Historical Perspective – The Missing Link, The Rolex Reference 6202 or the “Pre-Submariner”

The Rolex Submariner is, undoubtedly, the most emblematic dive watch ever created, in addition to being amongst the most legendary watches ever shaped. Presented more than 60 years ago, in 1953, it was part of the very first timekeeping instruments to be conceived for a new generation of pioneers: divers. During its over six decades’ career, the Submariner has both drastically evolved on the technical side, but remained visually true to its origins. Together with our “columnist extraordinaire” Paul Altieri (Founder and CEO of Bob’s Watches), we are going to take a look at some of the most important Rolex Submariner’s references, starting today with… a Turn-O-Graph, the reference 6202 that can be called “the missing link”.

In 1953, Rolex released the very first Turn-O-Graph in the form of the reference 6202. Unlike the Turn-O-Graph and Thunderbird watches that followed, the reference 6202 was not merely a Datejust with a rotating bezel. Instead, it was the watch that would ultimately become Rolex’s now-legendary Submariner line of dive watches.

Rolex 6202 Turn-o-Graph Pre-Submariner

Although the Rolex Submariner made its debut in 1953 with the reference 6204, the reference 6202 Turn-O-Graph actually slightly predated it, which helps explain why the reference 6202 is frequently considered the Submariner’s precursor – a “Pre-Submariner” of sorts, if you will.

From a visual perspective, the reference 6202 very closely resembles some of the very early pre-crown guard Submariners, such as the reference 6204 and the reference 6205. When given some chronological context, the resemblance makes perfect sense, given that the reference 6202 was the foundation onto which Rolex would build their iconic and highly successful Submariner line of dive watches.

Rolex 6202 Turn-o-Graph Pre-Submariner

Due to the less-standardized production process of the time, the reference 6202 saw a variety of different dial variations; and the 6202-reference number was also used for watches that were branded under Rolex’s Monometer line. The Monometer was produced for a very short period of time and very few examples were manufactured. Other than the name on the dial, the reference 6202 Monometer was identical to the reference 6202 Turn-O-Graph, and both watches can be considered the precursors to Rolex’s Submariner.

Two rare examples of Rolex 6202 – a “Monometer” with honeycomb dial and a Turn-O-Graph with white honeycomb dial – photos courtesy of Phillips.

In all actuality, the reference 6202 can be considered the precursor to several different Rolex watches that are now held in high regard by vintage collectors. In addition to being the forerunner to both the Submariner and Turn-O-Graph/Thunderbird lines of watches, the reference 6202 was also the foundation for the very first Rolex Milgauss.

While the contemporary Milgauss more closely resembles an Oyster Perpetual or Datejust, the very first Milgauss (the reference 6541) was largely based on the design of the original reference 6202 Turn-O-Graph. Although the Milgauss lost its sixty-minute demarcated bezel in subsequent iterations, it was the reference 6202 that was initially chosen by Rolex to be the foundation for their anti-magnetic line of watches.

Rolex 6541 Milgauss

An early Rolex Milgauss 6541 – not the overall resemblance with the 6202 – Photo courtesy of Phillips

The reference 6202 Turn-O-Graph represents the beginning of Rolex’s rotating bezel tool watches and is actually credited as being their first serially-produced watch with a rotating bezel. While it was not the very first Rolex watch ever fitted with a rotating bezel – that credit would go to the reference 3346 from 1937 of which only seven to twelve examples were manufactured – the reference 6202 Turn-O-Graph is the watch that ultimately would go on to evolve into a number of Rolex’s most famous and renowned lines of sport watches.

Rolex 6202 Turn-o-Graph Pre-Submariner

Due to its age, short production run, and important role within Rolex’s history, surviving examples of Rolex’s reference 6202 Turn-O-Graph have become quite rare and desirable among collectors today. While it may look like a vintage Submariner with an aftermarket bezel insert from a distance, the reference 6202 is actually a watch that pre-dates the Submariner and lent its design DNA to some of Rolex’s most treasured and successful lines of sports watches.

In the coming episode of this Historical Perspective series, we’ll look at the first real Rolex Submariner, the reference 6204 from 1953. To be continued…


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

  1. The Missing Link, The Rolex Reference 6202 or the “Pre-Submariner”
  2. The Very First Rolex Submariner, The Reference 6204
  3. The Original “Bond” Rolex Submariner, The Reference 6538 “Big Crown”
  4. 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.

3 responses

  1. The irony is that, now that most Submariner wearers don’t dive, the watch has essentially returned to its roots, functionality-wise.

  2. Even for those who do dive, it’s fairly rare to see a watch underwater. Dive computers have made them unnecessary extra equipment, and taking a good watch on a dive boat subjects it to lots of risk of getting banged up.

  3. Nice write up. Essentially, the pedigree of ROLEX’s “swimming perpetuals” have always emblemized many explorer walks of life – Jacques Cousteau, spaceman/sealab aquanaut Scott Carpenter, are people who chose the timing tool most trusted to withstand the elements. Unfortunately, today’s SUBMARINER has lost some of it’s original lineage; becoming more a “jewelry” timepiece.

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