One of our absolute favorite watches: the Ref. 5513 Rolex Submariner
Today, we will not cover the entire history of the Rolex Submariner, nor shall we try and explain why the Sub has become such a hit. Instead, we will have a closer look at one of our all time favorite watches: the ref. 5513 Submariner.
By Thomas van Straaten on 14 January 2022
The Rolex Submariner was certainly not the first dive watch. That honor goes to the Omega Marine. It was also not the first watch with the now ubiquitous rotating bezel. That was most likely the Rolex Zerographe in the 1930s. The Submariner was beaten to market by the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms. Even the Sub’s design was not original to the model, as only a slight adaptation of the earlier Turn-O-Graph.
In spite of all of these factors, the Rolex Submariner has become arguably the most iconic and influential watch of all times.
The ref. 5513
Today, we will not cover the entire history of the Submariner, nor shall we try and explain why the Sub has become such a hit. Instead, we will have a closer look at one of our all-time favorite watches: The ref. 5513 Submariner.
The reference 5513 was introduced in 1962 and remained in production until 1990, making it one of the longest-running references in Rolex history. In a sense, the 5513 is a variation on the 5512, which was introduced in 1959. The only difference between the two is the fact that the 5512 was fitted with a chronometer-rated caliber, the 5513 was not. Up until 1980, you had your pick of either a COSC or a non-COSC Sub.
"The Rolex Submariner has become arguably the most iconic and influential watch of all times"
So why no article on the ref. 5512 then? Well, for starters, the 5513 is a lot more common and therefore more attainable for aspiring aficionados. But there is also an aesthetic reason why we love it so much: since it is not a “Superlative Chronometer Officially Certified” watch, there are two lines of text less on the dial, resulting in a super clean look. Less text makes a dial look more focused, more intentional. And boy, does it result in a pretty face with the 5513.
Both the ref. 5512 and 5513 classify as no-date Submariners. If you prefer a date, you will have to look at the ref. 1680 date Submariner. You might argue it is a matter of taste, but there is actually some merit to a no-date Sub. As a true tool watch intended for divers, it makes sense to omit a date complication. For starters, it allows for a cleaner, simpler design, resulting in better legibility, which is key for divers. Second, there is just less to go wrong. A date was added to the Sea-Dweller because it was intended for saturation dives lasting multiple days. For any leisure or professional SCUBA diving, a date is unnecessary. Less is more.
Between the mere two lines of text and the lack of any complications, the 5513 is about as clean and poised as they come.
Spanning a massive 28 years, the 5513 Sub has naturally seen a number of dial styles in its lifetime. Although many subtle variations can be found, three primary periods can be identified:
- Gilt dials (roughly 1962-1966)
- Matte dials (roughly 1966-1984)
- Gloss dials (1984-1990)
Those early gilt dials are easily our favorites. Gilt dials are characterized by a unique production method. Rather than being painted black and then having their printing added in white, the process is quite different: First, the printing is applied to a brass blank in clear lacquer. Next, the dial is galvanized black, a process based on adhering a pigment through an electrical current. Since this paint does not bond to the clear lacquer, the printing emerges as negative space in an otherwise black dial. The entirety is then clear coated for durability and a nice even finish.
The result is a high gloss dial with gold-tone printing, that is ever so slightly sunk into the black and metallic in sheen. It is rare and quite simply stunning. Unfortunately, gilt dials have become so sought-after that they command very serious premiums.
The later matte dials come in five variations, commonly referred to as MKI-V. The variations are based on subtle details such as whether the depth rating is displayed feet-first or meters-first, and on serif versus non-serif fonts.
From 1976 onwards, the indices are boosted in size. These bigger lume plots are the reason why these dials are referred to as “Maxi dials”. They provide an even bolder, more aggressive aesthetic.
In 1984, Rolex introduces gloss dials with white gold applied surrounds that serve as basins for the tritium lume on the hour markers. The previous dial styles featured only printing and tritium, now we see the introduction of the more ornate applied index. This style of hour marker is in use until the latest Submariner references today.
The last of the acrylics
One of the reasons why Rolex is such an admirable watchmaker is that the house always strives for functional improvements. New Rolex watches are fitted with new materials and technologies that prolong service intervals, reliability and durability.
Within that philosophy though, sometimes a bit of the magic disappears. SuperLuminova and later Chromalight are superior to tritium in all respects. They are brighter, more color-stable, non-radioactive, less reactive to UV and moisture exposure. They are a sensible next step. But they do not develop the same beautiful warm patina that tritium does.
The same goes for sapphire crystals. Sure, they are less prone to scratching. But they do not warp and distort the dial below as the cool old-school acrylic crystals do. And especially on a vintage Sub, that super-domed acrylic is a thing to behold! The ref. 5513 would be the last of the Submariners to be fitted with acrylic before the inevitable leap to sapphire was made.
The last vintage Sub, for now
In a broader sense, you might argue that the 5513 was the last true vintage no-date Sub. The lack of applied indices on the pre-1984 models, the acrylic crystals, the jingly-jangly bracelets we have not even touched upon yet. They all provide a truly vintage vibe that you just do not get with modern Subs. Nothing wrong with a modern Sub, but it is so extremely different in feel.
The later ref. 14060 feels like it is from a totally different era to the 5513. It is arguably more elegant and obviously technically superior. But it is less tool-ish and brutalist in look and feels. At the time of writing, we consider the 5513 to be the last vintage Sub. But now that we are growing accustomed to ceramic bezels, maxi cases, and larger diameters, we would not be surprised if we start considering the 14060 a true vintage Submariner sometime over the coming decades.
Best of the best?
The ref. 5513 is, in our eyes at least, one of the best generations of arguably the most iconic and influential watch ever made. And since it has become accepted in formal situations as well (thank you, Mr. Bond) it is a potential one-watch-collection-watch. Show us a watch that is closer to perfection than a gilt Rolex ref. 5513 on a riveted stretch Oyster bracelet. We’ll wait.