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The Rolex Submariner is arguably the most important watch in the Swiss icon’s lineup. It’s the founding father of the modern dive watch, and thus has been ripped off countless times; it remains relatively accessible, as far as Rolexes go, especially as “the world’s best all-around sports watch”; and it’s got all the cultural cachet you could want, favored by Steve McQueen and worn by no less than four James Bonds.
That might explain why, when Rolex unveiled its brand-new Submariner today — the first overhaul of the diver in eight years — grievances began rolling in from watch nerds the world over.
Let’s be clear, the upgrades are, in classic Rolex fashion, relatively hard to discern for someone who doesn’t own a collection of Submariners or scroll watch blogs all day. There are eight new watches in total, an Oyster Perpetual Submariner (ref. 124060), the standard-bearer of the category, as well as seven versions of the Oyster Perpetual Submariner Date (the one with a date window), and all of them feature new movements, new proportions and a remodeled bracelet.
Sound harmless enough? Here’s where some in the watch community beg to differ.
The First 41mm Submariner Ever
“Does size matter?” It’s the eternal question that’s dominated the conversation around dicks, trucks and, lately, shorts. But surprisingly, the most heated debate around size may just be happening in the watch industry, as wristwatches saw a growth spurt in the 2010s, leading to the now commonplace category of “dinner plate” watches, and some fans are now hoping for a course correction to more modest pieces.
However, the new Submariner, as Hodinkee notes, is the first model to use a 41mm case as the watch “has measured in at around 39-40mm going back to the 1950s.” Wait, people are arguing about an increase of just one millimeter? Yes, they most certainly are. And while that may seem trivial to the point of certifiable insanity in this day and age, Rolex is the first name in watchmaking, so for the sake of horological design it’s good to know that people care. The main knee-jerk criticism is that Rolex seems to be following size trends rather than keeping true to its history, but on the contrary, the case increase here is part of a holistic aesthetic reimagining that goes along with the new bracelet — which is, of course, another pain point.
A Fatter Bracelet
In accordance with the 1mm increase in the case diameter has come a 1mm increase in the lug width. In other words, the new Submariner has a wider bracelet, leading many people to wonder, was this really necessary? In short, yes. If Rolex had kept the older 20mm bracelet, and not slimmed down the lugs themselves on these new Submariners, the incremental change in the case would have seemed even bigger, and thus more offensive to the size queens of the blogosphere. Instead, by adjusting proportions slightly in strategic places throughout the new model, Rolex has delivered a decidedly different wear worthy of the update. It also works better as a whole, which hopefully stops the trend of people buying Submariners for the name only to swap the Oyster bracelet with a cheap, flashy NATO strap.
The Kermit Controversy
Rolex has its own lexicon of nicknames, from the Pepsi (a GMT Master with the red and blue bezel) to the Kermit (the limited-edition 50th anniversary Submariner that paired a green bezel and black dial). Among the seven new variants of the new Submariner Date, which range in price from $9,150 for a black-on-black in Oystersteel to $39,650 for an 18-carat white gold model with a blue bezel, there is a green version that recalls that Muppet-minded watch. When any watchmaker revives what was once thought to be an exclusive aesthetic, it’s going to get some blowback, as Doxa recently did with its new SUB 300, and as Rolex has received for this new Kermit. But for anyone who actually knows their Rolex history — i.e., those who argue about things like 1mm changes — the Kermit and this new Submariner Date are two completely different watches, and for anyone who’s been after a green bezel, you’ve now got a handsome option available to you.
There are plenty of other things to learn and love about the 2020 Submariner lineup, including the new calibre 3230 movement, which Hodinkee gives a good overview of, so now that we’ve aired our grievances, let’s move on.
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