Big watch news normally comes in the form of record-breaking complications or record-breaking auction prices. So rare is it that ‘big news’ is centred around a mere update of an existing model that such occasions are reserved exclusively for watches that are deserving of the term ‘iconic’. And as it could be argued quite easily that Rolex’s Submariner is the best-known watch in the world, this is why there is such excitement by the reveal of the first update of the famous diver in 12 long years.
Launched in 1953, the Submariner was the first wristwatch capable of diving to 100m. Look at that watch today and you can see the direct lineage stretching from the original to the new version, the £6,450 ref. 124060. Actually, the complete Sub line-up has been updated, including some in precious metals and variations with the date window as well, but this – the “no-date” – is the progenitor, where it all began for this famous piece which has influenced so many other brands’ attempts at dive watches. And one thing Rolex has shown again and again is that it knows not to mess with a winning formula.
The new size (41mm) is larger by just one millimetre, the new bracelet a shade wider, slimmer lugs affording the piece a profile reminiscent of a vintage Sub, and a new caliber (the 3230) – complete with Rolex’s Chronergy escapement and paramagnetic pallet fork and escape wheel – which boosts the power reserve to 70 hours (a healthy 46 per cent increase on the 48 hours offered by the old movement). Side by side you can barely see the difference, you have to look very closely to note the evolution of the design – which is precisely what Rolex was going for.
The heart of the update is all about that new 3230 movement, though. Aside, from that extremely useful increase in power reserve, the inclusion of Rolex’s proprietary Chronergy escapement means you get a more efficient and reliable watch – which itself means the piece should go longer between the need for servicing.
As for the minuscule size bump for the ref. 124060 (available as soon as stock reaches stores this month), why this might be the case is anyone’s guess, Rolex is certainly not saying. However, it could be part of a subtle strategy concerning the brand’s entire dive watch roster, of which the Sub is one part. Now Rolex can offer a 40mm Yacht-Master, a 41mm Submariner, a 42mm Yacht-Master, a 43mm Sea-Dweller and a 44mm Deepsea.
The creation of that original Submariner came about thanks to deep sea exploration in the early 1940s. At the time, Rolex played a role in the development of waterproof chronometer wristwatches, thanks in particular to its Oyster case, patented in 1926. Then, in the 1950s, Rolex began collaborations with pro divers which eventually led to the 1953 Submariner.
Just a year after its launch, the waterproofness of the first Submariner was increased to a depth of 200 metres. Then came other technical innovations, such as a luminescent disc on the hour hand to distinguish it from the minute hand, and a crown guard. The Rolex Submariner Date, adding the date function, did not arrive until 1969.