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Rolex Submariner 50th Anniversary Edition Watch Review

by The Review CrewJuly 26, 2010

I can’t tell you how many reviews of the Rolex Submariner can be found today on the internet. Indeed, there are dozens. So how does one write yet another review of such a classic and iconic watch? It’s unlikely that I can provide any new information that can’t already be found elsewhere online, but there is one thing I can relate that you won’t find anywhere else: my personal experience with buying and owning a Rolex.

I’m an electrical engineer by trade. Because of my training, I’ve always been fascinated by Rolex watches. They represent an incredibly high standard in mechanical precision and accuracy. Many consider Rolex products to be among the finest in the world. Admittedly, just about any good quartz watch is going to be more accurate, but the same can be said for any mechanical watch. And the appeal of a fine watch isn’t about accuracy, of course, but rather the combination of elegance, style, and engineering achievement. To some, a Rolex is merely a status symbol, but in my world, it represents all of the professional values to which I aspire: accuracy, precision, craftsmanship, and excellence.

For many years, I’d been planning this purchase. I wanted to buy a Submariner, but initially couldn’t decide whether to buy one with the standard black bezel, or the Anniversary edition with the green bezel. I ultimately went with the green knowing that Submariner bezels are available in other colors color, so I later swapped the green bezel out for a black one. As you can see from the photo gallery, the results are striking.

Before we go any further, let’s look at the specifications of the Rolex Oyster Perpetual Date 50th Anniversary Submariner:

•40 millimeter stainless steel case.
•Screwdown “triplock” crown for some of the best water-resistance in the industry.
•Stainless steel Oyster bracelet with solid end links and safety clasp.
•Guaranteed water resistant to 300 meters, or 1,000 feet.
•Rolex in-house 3135 automatic movement: 28,800 bph, hand-winding, and hacking.
•Unidirectional ratcheting bezel: 120 positions, green anodized aluminum, luminous “pearl”.
•Deep black bezel with luminous markers and hands.
•Iconic date “cyclops”.
•Scratch-proof synthetic sapphire crystal.
The Rolex Submariner is one of the most recognizable and sought-after watches in the world. Of course, iconic status is not without consequences. Due to the unfortunate proliferation of forgeries, Rolex watches are now manufactured with additional markings intended to discourage unauthorized copies and help identify an authentic product (more on this below). The new markings include laser-etched logos on the crystal and serial numbers on the case. The serial number etched between the lugs of my Submariner indicates that it was manufactured in late 2008.

The Big Question: Is a Rolex Watch “Worth It”?
The most common question from non-Rolex owners is why Rolex watches are so expensive. Are the worth it? I overlook the fact that some Rolexes are made of precious metals since the additional costs of gold or platinum are obvious. Minus precious metals, the labor cost is enormous for hand-making a watch with hundreds of parts, and for the COSC certification. Add to that the guarantee of water resistance to 1,000 feet and a finely machined and polished case of the highest grade of stainless steel available, and it’s clear you’re not dealing with your everyday timepiece. But ultimately the question of whether a watch is worth better than $5,000 is a personal one. Is the price worth it to you? Regardless of what it costs, if you appreciate beauty, balance, aesthetics, and craftsmanship in your watches, you will not be disappointed with a Submariner.

The two most notable differences between the Submariner and my other mechanical watches are accuracy and smoothness, particularly in the winding stem and in the movement of the second hand. The crown is smooth as silk and very easy to turn while winding the mainspring, and the second hand seems to glide in perfect velvety fashion around the dial without hesitating or surging. Additionally, the crown screws down absolutely perfectly which, if you’ve experienced a lot of other screw-down crowns, is not something to be taken lightly. No cross-threading or binding with a Rolex.

Achieving this kind of “velvety” smoothness is clearly a colossal effort. Virtually all components of Rolex watches are manufactured in-house, and the watches are hand-assembled by their own staff of professional watchmakers. In a world a mass-produced components and commodification, Rolex’s holistic approach to watchmaking is becoming increasingly rare.

The accuracy of a Rolex is enhanced by the exacting process of COSC certification. Some owners report accuracy equal to or even better than quartz watches, although the goal of COSC certification is not this level of accuracy (for mechanical watches, COSC specifies a variance of -4/+6 seconds per day). Even greater accuracy can be achieved when the watch is carefully adjusted by a professional watchmaker and well maintained by the owner. Many aficionados recommend an overhaul every 5 years, costing between $300 and $500. This may seem expensive, but Rolexes can and will run well for decades if this is done regularly. An overhaul involves complete disassembly of the watch, replacement of worn parts, cleaning, lubrication, and, of course, all new rubber gaskets.

Another way to look at the value of a Rolex is to count the number of watches you’ve had in your life, and figure out the number of watches you will have. If you purchase a Rolex, that number can very easily be one. It’s completely feasible that a single well-maintained Rolex is the only watch you’ll ever need. It can be worn while being active, works perfectly well with a suit, and even makes a great family heirloom. If you take good care of a Rolex, it will very likely live longer than you.

Even the box the watch comes in is worthy of mention. Of course, using the word “box” is a little absurd because it implies cardboard cheapness. The outer box is cardboard, but its job is merely to protect the solid wooden presentation inner box that encloses the watch. It is a thick, solid wooden case with a carved wave pattern on the lid. Inside is a pillowed suede surface that nestles your new prize. Rolex treats their products and their customers with the same respect that their customers have shown them by investing in the Rolex brand. It wouldn’t be an overstatement to say that Rolex watches represent an experience as much as a timepiece.

Although I wax eloquent, I can’t ignore a few imperfections. After all, this was a pretty expensive item, and we all want value for our hard-earned money. So, here goes. My main issue with the Submariner is the bracelet. It seems a tad on the fragile side, tapering to a mere 16 millimeters at the clasp. The clasp is a little light in construction compared to the watch itself, and it soon became loose and developed a tendency to pop open on my wrist. I would prefer a sturdier clasp and a thicker bracelet — perhaps with less taper. The bracelet is something Rolex will likely change as the Submariner evolves. The bracelet on the new Rolex Sea-Dweller DEEPSEA is one of the sturdiest and best designed dive bracelets we’ve ever seen.

Advice for Buying a Rolex
If you’re thinking of buying a Rolex, the best piece of advice I can give you is “caveat emptor!” (“Buyer beware!”) Do your research and know the product. If you’re buying new, buy from a reputable authorized dealer, and you’ll be perfectly fine. Buying used is trickier. Don’t buy from anyone without a good, solid, verifiable reputation. If possible, meet in person, and to be extra sure your new watch is genuine, meet at either an authorized dealer or a watchmaker who can verify the authenticity before the deal is made.

Forgeries are extremely sophisticated nowadays and are virtually indistinguishable from an authentic to the untrained eye. The one dead giveaway is that the Rolex movement is unmistakably distinctive in design and appearance, and very difficult to duplicate accurately. A fake “watchmaker” usually won’t bother because low-cost is the objective, so they mostly use mass-produced movements that a trained watchmaker can easily spot.

Have Fun With It!
I have the anniversary edition of the Submariner which differs by the green bezel and larger dial markers (dubbed the “Maxi Dial”). I decided to buy a second black bezel and replace the green one, creating an anniversary edition with a more traditional look. I only wear it a couple of times per month because a Rolex doesn’t fit my lifestyle for everyday use. I worry about attracting too much attention, and occasionally, the wrong kind of attention. But the most important thing is that when I wear it, I know it’s on my wrist, and it’s simply fun to enjoy such an incredible instrument which has earned so much respect over the years.

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The Review Crew
The Review Crew is a group of beat editors, writers, and consultants that have been working together for years. They know just about everything about everything collectively and have published their collective work under the Review Crew brand moniker for almost 20 years.