Rolex Submariner
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Rolex Submariner

In many ways, the art of watchmaking is like a marriage. It’s a marriage of technology and tradition, where traditional items like watches are crafted by machines, whereas in the past they were made by hand. But beyond that, it’s a marriage of luxury and practicality.

Nothing says that better than the Rolex Submariner.

Though known from its earliest days as a producer of robust waterproof watches, the manufacture made a name for itself in the 1950s to 1970s with redoubtable tool watches meant to withstand rigorous use. The Submariner, with its utilitarian appearance and formidable depth rating, is perhaps the best-known tool watch of the period. It was meant to dive, and dive deep; to be worn, and worn hard; and its ruggedness appealed to soldiers, sailors, even international men of mystery. 

And for many, a Rolex was a budget-conscious choice, less expensive than a counterpart from Omega or Universal Genève.

But the 1970s and 1980s saw the Crown enter the luxury realm.

Faced with encroaching Quartz technology from Japan, Swiss watch companies had to prove that what they offered was more unique and desirable than the Japanese imports. While some brands went low, offering inexpensive mechanical watches (and going out of business in the process), some went high, offering elegant timepieces at higher price points. In particular, some brands proved that there was niche in the market for “luxury sports watches,” as Audemars Piguet did with the Royal Oak.

In the 1980s, Rolex followed suit with the Submariner Reference 16800.

It was a subtle transformation, almost imperceptible to the untrained eye. In the late 1970s, Rolex began shifting from acrylic to sapphire crystals on their dress watches, and fitted them to certain steel watches. The 16800, launched in 1979, was therefore the first Rolex sports model to have a sapphire crystal.

Along with that feature, in the early 1980s Rolex began a shift from the matte dials with painted-on indices that had all but defined their sports models from the mid 1960s to glossy dials with white gold surrounds to the hour markers. The bare bones of the watch were the same—same robust case, with an even greater depth rating. Imperceptibly, the movement was also improved with a higher beat version offering a Quick-Set date function. But the effect on the wrist was something altogether different.

The watch was less something that James Bond would wear while chasing after SPECTRE, and more what he would wear while sipping martinis in the Casino Royale.

The 16800, with its robust 39mm Oyster case, retains the proportions of its predecessors. Most importantly, the dial has tritium rather than SuperLuminova on the hour markers and hands, which on this particular Sub have aged to a deep pumpkin hue. It’s the ultimate compromise—a vintage Submariner that you can actually wear the snot out of.

Whether paired with a three piece suit or a pair of chinos, the 16800 sacrifices nothing in terms of refinement and durability.

Details

SKU: AS02183

Stainless steel Oyster case is approximately 39mm (excluding crown). Reference 16800. Circa 1983.

Overall Condition: Case is in very strong condition overall with moderate signs of use and wear. Bezel insert has matching pip. Gloss dial retains crisp printing and shows signs of aging. Luminescent elements of the hour markers have developed a deep patina over time. Hands have been refinished to match. Trip-lock crown. Case back has light normal signs of wear.

Includes one 20mm 93150/593 HD Oyster bracelet.

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We back each Analog/Shift vintage timepiece with a one-year mechanical warranty from the date of purchase.

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