Vintage Rolex Submariner Ads

So many Submariners exist... There's James Bond's choice, the "Big Crown" Ref. 6538. The first Sub with a date, the "Red Submariner" Ref. 1680. And even "luxury" Submariners, in gold with a "nipple" dial. As many variations there are of the model, there's seemingly just as many advertisements for it...

Vintage Rolex Submariner Advertisements

One of the most iconic watch models in the world, the Rolex Submariner was first released in the early 1950s and has evolved over the decades into a category-defining piece among dive watches. At a time when interest in recreational scuba diving and ocean exploration was rising, the Submariner quickly became a reliable tool watch of choice, likely in part thanks to Rolex’s advertising with ads into the early 1960s highlighting their incredible waterproof dive watches. The most notable example is the Deep Sea Special attached to the bathyscaphe “Trieste” that dove into the abyss of the Marianas Trench. Over the decades, many Submariner models have been featured in print ads to lure and hopefully hook prospective customers. You’ll find vintage grails like the Ref. 1680 “Red” Submariner and No-Date Ref. 5513 and even ads showing Submariners with “Tiffany & Co. and “Cartier” signed dials. In the 1990s and 2000s, when full color ads became the norm, the two-tone “Bluesy” and gorgeous green “Kermit” and “Hulk” versions really made a splash on the page. Whether a vintage treasure or modern marketing, the Submariner’s functionality and impressive engineering are at the core of the ads. Regardless of the era of the ad or the version of the Submariner, these ads all tell the story of a timeless model that started as an essential piece of equipment for divers and is perhaps now the most-recognizable watch on land.

For more great information on the history of the Rolex Submariner, check out Hodinkee’s Reference Points video and comprehensive article.

Rolex Submariner No Crown Guards

Almost all Submariner advertisements published in the 1950s feature versions of the original reference 6204, the first iteration to have “Submariner” printed on the dial. Though the Submariner is extremely well-known today, the watch was still in its infancy at the time as Rolex was introducing its experimental take on a dive watch to the market. You’ll find that these earliest Submariner ads often feature big, attention-grabbing headlines in order to pique the interest  of divers. Many ads state the watch being waterproof and pressure proof down to 660 feet, yet clearly showing a Ref. 6204, which was only rated to a depth of 330 feet. It’s this anomaly that epitomizes a vintage Rolex ad and helps explain why ads don’t exist for other highly-desirable versions, such as the Ref. 6538 “Big Crown” Sub. The company’s goal during this era of ads was to share the basic design and idea, so showing the different aesthetic options and evolutions of the Submariner wasn’t as important. Back then, Rolex’s priority was to convey the capabilities of the Submariner as an essential tool for aquatic and outdoor endeavors in their messaging. Though we distinguish different evolutions of the Submariner greatly today, in the 1950s and early ‘60s, a Submariner was a Submariner.

Rolex Submariner 5512 & 5513

While only one form of the Submariner is shown in 1950s advertisements, ads from the 1960s show different looks of the references 5512 and 5513 throughout the decade. These variations collectively showcase some of the tweaks Rolex made that are the nuances of the Submariner we know and love today. For example, scholars and collectors will be quick to recognize the square crown guards illustrated in one ad - a rare attribute that quickly was modified to a point and subsequently a round shape. Also, a number of ads display the Submariner Ref. 5513 with an  “Explorer dial” - a unique variant that was available in the U.K. and therefore was only published in magazines circulating outside the U.S. 

Amidst the treasure trove of 1960s Submariner ads are a handful that are arguably among the best Rolex ads of all time. There’s the famous and ever-popular 1966 advertisement that perhaps best represents the mad men era, showing a woman’s hand gently touching a rugged Submariner. Then there’s what I’d deem the most quintessential Submariner ad of all time, the 1968 “If you were looking for lost empires…” with emblematic imagery - just a diver and a Submariner. Finally, a personal favorite of mine, and too often overlooked ad, is another from 1966 with a wrist draped over a periscope perfectly angling a 4-line Ref. 5512. Like the timelessness and toughness of the Submariner watch, many 1960s Sub ads have proven to stand the test of time. Their layout and copy are visually and verbally ingrained in our minds.

Just as an all original, unpolished Sub can be a prized possession and the cornerstone of a watch collection, a framed 1960s Submariner ad can be a centerpiece of a home or office.

Rolex Submariner 1680 (Steel)

Around 1967, Rolex released the first Submariner with a date complication - the Reference 1680. A few years following the release of the “Red” Submariner with date, it seems Rolex no longer featured the no-date models in their ads. That’s right, from 1971 all the way up until around 2020, I’ve never come across any magazine ads showing well-loved, no-date references like the 14060. This is likely due to a strategic marketing decision made by Rolex to show the more expensive and “upgraded” date version. And all those ads showing the reference 1680 also almost always show the model with “Submariner” printed in red, which depending on the print quality, can appear vibrant, pinkish, or basically white. Speaking of the white, I’ve only come across very few later 1680s with “Submariner” printed in white, just four to be exact.

Besides being more colorful, ads during this era contrast ads from the previous decade because they heavily feature Rolex brand ambassadors. Although not the “celebrity” type we see today, the ambassadors of this era were individuals highly accomplished in their industry, field or sport, such as divers, photographers and outdoors people. While the tales of Rolex-wearing adventurers were no doubt effective, advertising that showed Rolex being part of the America’s Cup was equally effective. In addition to magazine ads mentioning the Submariner being in the same class as the winning yacht, there were unique ads found on the back cover of America’s Cup programs. Their partnership with the America’s Cup, beginning around 1967, is just another example of Rolex strategically positioning their brand with just the right spokespeople and sporting events.

Rolex Submariner (Gold)

Along with the introduction of the Submariner Date reference 1680 came two 18kt gold versions of the Submariner with black and blue dials and bezel inserts. Though the steel Submariners were likely used more for diving, earlier ads featuring the gold version also depicted divers using the watch during their expeditions. In the 1990s and 2000s, there was a slight shift in Rolex Submariner ads, with the two-tone and all gold models slowly becoming less associated with being utilized as a tool watch and worn more as a sign of wealth and luxury.