In-Depth

History of the Rolex Submariner – Part 4, The Modern Ceramic References

From ceramic bezels to super-cases, the modern references of the Rolex Submariner brought some notable changes - and some serious splashes of colour too!

calendar | ic_dehaze_black_24px By Tom Mulraney | ic_query_builder_black_24px 8 min read |

Our journey through time is almost complete. Today, we bring you the fourth and final instalment of our in-depth look at the Rolex Submariner history. The key subjects of this last article will, of course, be the Ref. 114060 and the Ref. 116610 (and all its variants), which form the current Rolex Submariner line-up. Certainly, the overall idea behind this luxury diver’s watch didn’t change much with these new references. Indeed, the current collection could easily be called “conservative” design-wise. The modern days of the Rolex Submariner are to be found somewhere else, in materials and mechanics. 

If you recall from Part 3, by the early 1990s Rolex had pretty much settled on its formula for the Submariner and Submariner Date. There were, of course, subtle evolutions and improvements, but overall the models remained largely unchanged for the next two decades. During this time though, something rather significant happened to another of the brand’s popular tool watch collections. Hardcore fans will have already guessed that I am referring to the unveiling of the yellow gold GMT-Master II Ref. 116718LN in 2005. This model marked the 50th anniversary of the GMT-Master collection and features a striking green dial (it was also available with a black dial).

The 2005 yellow gold GMT-Master II Ref. 116718LN was the first Rolex to feature a “Cerachrom” bezel (internal name for ceramic), a material that will later be used in most collections.

Our interest in this model lies not with the colour of its dial though, but rather with the black bezel insert framing it. This was the public’s first look at Rolex’s brand new, patented Cerachrom bezel insert. Fashioned from extremely hard ceramic material, it is virtually impervious to scratches, and its colour is unaffected by the ultraviolet rays of the sun. The numerals and graduations are engraved directly into the ceramic and then coated with a very thin layer of gold or platinum using a PVD process. A final diamond polishing removes the gold or platinum from the rest of the bezel’s surface, resulting in the exceptional, long‑lasting lustre we’ve all come to know.

Rolex Submariner Date 116610LN
The Rolex Submariner Date as we know it today, in its 116610LN version

It was a forgone conclusion that this new ceramic bezel would eventually find its way to the Submariner. But watch fans would have to wait a further three years for that to happen. And even then, Rolex started with precious metal versions first, before finally getting to the steel options two years later. I think it’s fair to say it was worth the wait. Although some still prefer the look and feel of the aluminium versions, particularly because as they age they give the watch its own unique character and certainly aren’t as ‘shiny’. Regardless, as you’re about to discover, the bezel wasn’t the only thing to change on the new generation of Submariners.

Ref. 116618 & Ref. 116619

In 2008, Rolex brought not one, but three new solid gold Submariner Date references to market: the Ref. 116618LN (solid yellow gold, black dial/bezel); the Ref. 116618LB (solid yellow gold, blue dial/bezel); and the Ref. 116619LB (solid white gold, blue dial/blue bezel). These models introduced two significant changes to the collection. First, was the long-awaited inclusion of the Cerachrom bezel insert in both black and blue. Second, was the debut of the so-called ‘Super Case’.

Although somewhat expected, the arrival of the Cerachrom bezel was still celebrated by Rolex enthusiasts everywhere. This was a big step towards modernising one of the Crown’s most famous – and commercially successful – models. The yellow gold models kept with the colour conventions established by Rolex back in the 1970s. The white gold version, however, was another matter entirely.

For a start, there had never been a white gold Submariner before. To differentiate it further, Rolex gave this model a lacquered blue dial which is flatter in appearance than the ‘shinier’ blue dials found on yellow gold models. It’s this combination of white gold and the blue on blue dial/bezel combo that led to the Ref. 116619LB being given the nickname the “Smurf” by collectors. Interestingly though, despite being ‘unusual’ – normally catnip for Rolex fans – the Smurf has never quite enjoyed the same level of commercial success as the gold versions. And certainly, doesn’t even come close to the steel versions.

The second major update to the Submariner Date in 2008 was the introduction of the ‘Super Case’. Still measuring 40mm in diameter, the Oyster case was made slightly squarer, with thicker lugs and a chunkier overall profile. The changes were subtle but are immediately obvious when compared side-by-side with a previous generation Submariner. This new case style was also first introduced on the 50th anniversary GMT-Master II mentioned above and was Rolex’s solution to the ‘big’ watch trend, which was gaining momentum at the time. The result is a bulkier, more masculine watch that is still very wearable and comfortable on the wrist.

These models also mark the widespread adoption of the ‘Maxi Dial’, which if you recall made its debut into the collection on the Rolex Kermit in 2003. This style of dial has larger lume plots and thicker hands for better legibility. Some argue that the combination of these two is a better balance than the larger style dial on the Kermit with the slimmer style case. Others say the opposite. Whatever your opinion, it seems these design elements are here to stay. (Unless Rolex unveils something very unexpected on 1st September – like a 42mm case for the Submariner…)

A newer Glidelock clasp also debuted on these solid gold versions of the Submariner Date, allowing the wearer to adjust the length up to 5mm without the use of tools. Rolex has since improved on this significantly and an on the latest versions you can expand the band to about 20mm in 2mm increments. Inside remains the same, chronometer-certified, self-winding manufacture calibre 3135 from the previous generation.

Ref. 116613LN & 116613LB

Almost entirely identical to the full gold models just above, Rolex launched a year later the two-tone “Rolesor” version of the Submariner Date. Technically, no differences. The Rolesor Submariner Date is available in two versions, both mixing stainless steel with 18k yellow gold (for the bezel, the crown and bracelet’s centre links). The first one is the 116613LN, with a black dial and bezel. The second model is the 116613LB, with a blue dial and bezel.

Ref. 116610LN & Ref. 116610LV

It would be another two years before Rolex came with the steel version of the revised Submariner Date. And again, the brand would have a colourful surprise up its sleeve. Like the solid gold versions, the Ref. 116610LN features a ‘Super Case’ and ‘Maxi Dial’ configuration, framed by a Cerachrom bezel. It also uses the traditional black-on-black colour scheme that has defined the model since the very beginning.

At the same, Rolex also unveiled an unofficial successor to the Rolex Kermit. And as with the 50th-anniversary model, the Ref. 116610LV features a green bezel. Although this time crafted from shiny, fade-proof ceramic. But here Rolex took things a step further, giving its new creation a matching green dial. Marking the first time this colour had been used in the Submariner collection, it literally set the watch world on fire. Curiously though, this new green on green Submariner did not mark any special occasion or milestone. It was just another example of Rolex doing whatever the heck Rolex feels like doing.

A new steel Rolex sports watch generally means a new nickname, and this model was no exception. The striking colour, in combination with the chunkier proportions of the ‘Super Case’, means the Ref. 116610LV is now better known as the “Hulk”. Which I’m sure you’ll agree, sounds a lot more appealing than “Smurf”. Exceptionally popular, the Rolex Hulk has become even more sought after in recent months as speculation mounts that Rolex is planning to discontinue it this year in advance of the 70th anniversary of the Submariner in 2023. Whether that happens or not remains to be seen.

Ref. 114060

As with the previous generation, Rolex didn’t update the Submariner at the same time as the Submariner Date. Instead, the 14060M was superseded two years later in 2012 by the 114060. As you would expect, this model is virtually identical to the Ref. 116610LN. Meaning same case, ceramic bezel insert, dial configuration (with the exception of the date window, of course), and depth rating.

The main difference between the two models, therefore, is found inside the case. The Ref. 114060 is powered by the calibre 3130, introduced in the 14060M around 1999. Unlike with the previous generation though, all Ref. 114060 models are certified as ‘Superlative Chronometers’. And on the contrary of the Submariner Date, the Ref. 114060 is available in only one configuration, in steel with a black dial and black bezel – thus being the most classical, slightly more instrumental version of Rolex’s diver’s watch.

The Current line-up

In a glance, here’s the current Rolex Submariner collection, as offered by the brand in early 2020:

  • Submariner 114060 – no-date steel, black dial, black bezel
  • Submariner Date 116610LN – steel, black dial, black bezel
  • Submariner Date 116610LV – steel, black dial, green bezel
  • Submariner Date 116613LN – Rolesor (yellow gold and steel), black dial, black bezel
  • Submariner Date 116613LB – Rolesor (yellow gold and steel), blue dial, blue bezel
  • Submariner Date 116618LN – Yellow gold, black dial, black bezel
  • Submariner Date 116618LB – Yellow gold, blue dial, blue bezel
  • Submariner Date 116619LB – white gold, blue dial, blue bezel

 

As always, we welcome all feedback in the comments, and please don’t hesitate to let us know if we’ve missed something worthy of inclusion.


You can find here the 4 parts of the History of the Rolex Submariner:

Photos: Monochrome, Xupes, The Watch Club, Rolex

6 responses

  1. 116113LB and 116118LB had smurf dial the first years. I think the sunburst dial was released at Basel 2012.

  2. Outstanding 4 part series. Hard to believe we get it for free. Thanks for the great report. I’ve owned many of the Rolex watches in the articles – I wish I had kept them all. Unfortunately I did not. Keep up the great work!

  3. Thank you so much for your AToZ chronology.. As a two line 6538 owner im thrilled to read your words and great pgotographs to fill in every detail for me😍

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