Rolex Submariner and Gold Flippers

For some reason, things seem to happen in waves. The most recent wave has me coming across people wearing nothing but Gold (or Two-Tone), Rolex Submariners. And if you know anything about me it’s that one of my biggest pet peeves is a gold dive watch.

To understand this, let's analyze this as logically as we can:

In 1953 Auguste Piccard dove over 3131 meters wearing a Rolex wristwatch that was specially created for the dive. This was the first time Rolex let the world know they could make a proper diver’s watch. Then in 1955, Rolex introduced the now famous Submariner reference 6538.

The specs for such a watch, including updates Rolex made over the years, were pretty clear:

  • the Mercedes handset
  • oversized winding crown
  • eventually the triple-lock crown
  • radium paint for the luminous indices
  • shoulders were added to protect the crown
  • and the watch was made in stainless steel, not gold
  • etc.

But, why not gold? Was it the price? Was it too hard to work with? Maybe it was hard to find gold in those days?

No, the reason why gold was never used is because that would be stupid. Gold is soft and would erode much faster than steel. In fact, this is why Rolex spends so much of its research dollars on stronger more durable steel.

For instance, those early Submariners were made of 916L Steel, the kind of steel almost all other manufacturers use when making a stainless steel watch. Then, in 1985 Rolex switched to 904L steel, which is harder and more corrosive-resistant.

In other words, Rolex was and is very much aware that a dive watch should be as corrosive resistant as possible, especially if it were to be used by professionals.

But money is money, and one of the easiest ways to make a killing is making a watch that has already been developed for decades in a precious metal. The extra costs of doing so are minimal compared the additional profit.

So, in 1969 Rolex released the ref.16618 in Gold. This was nearly 20 years after the idea of a diver’s watch was conceived (if not more if you consider the idea of the Oyster case, which happened way before the “Submariner” was a thing). This was also the same year Seiko introduced the Quartz movement, which nearly collapsed the entire Swiss watch industry.

In other words, by the time 1969 rolled around, the writing was on the wall and a watch company needed to find new ways to stay afloat. Many did not, but Rolex did, and making Gold watches was a very astute way of doing so. 

Gold is a precious metal, and precious metals translate (with the proper marketing), to luxury. So now, in essence, Rolex was suggesting their tool watch could also be considered a luxury watch.

It's crazy, I know (haha), but it worked. In fact, it was and continues to be a huge success for Rolex. Rolex even added a date wheel (ref.1680), which was never part of the original Rolex Diver’s watch recipe but completed the Submariner's transition into a mass market fashion accessory. 

All of this, however, doesn’t change the fact that a Rolex purist will never (or should never), buy a Submariner in any material other than stainless steel. The same way a true Omega purist would never buy any version of the Speedmaster other than the Lemania-based manual-wound one.

Doing otherwise makes you an horological douche (HD).

It's literally tantamount to wearing flippers at the office, or scuba diving in a tuxedo... Or worse, swapping your rubber flippers for a nice pair of gold ones.