an absolute industry icon. Nevertheless, prices for the Submariner have followed wider market trends and come down over the last couple of months. This is particularly true for the newer generation of watches. While this does make them relatively more affordable again, the big question is obviously how prices will develop over time. With that in mind, it’s a much safer bet to turn to vintage Submariners if you’re looking for a long-term investment opportunity. In addition to their incredible charm and history, limited numbers make them more collectible over time. So, let’s take a look at five different references that are by no means cheap, but have the potential to appreciate over time.
Rolex Submariner Ref. 6536
The Rolex Submariner ref. 6536 is one of the earliest Submariner references, and one that is very popular among vintage Rolex fans. It’s related to the famous ref. 6538 that Sean Connery wore as James Bond. The main difference between these two references is that the ref. 6536 came with a smaller 6-mm crown as opposed to the 8-mm crown on the ref. 6538. Thus, the ref. 6538 is known as one of the “Big Crown” Subs. The ref. 6536 was produced from 1956 until 1959, at which point it was replaced by the ref. 5512 that we’ll get to later.
As one of the early references, the ref. 6536 has a smaller 37-mm stainless steel case that houses the Rolex caliber 1030. As with many Rolex watches from the 1950s and 60s, the brand produced several different dial variants with red and white text. Likewise, the hands were changed several times over the years. Collectors usually talk about three different versions of the ref. 6536: the early, intermediate, and final models. The first has the standard black bezel without markings that we know from the early Subs, while the last two feature the famous red triangle at the bezel’s 0/60 position. The hands are different on every version, and the bezel on the final models features markings from 0 to 15.
Before you even think about buying a Submariner ref. 6536, do your homework and ask an expert to help you navigate all the intricate details, especially if you’re looking to buy one at the lower end of the $25,000 – 75,000 price range. If you do manage to find a good one, it will likely go up in value over time.
Rolex Submariner Ref. 5512
Another great classic Submariner is the ref. 5512 that was introduced in 1959 and stayed in production until 1980. It’s safe to say that the design of the 5512 introduced the look that we have come to know as the Submariner today. Compared to the former model, the case size increased to 40 mm and included crown guards, giving the watch that proper tool watch aesthetic. This watch is closely linked to the ref. 5513, which we’ll cover later on. The main difference between the two is that the ref. 5512 is a certified chronometer, whereas the ref. 5513 is not. Thus, the ref. 5512 has the text “Superlative Chronometer Officially Certified” on the lower half of its dial.
If you’re looking for the most collectible versions, it’s important to do your homework and consult an expert. Here are a few important things to get you started. First off, there is a difference between early gilt dial versions and later versions with matte black dials. Watches with gilt dials are more valuable, but it’s crucial that you buy one in good condition. A watch with a gilt dial in great condition will definitely go up in value over time.
There are also a number of different production updates and quirks that Rolex implemented over time. The crown guards were updated from square guards to what collector’s call “eagle beak” guards, and later to pointed guards. The inscriptions on the dial were also changed multiple times, and the use of lume increased. Some dials and bezel inserts have become discolored over time, but this only increases their value as collectibles. You can get a Submariner ref. 5512 starting at just over $15,000. One in great condition with its original box and papers, or a version with a unique dial and/or faded bezel can easily fetch closer to $65,000.
Rolex Submariner Ref. 5513
The Submariner ref. 5513 is the non-chronometer certified version of the Submariner described above. This reference was in production from 1962 until 1989, making it a long-standing member of the series. Similar to the ref. 5512, there were a lot of different versions made during that time. There are various generations of crown guards available, and the dial options include gilt and matte black versions. Text order and underlining also vary between watches.
There are also “Bart Simpson” versions that are nicknamed for the shape of the Rolex coronet. We’ve even seen some very rare ref. 5513 models with an Explorer dial sell for astronomical amounts of money. The same goes for the special “Milspec” version, which features a bezel insert with minute markings, sword-shaped hands, fixed bars, and the T-logo indicating the use of tritium lume instead of the radioactive radium.
Seeing as rarer models fetch a lot more money, they are more likely to increase in value faster over time. That being said, the ref. 5513 is a classic that will probably appreciate over time no matter which version you get – as long as it’s a good one.
Rolex Submariner Ref. 1680
Another classic Submariner reference is the 1680 that was produced from 1969 to 1979. This was the first Submariner to come with a date window beneath the famous Rolex Cyclops lens. Rolex produced several versions of this watch; those with the Submariner name printed in red are known affectionately as the “Red Sub” among collectors.
During the mid-1970s, Rolex also produced a number of special editions of the ref. 1680 with the COMEX logo on the dial. These watches were produced for divers from the French COMEX team that specialized in underwater engineering. Today, they are very collectible versions of the ref. 1680, alongside the COMEX versions of the refs. 5513 and 5514. These watches can be easily recognized by the big logo on the dial and the helium escape valve on the left side of the case.
Rolex used this reference to introduce the first gold Submariner alongside the trusted stainless steel model. The first was a solid 18K yellow gold model with a black dial and black bezel insert. The second model came with a blue bezel and dial, introducing the famous color combo that we know to this day. Finding a stainless steel ref. 1680 is not that hard. Prices start at roughly $10,000, but can move up swiftly for a “Red Sub” or Tiffany dial version. As usual, quirks like a discolored “tropical dial” or faded bezel can also add to a watch’s value, resulting in asking prices of $60,000 or more. While you’ll be able to buy something more unique at the higher end of this range, the more affordable timepieces will also become collector’s items over time.
Rolex Submariner Ref. 168000
The last reference I want to mention here is the Submariner ref. 168000, aka the “Triple Zero.” While this reference is not yet very sought-after, and doesn’t sell for very high prices, it’s definitely one to check out. The ref. 168000 was a transitional model that was produced for just nine months between 1988 and 1989. This reference introduced 904L stainless steel to the Rolex diver; all prior generations were made of the more conventional 316L stainless steel. Otherwise, this watch is technically identical to its predecessor.
Rolex collectors love oddball versions of the classics, so it wouldn’t be surprising if the Submariner ref. 168000 went up in value over time – especially given that the reference was only in production for 9 months. The resulting low production numbers can often lead to higher prices over time. While ref. 168000 prices are currently on par with those of the ref. 16800 and 16610, we might see a break at some point, making it an interesting model to add to your collection. After all, it wouldn’t be the first time that a scarce model catches the eye of Rolex collectors and turns out to be a great investment.
As always, investing in watches isn’t easy, and you shouldn’t expect immediate returns; it’s a waiting game that takes time. While you keep tabs on the value of your watch, I’d advise you to wear it regularly and remind yourself why the Rolex Submariner has become the most popular diving watch in the world. Well, that leaves me nothing more to say but happy hunting!