new rolex submariner redesign design 2020 novelty

The new Rolex Submariner: Should you be buying one?

We take a deep dive into the pros and cons of owning the latest update of one of the world’s most iconic timepieces

It’s the age-old question, isn’t it? Should you buy the new version? Should you stump up the cash, fork out the money and upgrade to the latest model? Because you know what’ll happen If you don’t. It happened when you caught yourself peering jealously at someone else’s iPhone 11 while you were still scrolling away on your iPhone X. It happened when that Aston Martin 11 snidely overtook you on the motorway while you were still behind the wheel of your DB9.

And, without doubt, it’ll happen when you notice the new Rolex Submariner on someone else’s wrist — while you have the Swiss brand’s older model still buckled around yours. So what do you do? Do you invest in the newest Submariner and let the existing model sink to the bottom of your sock drawer? Or do you ignore the waves this new watch is making and stick with your trusty timepiece?

What’s all the fuss about anyway?

We’ll tell you. Two weeks ago, Rolex calmly and quietly unveiled a new take on their iconic Submariner — the record-breaking sports watch was first launched by the brand in 1953. But the watch’s history goes back even further than that. Rolex had first tinkered with waterproof watches in 1922, and it took three decades of development before the Submariner was ready — becoming the first ever diving watch waterproof up to 100 metres.

Over the years, only slight changes have been made to the model. Rolex introduced a luminescent addition to the hour hand in 1954, a date function in 1969 and, by 1979, the Submariner could dive to an impressive 300 metres. So a new model is a big deal. It marks the first change in Submariner design since 2008 — and its reveal has unleashed 12 years’ worth of pent-up enthusiasm from watch fanatics.

Yet, while there has been a fair share of praise heaped upon Rolex’s redesign — with many expressing relief that this latest facelift has remained true to the signature style and aesthetic of the Submariner sub-brand — some parties were less impressed. Comments on the Instagram post that unveiled the 2020 model read “tame”, “same” and “unimaginative”. But that’s the problem with tweaking or tampering with an icon: you’ll never please everyone.

So what exactly has changed?

evolution of rolex submariners
The design evolution of the Rolex Submariner (1953 — 2020)

It’s a good question. To the uninitiated eye, the new Submariner will probably just look like every other Submariner. Hell, even the initiated might struggle to see any differences right away. But they’re there. The case, for example, while still waterproof to 300 metres and crafted from Rolex’s patented, corrosion-resistant Oystersteel, is incrementally larger, bulking up to 41mm in diameter from 40mm.

To maintain proportions, that means that the bracelet (also Oystersteel) is also slightly wider. The lugs, conversely, have slimmed down — to give the new Submariner’s design a hint of earlier models. It’s a smart move, considering the current trend for vintage callbacks in modern watchmaking.

But the big change can be found inside the case. The no-date version of this latest Submariner features a brand-new calibre; the 3230. Fitted with Rolex’s Chronergy escapement, as well as a paramagnetic pallet fork and escape wheel, this new movement has a 70-hour power reserve — up 46% on its predecessor’s 48-hour. Even if you don’t like the slight design change, that’s a big leap.

What’s everybody else doing?

Of course, we can look to the Instagram comments — but what are the true Rolex devotees doing? For Submariner collectors, it’s a stellar addition to a storied collection. But for those ‘one watch’ men? Are they cashing their chips and rolling the dice on the new model — or are people waiting it out? And, regardless of what they are doing, should you do the same?

According to industry reports, Rolex’s authorised dealers are seeing a huge surge in demand for Submariners — both old and new. But not only are buyers attempting to purchase the new 41mm Submariners in droves, they are also requesting the old 40mm models. Why? Partly, because they think the old models might be more available and attainable now something shinier has come along. But also because certain colour variations, such as the green ‘Hulk’ Submariner, have not yet made the transition from the 40mm size to the new 41mm range.

Existing Submariner owners, then, are reasonably happy with the redesign. They may invest to add to their collections — but will also be keeping a tight hold on their existing 40mm models.

What if I don’t own a 40mm model Submariner?

new rolex submariner redesign design 2020 novelty
The new Rolex Submariner (right) and its 2008 predecessor

Good question. Because, while diehard fans may decide not to upgrade, this might be the perfect time for you to join the Submariner club. And what a club it is. David Beckham, for example, is a firm fan of his simple stainless steel Submariner (ref. 5513). Brad Pitt is often spotted with a yellow gold model (ref. 16613). Steve McQueen wore a black-dialled Sub (ref. 5512), and even gifted an inscribed one to his favourite stuntman, Loren James.

But perhaps the most famous Submariner supporter is fictional. In Ian Fleming’s James Bond books, the super-spy wears “a Rolex Submariner that was barely three years old”. In the films, Sean Connery’s 007 wore a Submariner Big Crown Four Liner (ref. 6538) in Dr. No, From Russia with LoveGoldfinger, and Thunderball. In 2018, one such model sold at Christie’s for $1,068,500 — the most expensive Submariner ever sold.

So yes, now may be a good time to get involved. You’ll be hard-pushed to find a watch less likely to go out of fashion — and, mechanically at least, this is the best Submariner Rolex have ever produced.

So which new new Submariner is right for me?

Unfortunately, that’s one question we can’t answer. What we will say, however, is that you can’t go wrong with a classic. Our first pick from the new 2020 models would be the ref. 124060 — masterfully monochrome with its black Cerachrom bezel and black dial. It’s not unlike Tudor’s Black Bay Fifty-Eight which, at £2,760, is under half the price of the new Submariner — and arguably shows you know more about watches than simply which is a respected brand name.

new rolex submariner redesign design 2020 novelty

Submariner Reference 124060


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new rolex submariner redesign design 2020 novelty

Submariner Date Reference 126618LB


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new rolex submariner redesign design 2020 novelty

Submariner Date Reference 126613LN


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Of course, when that brand name is Rolex, it still holds weight. And, if we had to choose two more models from the new Submariner range, we’d go for dates. The first would be ref. 126618LB — the antithesis of the classic black Submariner, with a blazing 18ct gold case and strap, and dazzling Royal Blue dial and bezel. The second would be the ref. 126613LN — as stylistically restrained as the classic Submariner, but with a yellow gold Rolesor and bracelet links for just a hint of luxury.

Because, practical though it may be, this is a Rolex after all…

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