Historical Perspective – The Original “Bond” Rolex Submariner, The Reference 6538 “Big Crown”

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Rolex Submariner Bond Reference 6538 Big Crown

After having a look at the “Pre-Submariner”, the Rolex Reference 6202, as well as at the mother of all Submariners, the early Reference 6204, it is time for our “columnist extraordinaire” Paul Altieri (Founder and CEO of Bob’s Watches) to look at a watch that helped building the legend surrounding this model, mainly because it was worn by a certain British spy, in a movie called Dr. No. You certainly guessed it: today we look at the “Bond” Rolex Submariner, The Reference 6538.

No other watch manufactured by Rolex is as famous, influential, or widely studied as their Submariner line of dive watches. Originally introduced in 1953, Rolex’s Submariner has become a cornerstone figure in the watch industry, and virtually every single dive watch in existence today was in some way influenced by Rolex’s Submariner.

Rolex Submariner Bond Reference 6538 Big Crown

Although it was not the very first iteration of the Submariner that Rolex ever produced, the reference 6538 is possibly one of the most famous Rolex watches ever manufactured. Most people will not know it by its 6538-reference number, but rather as the watch that was worn by Sean Connery in the very first James Bond film from 1962: Dr. No.

In the original James Bond novels, author, Ian Fleming makes no mention of the specific type of Rolex watch that his protagonist wears, other than that it is made from stainless steel. Consequently, every James Bond association that pertains to the Submariner – and dive watches in general, can be traced back to the original reference 6538 that appeared in the very first James Bond film.

Rolex Submariner Bond Reference 6538 Big Crown

All James Bond connections aside, the reference 6538 checks all the boxes for vintage Submariner collectors. Its case is 38 mm in diameter and lacks crown guards, which immediately identifies it as an early Submariner reference. Additionally, its oversized winding crown (explaining its other nickname: “Big Crown”) helps distinguish it from other pre-crown guard Submariner watches, such as the reference 5508 and the reference 6204.

The Rolex Submariner reference 6538 “Bond” or “Big Crown” can be found with a range of minor different dial variations, which only further adds to the overall diversity and interest for collectors. The small red triangle placed at the zero marker on the bezel insert adds a splash of colour to the watch and also helps to identify it as one of the early Submariner references.

Rolex Submariner Bond Reference 6538 Big Crown

At the heart of the reference 6538 resides Rolex’s calibre 1030 movement that contains twenty-five jewels and beats at a frequency of 18,000vph. Like all Submariner watches of the time, the reference 6538 displays only the time of day, as the date complication did not make an appearance on the Submariner line until the late 1960s with the introduction of the reference 1680.

Rolex manufactured the reference 6538 from 1955 until about 1959. Although this window of production is larger than those of other vintage Submariner references manufactured around the same time, surviving examples in original condition have become quite rare and valuable today. Most reference 6538 Submariners were thoroughly worn by their users, often through a variety of demanding conditions, and many were lost or broken long before they would ever have the chance to become collectable.

Rolex Submariner Bond Reference 6538 Big Crown

Due to its prominent role on the silver screen and its designation as the original “Bond” Submariner, the reference 6538 has become one of the most famous Rolex watches ever manufactured, and is frequently listed as a top target for serious vintage collectors. Although it was not the very first Submariner, the reference 6538 is certainly one of the most iconic and highly discussed Rolex watches of all time.

In the coming and last episode of this Historical Perspective series, we’ll look at what is considered the last of the vintage Submariners, before Rolex moved to more modern watches, with modern construction and materials. We, of course, are talking about the very much known references 5512/5513.


This article is part of our Historical Perspective Series focused on the Rolex Submariner. You can find the 4 episodes here:


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.

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