Rolex Submariner 1680 ‘Red’
It doesn’t require a huge knowledge of watches to know that vintage Submariners are a popular place to put money. The hardy little dive watch has served Rolex well since its inauguration in the early 1950s, building a loyal following that has almost become something of a cult. Collectors argue over the merest details: fonts, logos, and even manufacturing defects being among the points of contention that drive arguments—and prices—sky high.
Fortunately there’s a middle ground for the not-so-fanatical Rolex enthusiast who wants to invest in the fascinating history imbued by the five-pronged crown. The trick is knowing where to start, how to maximise investment with minimal risk. As with any collectible, the greater the heritage and the rarer its numbers, the more valuable it becomes. A run-of-the-mill 1680 or 5513—although gorgeous watches and steady investments—are just too commonplace to really be lit with the same price-rocketing enthusiasm that has seen the COMEX Sea-Dwellers and MilSubs launch into orbit.
It’s that middle ground we’re looking for, and—for now at least—the 1680 ‘Red’ Submariner is the place to be looking. Something of an early production run anomaly, the ‘Red’ is the first Submariner to feature a date complication and, as the name suggests, is emblazoned with ‘Submariner’ in bright red upon the dial. Released around 1966, the red text was phased out mid-to-late 1970s, its production covering around a third of the total 1680 Submariners produced. Despite the apparent proliferation of the ‘Red’ Submariner, Rolex has insisted until recently in replacing the ‘Red’ dial with the standard white version, decreasing numbers. How many ‘Red’ Submariners are left is unknown, save for their rarity in comparison to the white-dialled version.
Launched | 1966 Manufacturer Warranty | N/A Service intervals | 4–5 years
Why Rolex chose to release the ‘Red’ Submariner is also unknown; along with early Datejusts, Explorers and Sea-Dwellers, its existence remains a mystery. What is known about the ‘Red’ Submariner is that there are six different dial variations, each one a little more affordable than the last. The differences are minor, the biggest being the transition from ‘metres first’ for the depth rating to ‘feet first’ between the mark three and four dials, a distinction that increases rarity, and with it, cost. But beware: it has been known for ‘Red’ dials to be retrospectively fitted to standard 1680 Submariners, and even fake ‘Red’ dials as well, so unless you want to get your hands dirty and learn to discern the differences yourself, it is recommended to purchase from a reputable source.
With other high-priced vintage Rolex watches leaving the stratosphere and out of reach of most normal people, the ‘Red’ Submariner is a good place to board with a view to getting a decent return on investment. Compared to the standard white-dialled 1680, which in the last five years has seen a not-insubstantial rise of £200, the ‘Red’ Submariner demands an extra £1,500 over its 2011 price, setting it at a firm £8,500. There are some available at big money, some seemingly cheap; our recommendation is to go for something in the middle, in good condition with box and papers for the complete set.
With ‘Double Red’ Sea-Dwellers well into the tens of thousands of pounds and ‘Paul Newman’ Daytonas being offered for anything up to a quarter of a million, the ‘Red’ Submariner offers a fantastic introduction to Rolex investment, with a promising outlook for the near future. As with all investments, there’s no guarantee of getting a return, however you’re unlikely to go far wrong with this choice. It is a vintage Rolex after all!
You Could Also Consider
‘Red’ Submariner a bit rich for your blood? A plain Jane 1680 will more than satiate your vintage needs
One line of red text not enough? The ‘Double Red’ Sea-Dweller adds a second for several thousand more
Omega may have been a little behind the curve when it came to its sports diver, but it’s no less special
An investment tends to pay out more against higher stakes, and the same is true for the Rolex ‘Red’ Submariner 1680. Early versions with the ‘metres first’ depth rating on the dial, being rarer, command a higher price and as such a greater return. Later watches are more affordable but not quite as rare, a better middle ground for a more sensible investment. Seeing the last five years of inflation between the ‘Red’ 1680 and the standard white dial (with the modern 116610 LN included as a baseline) shows how the desirability of the ‘Red’ Submariner is driving it in the same direction as other previously affordable vintage Rolex collectibles.