We mentioned it this morning, when we reviewed one of the rarest Rolexes, the Single-Red Sea-Dweller 1665 Prototype: there are rare and collectible vintage timepieces and there are the once-in-a-lifetime timepieces. For sure, this SD is such a piece but we also found some pretty interesting early Rolex Submariners (yes, that an understatement) that you won’t able to see everyday. Here are three of the most sought-after Subs, a 1955 Ref. 6536 with RED depth rating, a 1955 Ref. 6536 with ultra-tropical ‘Explorer‘ dial and finally a 1956 Ref. 6538 ‘Big Crown‘ also with RED depth rating.
To clarify the context, the Rolex Submariner was introduced in 1953, with reference number 6204, as one of the very first professionally oriented dive watches. At that time it already featured almost all the classical attributes of a modern Sub, meaning a rotating bezel with 60-minute scale, large indexes and hands with luminous material, a black dial for a better contrast and a 100m depth rating (which later changed to 200m, and even 300m, like for the modern editions). This first ref. 6204 received several updates, before Rolex introduced the Submariner Ref. 6536 in 1955. This specific reference is extremely rare, and only some 100 pieces were produced. This no crown-guards Ref. 6536 was produced for only 1 year only, in 1955.
Here are the specifications:
- non protected crown – meaning no crown-guards
- rotating bezel with a black insert in aluminium – sometimes with 1-minute intervals between 0 and 15, however sometimes not
- case that is similar to the later Ref. 6538
- the inside of the case-back in early watches (5 digits serial numbers) is punched ‘6538’ and overwritten ‘6536’
- Rolex movement calibre 1030
- ‘gilt‘ dial , meaning with gold prints and golden hands
- (very) few featured an ‘Explorer‘ dial, with Arabic 3-6-9 numerals
- ‘SWISS’ only at 6 o’clock
- a small crown
- 100m / 330 ft depth rating. The depth rating can be either “100 / 300” or “100m = 330ft”, and in a few occasions the depth rating is printed in red
Later (in 1956) Rolex came with a new reference, the Rolex Submariner 6538, with an improved water resistance (200m depth rating) and a large crown – which explains its nickname ‘Big Crown‘. Basically, these two references are extremely close, with a similar case, bezel, dial and hands.
The 1955 Rolex Submariner Ref. 6536 with red depth rating
The first early Rolex Submariner we found is one of the approx. 100 pieces with Reference 6536 that were made in 1955. It has a 5 digit serial number (meaning that it is one of the earliest models). As you can see, it is in a superb condition (don’t forget that it’s a 60 years old lady), with a beautiful patina and matching hands and indexes. Such feats are already quite rare, however there is something more: the red depth rating. It seems that Rolex did some tests at the beginning of the production with a red indication of the depth rating (written here only “100 / 300” instead of the more common “100m = 330ft”). If the Rolex Submariner Ref. 6536 is already a rare bird, a red depth rating Rolex Submariner Ref. 6536 is an ultra-rare one, as only 10 of them are reported to exist.
This 1955 Rolex Submariner Ref. 6536 with red depth rating and 5 digits serial number is for sale for € 80.000 Euros and listed here.
The 1955 Rolex Submariner Ref. 6536 with ultra-tropical ‘Explorer’ dial
Now this is the kind of watches that not everyone will like. Some will hate it, some are literally dreaming of it. It once featured a black dial that is faded to a light brown colour. Collectors call such a faded dial a tropical dial. Ultra-tropical dials like this one are certainly not for everyone but we have to admit that they usually achieve incredible prices during auctions (look at the coffee tropical Rolex Daytona Paul Newman that sold for € 336.600 Euros recently). It has to be said: the quality of the lacquers used by Rolex (and other manufactures) at that time was not the best one. Due to this lower quality, the dials of vintage Rolexes might, under the influence of sun (UV light) turn to a dark brown or even a greenish colour. Sometimes it’s even worse and the discolouration results in this kind of ultra-tropical dial, with a caramel / orange colour. Same goes for the bezel insert that turned into a light grey colour – what collectors call a shadow bezel.
This unique patina is not the only attribute of this 1955 Rolex Submariner Ref. 6536 as it also features an ‘Explorer‘ dial, meaning that it has the Arabic 3-6-9 numerals for indexes instead of classical baton indexes. Similar to the first Sub we showed you, we’re talking about an early example with a 5 digits serial number and a case-back punched ‘6538’ and overwritten ‘6536’. This combination of rare features creates a possibly unique watch that might make a great impression at a collectors’ dinner.
This 1955 Rolex Submariner Ref. 6536 with ultra-tropical ‘Explorer‘ dial and 5 digits serial number is for sale at € 280.000 Euros and listed here.
The 1956 Rolex Submariner Ref. 6538 ‘Big Crown‘ with red depth rating
Last but not least, here is a superb example of another rare reference, a 1956 Rolex Submariner Ref. 6538 ‘Big Crown’. This specific reference of the Submariner is a legend, as it is the one worn by Sean Connery in the very first James Bond 007 movie, Dr. No. The dial with only two lines of text shows that we’re dealing with an early example of this reference (later, some examples will feature 4 lines of text, with ‘Officially Certified Chronometer‘ added to the dial – these are called the OCC ones). This reference, Rolex improved the water resistance to a 200m / 660ft depth rating and added a larger crown.
If you take a closer look at the dial, you’ll notice the gilt print and hands; some of the most classical features of the early Subs. However the point of interest is not here, but in the depth rating that is printed in red. Once again, this is extremely rare on these vintage Rolex Submariner references, making this specific 1956 Rolex Submariner Ref. 6538 ‘Big Crown’ non-OCC Swiss-only Red-Depth-Rating, a very special one.
This 1956 Rolex Submariner Ref. 6538 is in a superb condition, with its chamfered lugs, its original bracelet and matching indexes and hands. It is for sale at € 175.000 Euros and listed here.