All good things to those who wait. It feels like we have been expecting something dramatic to happen to the Rolex Submariner forever – each year convincing ourselves that this will be the year that it will finally get bigger/get smaller/receive a new movement/get a new color scheme/get discontinued completely. Granted, that last one was never going to happen (and never will), but the truth is that the world’s favorite luxury dive watch was way overdue for an update in many people’s eyes, and it turns out that 2020 is the year that we got an all-new generation of Submariner watches.
Of course, the refreshed Submariner should have been introduced in March at Baselworld. However, with a global pandemic effectively shutting the entire world down for months on end we had to sit impatiently until the 1st of September to see what the brand was going to deliver.
What we got was a fleet of eight watches that manage to be both cutting-edge and somewhat retro at the same time. We said goodbye to one particularly popular version, only to see it exchanged for a well-loved recreation from the recent past. And we saw, at long last, the Submariner get a new movement. Of the latest collection, it is undoubtedly the two stainless steel pieces that will become the most in-demand. So we have put together this guide to highlight all the differences Rolex has made to this duo of iconic watches. Below, we pit the departing ref. 116610LN (black bezel) and ref. 116610LV (green bezel, aka the “Hulk”) against the all-new ref. 126610LN and ref. 126610LV.
Rolex Submariner 126610
2020 Submariner Key Features:
Materials: Oystersteel (904L Stainless Steel)
Movement: Caliber 3235
Bezel: Cerachrom (Black or Green)
Bracelet: Oyster Bracelet
Water Resistance: 300 meters /660 feet
Retail Price: $9,150 (ref. 126610LN) $9,550 (ref. 126610LV)
The new 2020 Rolex Submariner collection is accompanied by a number of key updates. Below we outline the most important differences between the new Rolex Submariner 126610 and the previous generation.
It is often joked about within the industry that the Rolex design department must be a very relaxing place to work. Somehow, it’s hard to imagine the boss storming in on a Monday morning, ripping sketches off the wall in a frenzy and screaming, “Right, this time we’re really gonna shake things up!”
Rolex doesn’t really do dramatic overhauls, and the Submariner is perhaps the most pertinent example. Admittedly, its first decade was fairly turbulent as it went through a number of different references between its debut in 1953 and the appearance of the ref. 5512 in 1959. However, after that, major updates to the aesthetic of the Submariner were more or less done for the next 50-years. By that point, it had its 40mm case, its serrated-edge bezel, its crown guards, its Mercedes hands, and trademark dot and baton indexes. Along the way, a date-displaying model was added to the line, but the basic outline of the watch was already set in stone.
The arrival of the ref. 116610 in 2010 marked just about the most significant change to the core styling of the Rolex Submariner for half a century. It still measured the time-honored dimensions, but it introduced Rolex’s “Super Case” design to the range. Clearly done as a compromise, with many fans complaining that 40mm was too small for a modern sports watch, the Super Case brought lugs and crown guards roughly twice the thickness of previous models. However, it sacrificed the Submariner’s former flowing lines for a square, bulky, street-brawler kind of look, giving the impression of an increase in size without technically growing in diameter.
As with many Rolex innovations, this new aesthetic had both fans and critics, which is what makes the new ref. 126610 so interesting. This latest generation could well be the ideal mix of the old and the new. The 41mm case is the first time the Submariner has genuinely increased in size since the ref. 5512, but it has given up the Super Case and reverted back to a leaner and more refined overall profile. The lugs are narrower and sharper, with Rolex shaving off some of the additional thickness from the previous generation to be more in line with classic examples from the model’s long history. Similarly, the crown guards have also been slightly thinned out a bit (although they are still significantly thicker than those from the 5-digit series), and the whole watch looks and feels a bit more like a modern version of the classically-proportioned references from 30 or 40-years ago.
Will it pull off the near-impossible trick of keeping everyone happy? It’s impossible to tell at the moment, but with the current craze for all things vintage showing no signs of slowing, this redesign to the Submariner has certainly come along at the right time.
The Dial and Bezel
Two of the most important elements of any successful watch design are the dial and bezel. On this year’s Rolex Submariner releases, these key components have also gone through changes. Most importantly, the dials on both stainless steel Submariner Date models are now black. The bright emerald green face of the recently departed ref. 116610LV “Hulk” is completely gone. Likely to be missed by a significant portion of the brand’s fan base (and that appears to be confirmed up by the massive increase in prices on the pre-owned market), the Hulk has long been a very much in-demand watch, and now it won’t be made anymore, so expect that desirability to just keep on climbing. If you had your eyes on a purchase, swift action is recommended.
The other dial alterations, across the entire new Submariner collection, are trickier to spot. The indexes are the same ‘Maxi’ style as before, but the handset has been tweaked, with the minute hand ever so slightly longer and now just touching the outer minute track and the Mercedes-style hour hand now slightly fatter too. Obviously, as there is greater room to play with thanks to the watch’s larger size (no matter how slight) the individual proportions of the dial have changed, giving it a tidier, more balanced look. And, if you look really hard, you will see there is now a tiny coronet logo in-between the words “Swiss” and “Made” to mark this new iteration.
As for the bezel, this is basically identical to the ref. 116610 series. On both the ref. 126610LN and ref. 126610LV, we have the return of Rolex’s proprietary Cerachrom ceramic, with its engraved 60-minute diver’s scale, platinum PVD-filled numerals, and beautifully tactile 120-click operation. However, the big news is the return of a green bezel with a black dial on the LV version of the all-new reference 126610 Submariner.
We saw this first in 2003 with the five-digit ref. 16610LV, more commonly called the Kermit. It was Rolex’s birthday celebration for the Submariner, celebrating 50-years at the very top of the dive watch industry. However, that was in a time before Cerachrom, when bezel inserts were still anodized aluminum and therefore had a very different appearance. The Kermit Submariner was not a popular watch at the beginning. Traditional fans thought it to be somewhat garish, and it took a little while for them to come round. However, come round they did, and the Kermit now commands a significant premium over standard black bezel ref. 16610LN models.
Yet the green that Rolex used was certainly a vibrant, vivid shade and not to everyone’s taste. When the Kermit was replaced by the Hulk in 2010, the Cerachrom insert gave a slightly more subdued color, but it was coupled with a green sunray dial that changed hue dramatically in different lighting conditions (while the bezel didn’t). As a result, the tones of the two components rarely matched, which again, put some people off. Now we have a new green bezel model with a black dial that – incredibly – still seems to be without an unofficial nickname weeks after its release.
Of the now three green Submariner watches, the ref. 126610LV has by far the most mature and unassuming personality. The Kermit, and especially the Hulk, demanded attention; this one is downplayed and more comfortable in its own skin. It is the same story with the new blue bezel/black dial model in solid 18k white gold. As the replacement for the all-blue Smurf, it just has a more grown-up nature, which is fitting for a watch so well-established in horology folklore.
One of the most surprising aspects of the Rolex Submariner in the modern era has been the lack of modernization to its internal movement. All of the various watches from the now-discontinued ref. 11661x series were powered by the Cal. 3135, a movement that the Submariner had been using since 1988. Although it is recognized as among the finest mass-produced mechanisms ever made, three-plus decades is an extraordinarily long amount of time for any Rolex watch (let alone one as revered as the Submariner) to go without an updated engine – especially since the new Caliber 3235 came out in 2015 and both the Sea-Dweller and Deepsea already feature the movement.
However the Submariner’s Cal. 3235 movement is finally here, and it represents a major improvement. According to Rolex, somewhere around 90% of the components are completely new compared to the Cal. 3135, and the entire movement is protected by 14 patents. Among the most important developments is a power reserve increase to 70-hours (compared to the previous 48), thanks to a longer mainspring. However, the mainspring barrel has the same diameter, only the thickness of its walls have been halved to free up the additional necessary room. Additionally, the automatic winding system now features a new monobloc rotor mounted on ball bearings for the first time, which increases the longevity and required maintenance that the automatic assembly will require over the years.
Like other new-generation Rolex movements, the Caliber 3235 includes Rolex’s own Chronergy escapement, which represents a significant re-design of the traditional Swiss Lever system. Its two main components – the pallet fork and escape wheel – have been substantially redesigned. The escape wheel is now skeletonized, reducing its overall weight, and therefore its inertia. As for the pallet fork, it too is lighter, and while its teeth are now only half as thick as before, the contact surfaces on the escape wheel have doubled. Both parts have also been constructed out of a nickel-phosphorous alloy, leaving them highly resistant to magnetic interference.
All told, the modifications have increased the escapement’s efficiency by 15%. Elsewhere, things are as you would expect. The hairspring is Rolex proprietary blue Parachrom alloy, the frequency is 28,800vph, shock absorbers are Paraflex, and the movement conforms to the brand’s Superlative Chronometer rating, which promises timekeeping accuracy of between -2/+2 seconds a day. It may have had to wait a long time for it, but the Submariner now has the same caliber as the rest of the time-and-date catalog, including its two dive watch stablemates.
Both the Rolex Submariner ref. 126610LN and the ref. 126610LV are fitted with the brand’s iconic three-link Oyster bracelet. However, as the watch’s case has been reshaped, its lugs are now 21mm apart rather than 20mm as before. That has led to the bracelet needing some alterations too, and the whole thing is wider throughout its entire length, with the most notable increase in width being to the clasp. Rolex has worked hard to tighten up the tolerances as well, and this next-generation Oyster has virtually no visible gaps between links.
As before, and in keeping with the other pair of Rolex dive watches, the bracelet of the new 2020 Submariner is fitted with both the Oysterlock safety clasp to protect against accidental opening, along with the Glidelock extension system to allow for 20mm of tool-free adjustment that can be executed on-the-fly in 2mm intervals.
So there we have it. The new Submariner is here, and its alterations, however minor they may sound, add up to a far different watch than the one it replaces. The aggressive stance of the former Super Case model has been relaxed, bringing us back to earlier forms, while the increase in size is perfectly suited to contemporary appetites.
The movement is next-generation, just about as cutting-edge as you can get in a modern-production time and date movement. Most importantly though, this is still very recognizably a Rolex Submariner. Its fundamentals have been with us since 1953, and all that is required visually from Rolex these days is the occasional fine-tuning to set it up for the next generation. 10-years ago, that was a larger, more muscle-bound form; today, it is a knowing wink to past glories and a slight touch of refined elegance.
The new 2020 stainless steel Submariner watches – the ref. 126610LN and the ref. 126610LV – have both hit the ground running, with almost universal praise from all corners for both ability and looks. While they do mark a significant change to the classic Rolex Submariner line, there’s no doubt these latest pieces will carry on one of the proudest legacies in the business.