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History of the Rolex Submariner

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The Rolex Submariner was first developed in 1953 and has grown into the watchmaker’s best-seller. We explore the Submariner’s diving origins and its rise to fame, thanks to James Bond.


Selling the Idea of a Professional Rolex Diving Watch
In the early 1950s, René-Paul Jeanneret, a member of the Rolex board and a diving enthusiast, pitched the idea of a diving watch that was elegant enough to be worn every day to Rolex founder and president, Hans Wilsdorf. Rolex had been producing water resistant Oyster-cases with screw-down crowns since the 1930s but Jeanneret envisioned a professional diving watch that could withstand the under water pressure. Jeanneret turned to his friend, famed ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau, to further appeal to Wilsdorf. At the time, Cousteau was building his notoriety with a series of inventions that spring boarded man’s deep-sea exploration. And Cousteau’s opinion seemed to convince Wilsdorf that Jeanneret’s idea was worth pursuing.

The Rolex Submariner’s First Deep-Sea Dive
What would ultimately be known as the Rolex Submariner went into production in 1953. In September of 1953, Rolex announced their foray into diving watches with great fanfare. Rolex attached their new Rolex Submariner to the outside of Swiss inventor August Piccard’s bathyscaphe, a bubble-shaped deep-sea submersible. The bathyscaphe and the affixed Rolex were lowered into Tyrrhenian Sea, off the coast of Italy, and descended a world record-breaking 3,131.8 meters (more than 10,000 feet) towards the ocean floor. When the bathyscaphe surfaced, the Rolex Submariner was in perfect working condition.

Basel Fair 1954 and Initial Reception
Following this successful and historic dive, the Rolex Submariner made its official public debut at the 1954 Basel Fair. Fair-goers were delighted with the sporty-yet-elegant design and sturdiness of the hardware was the perfect combination for the professional and casual sportsman. The Rolex also featured a new rotating bezel that allowed divers to easily monitor their remaining oxygen and time spent underwater, a feature suggested by the Submariner’s greatest champion René-Paul Jeanneret. The Rolex Submariner also featured a “triplock” clasp that Rolex is now known for and that helped divers easily remove the watch even while wearing a wet suit and clumsy gloves.

Rolex claimed their new water-resistant Submariner could withstand depths of 200 meters (660 feet) which ranked the Rolex Submariner as the best water-resistant watch of its time. To back up their claims, Rolex referred to the Institute for Deep Sea Research in Cannes, France that tested the Rolex Submariner in a series of 132 dives at various depths, up to 60 meters.

However, for all its accolades and record-breaking mechanics, the Rolex Submariner’s initial public reception was pretty cool until the 1960s when it turned into a runaway success.

The Influence of James Bond
The British Royal Navy made the Submariner its official watch in 1955. This would ultimately lead author and naval intelligence officer Ian Fleming to write that his most famous fictional character, James Bond, wore a Rolex Oyster Perpetual. (Fleming himself wore Rolex Explorer.) When the suave spy James Bond would make his silver screen debut (played by Sean Connery) in 1962, he wore a Rolex Submariner. The watch was then a commercial sensation and has since grown to be one of Rolex’s best-selling models.


The Rolex Submariner Today
Rolex has been quite slow to modify its popular Submariner watch. Throughout the 1970s, Rolex started offering the Rolex with more colorful faces including bright blue, yellow gold, and even two-tone options. In 2003, Rolex commemorated the 50th anniversary of the Submariner with the release of the Submariner-Date, which added a date window and green bezel.

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