The Rolex Submariner is arguably the most iconic sport/dive watch ever made. And after wearing this one for a week, I’d have to say it is one of the best looking and most comfortable vintage watches I’ve worn. The dimensions are just right.
Rolex currently produces more than 800,000 mechanical watches a year. The Submariner represents the biggest percentage of that number. The first Submariner model went into production in 1953. It has been on the market for 60 years. That means there are a lot of Subs out there. Which one should you buy? For a Submariner, or really any Rolex, vintage is definitely the way to go.
James Lamdin of analog/shift — who let us borrow this Rolex Submariner 16800 for a week — said it best “A great way to appreciate this legendary model without being ‘just another guy’ with a new Submariner is to opt for a vintage piece over a new one. The collector marketplace is flush with great examples from the 1950s to 1980s, but not all vintage Submariners are ideal for daily usage, so be sure and choose carefully.”
This particular Submariner model, the Rolex reference 16800, was produced in the late ’70s/early ’80s and was the last matte dial Submariner made with a date function. Now, it’s one of the best vintage Rolex Submariners for the money.
“This particular Submariner model, the Rolex reference 16800, was produced in the late ’70s/early ’80s and was the last matte dial Submariner made with a date function.”
This example has the original “Swiss-T <25” marked matte dial in excellent shape. The Rolex signed crown is original. Bezel is in good condition, and is original. The lume on the minute hand is cracked, but that is not a big issue (and although we don’t recommend it, if you really want it can be re-lumed by a watchmaker). The case is in 904L steel and measures 40 mm in diameter, and while there are a few little scratches and dings, relative to the year, it is in great condition.
Unlike many of the Submariners from this time period, this model does have a sapphire crystal, a feature that adds significant durability over plexiglass (although it should be noted that in this model plexiglass is more rare and is therefore worth more). If you want a daily wearer, the virtually maintenance free sapphire crystal is best anyways. Furthermore, it has the COSC certified chronometer movement (as designated on the dial), a feature not seen on all Submariners.
The Submariner 16800 introduced the caliber 3035 with quick set date. The 16800 was also the first Submariner to feature metal “surrounds” for the hour markers and the sapphire crystal (although earlier 16800s did not have metal surrounds - like the one shown). Finally, whereas previous Submariners were rated water-resistant to 660 feet, the 16800 was the first Sub to be rated down to 1000 feet. Caliber 3035 is a self-winding 27 jewel movement with a Breguet hairspring and free sprung balance.
If you want a Rolex Submariner, with a little bit a vintage style, without having to spend too much cash. This is an excellent choice. Expect to pay about $4,000 to $6,000 for a 16800 in good condition. A vintage Submariner with an original dial and hands, that have not been re-lumed, is preferable. (Ref. 16800)