Dear Rolex, Bring Back The Submariner Ref. 6538
I know seeing the rebirth of a 38mm no-crown-guard Rolex Submariner ref. 6538 is as likely as seeing the original Beatles again — #nothappening. Thankfully, we still have our regular Sunday daydreaming column, don’t we? So, if you’ll indulge me, I’ll do just that.
What were you doing 10 years ago? Personally, I remember that very clearly. I didn’t get much sleep in those days, and not for the reasons that come to the top of your dirty minds. Rather, I was working 16-18 hours a day, seven days a week trying to build my own company in the heart of Europe.
Someone in Hong Kong, however, likely has fonder memories of that time. You see, back then, there was a minty and unpolished Rolex Submariner reference 6538 with an original bezel insert in an auction. To quote Eric Wind, that “absolutely dead stock” example of precious 6538 with a $50,000-$75,000 pre-sale estimate sold for over $92,000. If we saw that same watch in an auction today, it could easily score five to eight times more.
The skyrocketing Rolex Submariner reference 6538
There are watches that you could technically buy for €3,000, but you won’t buy them because there are none of them around. And then there are watches like the 6538, and you won’t buy those either because you don’t have the budget. I guess these astronomical prices explain why you are not reading a hands-on review today, but rather, a pious wish for the next Rolex release. I didn’t buy the 6538 back in 2011, and I’m afraid I won’t buy it in 2031 either. But anyway, why do I like it at all?
It’s the ultimate Submariner
The Rolex Submariner debuted in 1953 alongside the also-mighty Rolex Explorer. Early references with pencil hands don’t speak much to me. Reference 6200 gets me more due to its “Explorer” dial. But it wasn’t until I spotted a 6538 that my imaginary search for the ultimate Submariner came to an end. Honestly, I couldn’t care less how many Seans or Dr. Nos wore the Submariner 6538. It just had the most confident crown ever put on a wristwatch and, for me, the most iconic splash of color ever seen on one too.
Triangular red magic
Well, in terms of color ratios at least, we can call it a red splash. Technically speaking, it’s not a splash, but rather, the most carefully designed triangle in the history of dive watches. You may call me crazy, but I believe it’s this little shape laid perfectly in its place that makes most collectors crave this watch. Either they want or they don’t want to admit that they do. It has some kind of special aura. The triangle is not just flat red, though. Instead, it’s a vivid metallic shade. I would never have thought that such a tiny element would have such a game-changing effect. It has been almost four years, but I am still endlessly jealous that RJ had an intimate one-on-one session with this 6538.
Why won’t we see it again?
Well, I guess for all the reasons that I like it so much. First is its simple and functional no-BS case that measures just 38mm wide. Last year, I opened my wrist to a few 41mm watches, but I still find that nothing beats the 38mm diameter. Rolex did some crazy stuff recently, like moving the date and crown to the left, but I do not expect the brand to shrink the Submariner back to 38mm. No matter how much I would like to see it, I just can’t believe it will happen. Anyway, how would you feel about going back to 38mm again?
Thoughts on crowns and guards
The major switch that gave extra muscle to the Submariner case came with the introduction of the crown guards in 1959 with ref. 5512. This was about the time that the 6538 came to the end of its three-year run. In general, that’s how I divide Submariners — the pre-crown-guard Submariner I naively wish for, and the later crown-guarded models I will probably end up with. That’s right, there’s still no Submariner in my collection. I was so close to getting one three years ago, but… em… I fell asleep and missed the bus to Germany. And eventually, I ended up spending the budget on a GMT-Master 1675 instead.
Crown guards dramatically change the body structure and make it stronger. Well, they make the Submariner case what it is today. But, if you ask me, I don’t need them. That’s also one of the reasons why the “Ed White” is the last “acceptable” vintage Speedmasters for me. The Speedy’s crown guards may provide some protection, but they kill the lightness and pure simplicity of the utilitarian watch case.
That brings us to another unique point and the reason why the 6538 carries the “Big Crown” nickname. Just look at that 8mm-wide crown and tell me frankly, does that watch need any crown guards? Not in my eyes. Because anytime I look at “Big Crown” Submariner 6538, I see Dwayne Johnson. And you wouldn’t succeed if you tried to tear off the head of the Rock anyway.
How many lines, did you say?
You can get… Oops, sorry… You can dream about getting chronometer-certified 6538s. These are easily recognizable with four lines of text squeezed above 6 o’clock. Allegedly, they are also more sought-after, however much more they could be when talking about a half-a-million-euro watch. But I actually prefer the non-chronometer-certified ones, and I find their two-line dials simply beautiful. You hear me, Rolex?
What really counts is the condition. Early Submariner watches lived their purpose, so to find an untouched piece is equivalent to winning the lottery… Assuming you won the lottery before to be able to afford one. The dials range from glossy marvels to beautifully tropical brownies. And among all the watches that age graciously, the Rolex Submariner 6538 could be the greatest of all. Each scar, light discoloration, and the muddy tone of aged lume only add to the tough character of each 6538.
Eric Wind has one crispy 6538 listed at the moment. But I didn’t ask Eric what the price tag is because I didn’t want to ruin my Saturday. The fact that it sold five years ago for nearly $500,000 before the new owner sourced the correct Rolex Swiss-made rivet bracelet from the same year suggests a lot. The rest of us can drop an email to [email protected] with the subject line, “Dear Rolex, bring back the Submariner ref. 6538”.