The new Rolex Submariner is upon us but editor Armand Conde-Sequeira-Rosen has an unpopular opinion of it. Read on to see what it is.
Writing about Rolex and, more specifically, the new Rolex Submariner is a tricky point. It’s awfully easy to be drawn in one of two directions: uncontrollable praise or the very darkest condemnation. I am adamant that as you read this very article, the internet’s various forums will be alive with elation and fury in equal measure. However, the fundamental point is that, as Rolex updates the entire Submariner collection, the yardstick against which most dive watches will be judged for the foreseeable future has moved.
If you are a regular reader of Watch Chronicler, you will be aware that I don’t enjoy jumping on the first opportunity to present a new product. Such writing, for me at the very least, is often premature and fails to address any true questions raised by a new product. With the new Rolex Submariner, this is a particular worry.
You see, the Submariner is so much more than simply a watch: it is the THE watch. For generations since its launch in 1954, the Submariner has defined its genre. Whilst other brands have perpetually reinvented their respective dive watches for different purposes, the Submariner will always be the Submariner. I know that this is undeniably trite yet, in spite of the perpetual hype surrounding Rolex’s products, this remains the core of the Rolex Submariner’s appeal. This is a watch which could easily be likened to a Hoover in a world of vacuum cleaners.
What Has Changed?
With this foreword out of the way, the new Rolex Submariner in its 41 mm case makes an awful lot more sense. As this is hardly a ‘New Release’ piece, I will spare you the press blurb as you will clearly find this elsewhere and instead draw your attention to the most pertinent aspects.
First, let’s address the elephant in the room: the size. The 41 mm diameter of the new Submariner is clearly a red herring and instead represents a rectification of the previous design aesthetic: the ‘Maxi Case’. Where the previous ref. 114060 and ref. 116610 featured broad-shouldered lugs and a narrow, 40 mm case, the new equivalents are proportionally more resolved. The case accepts its larger size with a diameter increase whilst the lugs return to the much-loved narrow shape of previous iterations. Whilst this change is fairly obvious, it’s in the details that Rolex demonstrate a rare understanding of their clientele.
Rolex are adamant that the Submariner is and will always be a modern watch; the Tudor Black Bay provides the vintage outlet for the Hans Wilsdorf Group. Consequently, the text on the dial has been subtly upgraded whilst the ‘Swiss Made’ script has been given a central coronet and moved to the very edge of the dial. My favourite revision is seen in the hands which have taken a leaf out of the GMT-Master II’s book. If one looks at the previous version of the Submariner, it’s pretty apparent that the hands (particularly the hour hand) are out of proportion with the enlarged markers. This has been fixed with longer and, particularly in the case of the hour hand, larger hands.
Mechanically, the update will come as little surprise as Rolex have added the movement already used in both the Sea-Dweller and DeepSea models: the 3230 and 3235. These movements come as part of the new range from Rolex with the benefits, amongst others, of an extended 70-hour power reserve and a heavily-revised escapement for reduced inertia and friction.
How Rolex Is Different?
As I said earlier, though, these facts can easily be gleaned from either Rolex’s own material or from photographs of the new Submariner. What is much more interesting is what this watch means for Rolex and what it shows this brand has understood over the last few years. For most brands, the 2010s have been a time for watches to become smaller, gain vintage details and pursue the desires of ever-louder enthusiasts. This is fairly obvious in the array of vintage-inspired dive watches with case sizes far below those we would have seen 15 years ago.
Rolex, however, is far more self-assured than most brands. Whilst this can be misconstrued as arrogance, it means that the crown is prepared to dictate to the market when a change is needed just as it is prepared to move with the times. The new Submariner ref. 124060 and ref. 126610 are the fruit of this approach. Their lugs and crown guards are slimmed down to cater to a more retrospective attitude whilst the adjusted hands and improved proportions show a recognition of the attention many enthusiasts show to such details.
Ultimately, the new Submariner is a totally calculated move. It is pragmatic and, in design terms as a near ideal watch, it has perhaps reached perfection. Where other brands have to do something different to draw interest, the Submariner controls its genre.
What is Missing?
Of course, there is a flip side and one which would always tempt me reverse out of a Rolex authorised dealer with its pomp and circumstance and instead buy an unloved and endlessly amusing Omega Seamaster PloProf. The Submariner simply doesn’t have the same level of tentative fun as earlier iterations. Amongst these, it was clear that Rolex was learning to make a better dive watch and employed new materials and designs to achieve this goal.
With the new Submariner, no such fun can be had as, when producing a watch to lead the industry, one cannot really afford to be tentative. But surely a brand can only really learn by choosing to take a risk?
I must leave you with a question: is this the first Rolex Submariner which, rather than leading the industry in an uncharted and initially difficult direction, has entirely followed the desires of its clientele? I think so, and I wonder if I should expect more from a new Submariner.