When it comes to introductions, Rolex needs none. Their quality and history in in the watch world is absolutely beyond reproach. Even folks who can’t tell lugholes from ear holes when it comes to watches, still know Rolex. However, since Rolex has such a strong collector’s market, it’s the details that count. The average buyer can end up appreciating or liking just about any Rolex, but the collectors get very specific. And therein lies my love for the reference 16800 Submariner – it’s all about the specifics.
For decades, Rolex and other manufacturers had used some form of plastic for crystals, but technology was ready to move on. By the late ‘70s Rolex had began using sapphire in some of their gold models, and then slowly introduced them to certain steel models as the ‘80s came into picture. One of the first steel Rolex watches to receive the upgraded crystals was the transitional Submariner reference 16800.
Since this was a transitional model, it bridged the gap between the full production references, allowing Rolex to utilize existing part stock, and test out new movements and technologies. The concept of “transitional” can sound half-baked, but looking back, they’re perfect examples of modern-meets-vintage. From its introduction in 1979, up through 1983 or ’84, Rolex continued to use matte dials with painted hour markers, very clearly maintaining the look of its predecessor – with the greater depth rating as the only obvious change. However, the previous caliber 1575 was upgraded to the 3035, increasing beats per hour, and adding a quick-set date. Throw in a sapphire crystal, and you’ve got a dive watch for the next generation. After 1983 and until 1986, Rolex moved on from the matte dials, opting for glossy finish and white gold surrounds on the hour markers. To me, “Vintage Rolex” models ended when the switch from matte to gloss dials occurred.
Vintage Rolex has earned the majority of my attention ever since falling into the trap of the world of watches. I’ve spent countless hours reading about minute details, and getting my hands on as many examples as possible. I’ve been lucky enough to own a number of watches, including several vintage Rolex. I now wear vintage watches everyday, but it’s my reference 16800 that always gets the call for more adventurous days. It’s not that I don’t trust the others, but why risk damaging a soft crystal, or water making its way into the case when I know I have a perfectly safe alternative? The best part is that I can confidently wear my 16800 swimming in the Gulf of Mexico, or hiking in Patagonia, yet still look down at 30-something years of aged tritium. Matte dials, painted markers, sapphire crystals, and improved movements – it’s all about the specifics.