Review of the Rolex Submariner 116619
By: John B. Holbrook, II
January 1st, 2009
Basel 2008 generated much excitement in the watch world, and particularly in the Rolex community. Besides being the 100 Year anniversary of the company, (a fact which went largely unacknowledged by Rolex, but that's another topic...) Rolex also made some fairly significant announcements. Rolex discontinued the much loved 16600 Sea-Dweller, and replaced it with the technically-amazing-but-hard-to wear Deep Sea Sea-Dweller, and debuted the Day Date II models - both of which stole much of the Basel 2008 spotlight. Rolex also introduced some new variants of the Cosmograph Daytona. But Rolex also quietly and most unexpectedly debuted three new all-gold Rolex Submariner models. These were not variants of existing Submariner models - these were redesigned models, exhibiting many of the same enhancements and upgrades which Rolex designed in the Anniversary GMT models which came out over the last three previous Basel World shows. Given the significance of the Rolex Submariner, I'm rather surprised that more attention wasn't paid to these model introductions as they point the way what's ahead for the model. Rolex USA recently sent me an example of the white gold Submariner 116619 to evaluate.
Those familiar with the changes that Rolex introduced with the Anniversary GMT (beginning with the Rolex GMT Master II 116718 LN in 2005) will recognize cosmetic and functional changes apparent in the 116619 Submariner. To begin with, the bezel is the same ceramic "CERACHROM" bezel first introduced on the 50th Anniversary GMT. This new bezel is both extremely hard and highly scratch resistant. While the CERACHROM bezel on the 50th anniversary GMT looks quite different than that of the GMT model it replaces, the CERACHROM bezel on this Submariner looks strikingly similar to the classic Submariner bezel style we've seen from Rolex for over 50 years - a good thing in my book. The lugs as well as the crown guards on the 116619 share the expanded design also first seen on the 50th Anniversary GMT - these larger lugs and guards give the new Submariner a larger appearance on the wrist, though the dial size remains 40mm in diameter - the same as the previous Submariner models. At first, I wasn't altogether fond of the "squarish" look which comes with the thicker lugs and crown guards, but it's growing on me. The 18k white gold case of the Submariner 116619 is also every bit as water resistant as the previous model - 300m/1000ft. There was speculation that the re-designed Submariner models might be more water resistant. I for one am glad Rolex didn't move in that direction, as the watch more than likely would have become thicker in the process, which would impact both aesthetics and wearability.
The blue dial of the new 116619 is quite captivating and unique - it's distinctly different than the near iridescent blue dial on the 16613 two-tone Submariner. Based on the initial Baselworld 2008 photos, many (including myself) frowned upon the "robin egg blue" color of the dial and bezel on the 116619. In person, it's far more attractive than what photos convey, but I still prefer the blue dial on the current 16613 Submariner. The dial has also been given the "Maxi dial" treatment by Rolex - larger markers and hands which were first seen on the Rolex Yacht-Master. Rolex has also been experimenting a bit in recent years with the colors of the SuperLuminova coatings they apply on the hands and markers of their watches. For years, their watches would glow with a green color. But the lume on the 116619 Submariner glows blue, just like the new Deep Sea Sea-Dweller. It looks great with the blue dial and bezel of this watch. I did some side-by-side testing with my Maxi dial Yacht-Master and it appears to my eye that overall luminosity suffers a bit in "colored" SuperLuminova. As you can see in this photo comparing the Yacht-Master green Maxi dial to the new 116619's Maxi Dial, blue SuperLuminova coated dial, the Yacht-Master appears brighter, while the new blue SuperLuminova appears more subdued. Despite this fact, it has been said that under water, the blue SuperLuminova is easier to see than the traditional green variety - which is supposed to be one of the reasons why the blue SuperLuminova is used on both the new Deep Sea Sea-Dweller, and the new Submariner.
The bracelet and clasp of the 116619 Submariner have received some fairly significant upgrades, which will no doubt be welcome news to most Rolex Submariner fans. The Rolex Oyster bracelet on Submariner models of years past, and particularly the clasp have had some short comings - the hollow center links were prone to "stretching" after years of use, and the stamped metal clasp on the Oyster bracelet functioned well, but never looked and felt to be of the same quality standard as the rest of the watch. The case matching 18k white gold Oyster bracelet on the 116619 Submariner has solid center links which are beautifully polished giving this version of the Submariner some dress appeal. Better still is the new Glidelock clasp introduced on both this watch and the new Rolex Deep Sea Sea-Dweller model. The Glidelock clasp is a solid (not stamped) clasp the stands head and shoulders above the previous clasp design. Glidelock clasp isn't just a pretty face - it's functionally improved as well. No tools are required to make fine adjustments to the fit of the bracelet from the clasp. You simply slide the adjustment pin in the clasp forward or backward until an optimal fit is achieved. What was once a glaring weak point of the Rolex Submariner is now one of the best clasp designs I've ever seen on a watch - kudos Rolex! As with previous gold and two-tone Submariner models, the center links of the 116619 are polished to a mirror finish:
Inside this new Submariner beats the tried-and-true 31 jewel Rolex caliber 3135 (designed and manufactured entirely "in house" by Rolex) which has been in service since 1989. Like the rest of the watch, the caliber 3135 in the 116619 has received an upgrade, as Rolex fitted their new "Parachrom Bleu" hairspring to the caliber 3135 in the 116619 Submariner (as of this writing the new hairspring hasn't been fitted to other caliber 3135 Rolex watches outside the new all-gold Submariners). What is confusing to me is why the 3135 wasn't given a new designation, as was the case with the Rolex 3185, which became the Rolex 3186 when the new hairspring was added to that movement. In any event, the new hairspring is almost completely anti-magnetic, as well as highly shock and temperature resistant - the three main enemies to mechanical watch accuracy. The 3135 has garnered a reputation as being one of the most reliable, and robust watch movements ever created. At the same time, the movement has been criticized at times for lacking refinement and technological sophistication. True, the 3135 won't win any beauty contests (Rolex finishes and decorates a movement to a lesser degree than other manufacturers), but intentionally so. It was designed from the beginning as a movement to be encased in a stainless steel Oyster case, and endure rigorous conditions and treacherous environments - it's a clear case of function over form. I would also argue that the 3135 isn't lacking in technological sophistication - within the watch industry, Rolex Research and Development is regarded as being second to none. Rolex has implemented several, truly notable features into the 3135 over the years, such as Microstella adjustment screws, Kif shock absorption, and of course the new Parachrom Bleu hairspring. The high-beat movement oscillates at 28,800 beats per hour (BPH). In short, it's hard to criticize Rolex for setting the benchmark which other manufactures strive to attain. Every Rolex caliber 3135 is COSC tested and certified for the highest standards of accuracy.
I think it will take a very special buyer to purchase an all-gold dive watch like the Rolex Submariner 116619 - particularly given that the suggested retail price of the Rolex Oyster Perpetual Submariner reference 116619 is $29,850. To me, the exciting part of seeing this watch is seeing what's clearly ahead for the inevitable two tone version of this watch which will debut at the 2009 Baselworld show, as well as the subsequent all-stainless steel version coming in 2010. Rolex has successfully addressed what few short comings their Rolex Submariner had with the introduction of the Rolex Submariner 116619. Would I trade my 16613 two tone, blue dial Submariner for a "116613" version? Possibly, because I'd like to get the solid gold center links which will be on the bracelet, but I wouldn't trade up unless they keep the current blue dial of the 16613. And I doubt I'd pay the price to purchase one new, given that the 16613 has traditionally depreciated in price significantly on the secondary "pre-loved" market. Would I similarly trade up from my 16610 to a "116610" Submariner in 2010? I honestly don't know at this point. I'm not sure that I like the Maxi dial treatment on the Submariner, and I'm not crazy about the thicker lugs and crown guards. Generally these things take time for me to come around, but I like the sweeping, tapered look of the current Submariner a lot - but in time it may grow on me more. Personal preferences aside, the technical specifications of the Submariner have improved greatly, and the Submariner is well positioned to continue its long standing reign as the king of all luxury dive watches.