Today, we continue our Historical Perspective series, thanks to our “columnist extraordinaire” Paul Altieri (Founder and CEO of Bob’s Watches). In the first part, we explored a missing link in the history of diving watches, as we looked at the pre-Submariner watches, known under the reference 6202 “Turn-O-Graph”. Today, however, is the real deal, with the more-than-iconic reference 6204, the mother of all Rolex Submariner watches, the very first one born in 1953.
In 1953, Rolex introduced their Submariner line of dive watches in the form of the reference 6204. At the time, scuba diving was still a very new sport, and the concept of a watch specifically designed for use underwater was still just in its very beginning stages. Although Rolex had no idea of it at the time, their Submariner line of watches would go on to become one of the most iconic and successful timepieces on this planet – from any manufacturer, from any era, from any country. In a word, a legend was born.
Upon its release, the Submariner was the first watch in the world to be guaranteed water resistant to a depth of 100 meters – the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms was launched prior to the Submariner, yet 50 fathoms (it’s depth rate) corresponds to exactly 91.45 meters. Rolex, with the Submariner, went a bit further with a water resistance of 100m. Rolex already had a strong reputation for being able to seal a timepiece against moisture and dirt (thanks to the “Oyster”, which, in 1926, was the first waterproof watch); however up until this point in history, there was no real need for a wristwatch that could function flawlessly at significant depths below the surface of the ocean.
Although it was designed specifically for scuba diving, individuals from all different lifestyles purchased the Submariner for its robust design, highly legible display, superior water-resistance, and classic good looks. Over the course of the next half-century, the Submariner’s recognition and popularity would grow, making it one of the most iconic and sought-after watches in the entire world.
The reference 6204 is considered the very first Submariner, and many examples can be found with the Submariner name printed on the dial. However, some surviving examples of the reference 6204 can be found with other names on the dial surface, such as “Sub-Aqua” or “Submariner Perpetual” while others have no model-specific name printed on them at all.
With a 37mm case diameter, pencil-style hands, and a small (but proportional) crown, the reference 6204 shares more in common with the early reference 6202 Turn-O-Graph watches than the later-era Submariners without crown guards that were manufactured several years thereafter. However, as the very first Submariner, this is appropriate, since the reference 6204 marks the point where Rolex’s sports watches became adapted for life underwater, and the legendary Submariner line was born.
As the first Submariner ever, the reference 6204 holds a very special place within Rolex history; however, it also possesses a number of traits that make it especially interesting for vintage collectors. The lack of Rolex’s iconic “Mercedes” sport hands (on the early examples) truly helps separate it from other, later-era Submariner watches, while the numerous dial variations that can be found on the reference 6204 add to the diversity and overall excitement that surrounds the very first example of Rolex’s classic dive watch line.
The reference 6204 Submariner was only manufactured during 1953, and due to its age and incredibly short production run, surviving examples in original condition have become quite rare and valuable today. The Submariner is the quintessential dive watch and a keystone figure throughout the entire watch industry. The vast majority of dive watches in existence today were in some way influenced by Rolex’s Submariner; and as the first Submariner ever, it could be argued that the reference 6204 was the watch that started it all.
In the coming episode of this Historical Perspective series, we’ll look at a specific watch, the Rolex Submariner Reference 6538, which due to an appearance on the wrist of a certain British spy, is part of the legend surrounding this model.
This article is part of our Historical Perspective Series focused on the Rolex Submariner. You can find the 4 episodes here:
- The Missing Link, The Rolex Reference 6202 or the “Pre-Submariner”
- The Very First Rolex Submariner, The Reference 6204
- The Original “Bond” Rolex Submariner, The Reference 6538 “Big Crown”
- The Classic Vintage Submariner, The Reference 5512 and 5513
This article has been written by Paul Altieri, Founder and CEO of Bob’s Watches, who has been kind enough to share with us his passion and knowledge, as well as the photos of this article.