This Article is part of a series written by editors of Hodinkee.com. This Article was written by: Tony Traina.
The modern Rolex Submariner references 16610, 116610, and 126610 share a common lineage, with subtle differences that illustrate the model’s evolution. Here’s how to tell them apart.
An Introduction To The Rolex Submariner
The Rolex Submariner is a classic dive watch that has been in production since Rolex introduced the model in 1953. It’s known for its ruggedness and reliability, balanced by an elegant, sporty design. Since its introduction, Rolex has steadily rolled out updates to the Submariner, evolving the model to meet the needs (and wants) of the contemporary consumer. The signature feature of the Submariner is its rotating bezel, designed to let divers track their dive time and prevent them from running out of air. The Submariner was designed to be a waterproof watch that could withstand depths of up to 100 meters (330 feet).
In recent years, the Rolex Submariner has evolved from a tool watch to a true luxury product. When evaluating a Submariner, there are a handful of components that can be analyzed to help identify it: the case, bezel, dial (and luminous material), movement, and crystal. For example, the most recent versions of the Rolex Submariner feature an extremely tough ceramic bezel, a technological improvement over the previous generation’s aluminum bezel.
Three modern Submariner references – reference 16610, 116610, and 126610 – illustrate the updates and improvements that Rolex continues to make to its iconic dive watch. Let’s take a look at each reference and identify the details that make each generation of the Submariner stand out.
Rolex Submariner Reference 16610
The Rolex Submariner reference 16610 was first introduced in 1988 and remained in production until 2010. This model featured a 40mm stainless steel case, a black dial, and a black bezel with minute markings. It also had a date window at the 3 o’clock position and was powered by the in-house Rolex caliber 3135 movement. When it was first introduced, Rolex fitted the reference 16610 with a black glossy dial and used tritium for the lume (lume is what makes your watch glow in the dark). These early examples will read “Swiss-T < 25” under 6 o’clock on the dial, indicative of the tritium used. Around 2000, Rolex phased out the use of tritium in favor of Super-LumiNova – these dials are denoted “Swiss Made” at 6 o’clock. The Submariner 16610 also has 300 meters of water resistance (up from previous generations’ 200m) and a black aluminum bezel.
Rolex Submariner Reference 116610
The Rolex Submariner reference 116610, which Rolex introduced in 2010, is an updated version of the Submariner 16610. It features a stainless steel case and a black dial, but it has a ceramic bezel with minute markings instead of the aluminum bezel of the 16610. In addition to having a glossier look, this makes it less prone to scratching or aging over time. It also has a date window at the 3 o’clock position and is powered by the caliber 3135 movement.
The Submariner 116610 also featured Rolex’s updated “maxi case.” As compared to previous Submariners, the maxi case has broader and fatter lugs, a wider bezel, and a thicker case profile, meaning that the watch wears significantly larger than its predecessors, even though it still measures 40mm in diameter.
Rolex Submariner Reference 126610
In 2020, Rolex updated the Submariner by introducing the Submariner reference 126610. This is the current-production Rolex Submariner that is still sold new by Rolex. The biggest update to the new reference 126610 was that Rolex bumped the case size from 40mm to 41mm, though the lugs are more slim as compared to the previous reference.
Like the previous Submariners, the modern Submariner features a stainless steel case and a black dial, as well as a ceramic bezel with minute markings. It has a date window at the 3 o’clock position and is powered by the caliber 3235 movement, which offers improved accuracy and power reserve. The dial still reads “Swiss Made” under 6 o’clock, but with the signature Rolex crown between the two words.
Distinguishing Differences In Modern Rolex Submariners
So, how can you tell the difference between these three modern references of the Rolex Submariner? Here are some key differences to look out for:
Submariner Reference 16610: 40mm, black aluminum bezel, tritium, LumiNova, or Super-LumiNova depending on the year, production from 1988 to 2010.
Submariner Reference 116610: 40mm case, black ceramic bezel; Chromalight lume, production from 2010–2020
Submariner Reference 126610: 41mm case, black ceramic bezel, Chromalight lume, production 2020–present
To find the perfect Rolex Submariner model for yourself go to Crown and Caliber.