Rolex releases new Submariner models: here's why they matter

For nearly 70 years the Rolex Oyster has been a wrist-worn staple – the dive watch that became a status symbol.

By Felix Scholz , September 1 2020
Rolex releases new Submariner models: here's why they matter

2020 is a year which many of us would rather forget, but Rolex's refresh of the long-lived Submariner family will prove to be a memorable one.

Revealed earlier today, the new suite of models introduces new cases, upgraded movements and tweaked colour palettes. That might not seem like a huge deal, but when you're talking about one of the most successful watches ever made, even the smallest change makes a big difference.

So, if you'll pardon the pun, let's dive into the details of the famous Rolex Submariner.

The refined profile of the new Rolex Submariner reference 124060 ($11,400).
The refined profile of the new Rolex Submariner reference 124060 ($11,400).

One of the most influential watches ever made 

The Rolex Submariner was first released in 1953, one of the first of a new breed of professional diving watches, with a 100-metre depth rating, and a black unidirectional rotating bezel.

In the same year the Submariner was released, Rolex, who were already industry leaders in waterproof (as they were then called) watches, sent a specially engineered timepiece down on Swiss scientist Auguste Piccard's deep-diving Bathyscaphe.

This vessel (and watch) made it down to the incredible depth of 3131 metres, an impressive way to prove your credibility in the space.

Since that time the Submariner has been a constant in the underwater world of Rolex, with new technology and the occasional new look being added.

CAPTION: A Rolex Submariner reference 6204 from 1963 sold by Christies.
CAPTION: A Rolex Submariner reference 6204 from 1963 sold by Christies.

The 'Mercedes' style hour hand was added in 1954, protective crown guards in 1959. Along the way the water-resistance got increasingly bumped up, in 1979 hitting the 300-metre rating it still holds today. A date was added in 1969, and various other minutiae of design and construction over the years.

The depth of scholarship around these watches is intense, which makes sense given the premium prices vintage models command.

But the striking feature of the Submariner is its incredibly strong family resemblance.

The latest 2020 releases look remarkably similar to the first 1953 model. The phrase 'evolution, not revolution' is one often evoked in relation to Rolex design philosophy, and given the continued popularity of this professional diver's watch, it's hard to argue the wisdom of this approach.  

Why is the Submariner important? 

There’s a reason the Rolex logo is a Crown.
There’s a reason the Rolex logo is a Crown.

The enduring popularity of the Rolex Submariner – a watch initially intended as an essential tool for divers – comes down to two main points: quality and culture.

'Quality' is perhaps the quickest to explain. The Rolex Submariner works, indefatigably. For all that, Rolex is a luxury brand, that brand is built upon a legacy of watches that are very well made indeed, and entirely fit for a rough and tumble life under the sea.

The fact that the majority of Submariners sold today won't make it further than the deep end of the hotel pool is beside the point.

The second strength of the Submariner is its not insignificant cultural impact.

Perhaps the most famous wearer of the watch was fictional spy James Bond. 007 has worn many brands over the years, but his first choice was a Submariner. The celebrity cachet of the watch has played no small part in ensuring the Submariner has evolved over time from an object of utility to status symbol. 

What's new about the 2020 Submariner?

A colour combination never seen on a Submariner before, the black and blue reference 126619LB.
A colour combination never seen on a Submariner before, the black and blue reference 126619LB.

What's in and what's out? First, the Oystersteel (what Rolex calls the specific alloy of steel its uses) models. The classic black-dialled date and no date Submariners have been given an upgrade, while the popular all-green 'Hulk' model is out in favour of a model with a black dial and a green bezel.

There's also an entirely new Submariner Date – white gold with a black dial and a striking blue bezel – alongside the new Rolesor, cased in steel and yellow gold, with a royal blue dial and blue bezel, as well as the more demure black. Finally, if you really want to stand out, there are full yellow gold models in blue and black.

The new 'Kermit' Submariner (reference 126610LV) in black and green.
The new 'Kermit' Submariner (reference 126610LV) in black and green.

But what's actually changed? The most substantial upgrade is the movement.

It's been some time since the Submariner got a movement bump, and these models boast the brand's newest tech, in the form of calibre 3230 and 3235.

These movements use the new Chronergy escapement, improving efficiency and reliability. Power autonomy is also significantly improved, up to 70 hours, or around three days.

The other significant change is the case, which has been increased to 41mm, the largest the sub has ever been. This overall increase in size though is offset by the slimmer profile of the lugs and a slightly reworked bracelet. 

Blue and gold add some sparkle to the reference 126613LB Submariner ($20,200).
Blue and gold add some sparkle to the reference 126613LB Submariner ($20,200).

This fresh batch of Submariners is another example of Rolex's slow and steady approach to product development: measurable mechanical improvements and design improvements, keeping the venerable diver feeling fresh.

Importantly, these minor modifications deliver. The Submariner is still an iconic 'hero' line for Rolex, and these models – especially the blue and the green bezelled options – are going to be hot tickets for years to come.

Felix Scholz

Felix Scholz is Executive Traveller’s watch editor, and one of Australia’s most respected authorities on the subject. As you might expect, he travels to Switzerland quite a lot.

Singapore Airlines - The PPS Club

20 Apr 2015

Total posts 25

Rolex has certainly taken a different approach for 2020 in introducing so many new models at the one time. No doubt demand for the Sub will continue to outstrip supply. For those in Australia, potential buyers will have to pay over retail price from secondary dealers to get their hands on one. 

19 Jun 2020

Total posts 13

My wife has promised me a submariner for my next birthday, by the sounds of it she better start looking now

06 Jun 2017

Total posts 21

Rolex watches have always piqued my interest over the years. I bought one, but first went the the “copy“ path to see if I would be comfortable with my choice. So, after wearing the one of my choice, I was happy to buy a real one. After all, Rolex or their shop owners won’t lend it to you to “try before you buy“, so I made up my own way to choose. 

Having said that, a company in the US named Watchgang, will rent you a prestigious watch for a small fee to achieve the same end.

While now a proud Rolex watch owner, I think that the copy industry has become very skilled at recreating real thing, you should only buy from an authorised dealer. 

12 Dec 2018

Total posts 17

Would have been high on my shopping list, but thanks to refunded overseas flights from a cancelled Euro holiday, not to mention lower than ever personal expenditure this year due to living in Chernobyl...I mean Melbourne..., I am treating myself to a Sky Dweller.  I am unlikely to be in this position again any time soon so I'm taking no prisoners.


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