As we have mentioned in this previous post, Rolex 5510s have been in the news a little of late (and in the US$66,100 ebay 5510’s case, this interest even appeared in the non-watch media). Compared to the 5510 that went for US$98,500 only a matter of nine days later, the ebay one seems like a bargain, if you have that sort of money to play around with.
Why is the Rolex Ref. 5510 such a sought after watch, and not just amongst not just Rolex enthusiast? How do you identify a 5510?
Fortunately a watch friend is a veritable encyclopaedia of vintage Rolex information, and so this information is courtesy of TonyC, whose knowledge of Rolex arcana is, simply put, amazing.
In the early 1950’s Rene P Jeanneret, a director at RWC and an amateur diving enthusiast, was successful in actively encouraging Rolex to manufacture a diving oriented sports watch which could also be worn as a dress watch.
On 30th September 1953 Rolex, never one to miss a marketing opportunity, created major worldwide interest when a specially manufactured Rolex Submariner accompanied Professor Auguste Piccard and his son Jacques on their new bathyscaphe “Trist” to a world record depth of 10335ft below the ocean surface. The watch was strapped to the outside of the bathyscaphe.
The new technology needed to produce this watch were then applied to the Submariner models.
The rotating bezel enabled divers to keep accurate track of his time elasped underwater. Also in the same year, the full length underwater film “Le monde du silence” by Dumas and Cousteau featured the Rolex Submariner (though not it alone). These were masterstrokes for the Rolex publicity machine.
The first Submariner was the Ref. 6204 with water resistant rating of 100m (or 330 feet) and powered by caliber A296. This was the very first Submariner sold to public during 1953. This first model (Ref. 6204) featured the ‘pencil’ hour hand rather than the ‘Mercedes’ hour hand that is found on the 6200 and later models. The ref 6200 and 6205 used the same caliber A296.
These three watches were replaced in approx 1995 by the Ref. 6536 (small crown) and the Ref. 6538 (big crown), both using the non chronometer version (caliber 1030) due to issues with water efficiency. Around the end of 1958, Refs 6538 and 6536 were replaced by the Ref. 6536-1 (1 = chronometer rated movement) and a newer Ref. 6538 with an upgraded caliber 1030 chronometer rated movement.
The late 50s was a transitional period for Rolex and the Submariner, as the company introduced updated models using the 1500 series of movements running concurrently with the short lived caliber 1030 series. The first Rolex Submariner to use the caliber 1530 was the model 5510, using the oversized crown of the model 6538.
The 5510 had a short production run (estimate : the third-quarter of 1958 until late 1960), and very few examples survive. It was replaced by a larger case 5512/ 5513 (COSC/ non-COSC) with the cal 1530 in the early 1960s, initially with the PCG (pointed crown guard) then later with the current more rounded crown guard. The 1680 was introduced when Rolex added date mechanism in the late 60s. Also, the late 60s also saw the change from ‘metre’ first to ‘feet’ first on the dial.
Also called the ‘James Bond big crown’ (marked ‘Brevet’ – ‘patent’ in French), there is no clear evidence that 007 (Sean Connery incarnation) wore the 5510 in his Bond films. In fact, just by taking a close look at the screenshot of where he lights up his cigarette in ‘Goldfinger’, the ref. 6538 with the 2 liners configuration gilt dial is shown – there is still an ongoing debate about this, as the 5510 and 6538 were very similar, sharing almost the same configurations of dial and case.
Soon enough, around 1963-ish, the 5510 was replaced by 5512, alongside the replacement for the 6536, which is 5508 (era of new caliber 15xx series) . When the 5508 was retired, the 5512 was fitted with a chronometer rated movement, the caliber 1560 and a new model, the reference 5513 was introduced using the venerable caliber 1530, followed by an upgraded caliber 1570/5 with a chronometer rated movement in the late 1960s.
Technically, all models before 1966-ish should came with gilt dials, ‘meter’ first, with the depth in sliver colour text (if applied). After that, ‘meter’ came first in matte dials, followed by the ‘feet’ first versions.
Pointy crown guards: this was the new feature to be fitted on very first 5512s after Rolex decided to replace it with 5510. Most people believed that there was only one kind of pointed guard in pointy shape, but actually there was one more crown guard that had been seen way before the pointy ones.
Most collectors call these the ‘square crown guards’ – they are the first generation of crown guards, squarer then the pointed ones, the case itself about 5mm thicker than a standard 5512/ 5513 with pointy crown guard case, the design was more like big crown 6538 /5510, and was only been seen in 1959 just before 5510 was phased-out; my guess is that at that time, you could purchases both 5512 and 5510 models from the ADs until Rolex got rid of all 5510s in their stock.
Dials: all those variations have driven me crazy, the early version of gilt dials don’t come with any specific wording on the dial; even though the watches were equipped with chronometer rated calibers, the words ‘OCC’ (Officially Certified Chronometer) were added on the dials later on during early 1960s, unlike today’s COSC chronometer models.
Serial numbers and model numbers were placed on opposite positions than later on models, which means numbers on the top, serial/ref. on the bottom, this also applies to earlier models as well.
Then later on, we have the outer minute track, underline, 369 explorer dial, exclamation point etc etc and so forth!
>Oh and we shouldn’t forget to mention that Tudor was sharing the same concept as Rolex back then, even using the same cases and case backs from Rolex on certain models, with just the dials and the engraving on case back were slightly different.
There are a lot more to discuss about Rolexes, eg. Mk1, 2, 3 ,4 dial configurations, Comex, military subs, PN Daytonas, DRSD…but I guess that can be for another day.