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4 Generations of Rolex Steel Submariners (1979-2020): Ref 16800, 16610, 116610 & New 126610LN

4 Generations of Rolex Steel Submariners (1979-2020): Ref 16800, 16610, 116610 & New 126610LN

Stainless Steel Submariners through the years

The Rolex Submariner needs no introduction. It is one of the most iconic watches of the last century. For most collectors, the Submariner is an indispensable member of their watch box collection, especially the all-time classic stainless steel black dial, black bezel version. This is why they have always been so difficult to acquire from authorized Rolex dealers. The new black dial steel Rolex Submariner reference 126610LN is the perfect example of this, it is said to have an almost ridiculous waiting list of 8 years! 

True watch aficionados know what it means to own a stainless steel Submariner. It’s a ticket to being part of an important piece of dive-watch history. There really is no other watch that can claim such a long and interesting history as the Submariner. It is without a doubt the pioneer of dive-watches. 

In this post, we are going to briefly discuss the history of the Submariner collection. Then, we are going to run you through the last 4 generations of steel Submariners, which spans 41 years (1979-2020). That way, you can see how the most coveted Submariner of them all – the black dial, black bezel, steel Rolex Submariner – has evolved over time. 


generations of the stainless steel black dial submariner

The creation of what is now the most iconic sports watch began in the early 1950s. The idea sparked when René-Paul Jeanneret, a man with a passion for scuba diving, discussed with his close friend, Jacques-Yves Cousteau, what a diver’s watch truly needed, as well as what it didn’t…This man also happened to be on the Board of Directors for Rolex.

Jeanneret presented the plan for a sporty yet sophisticated everyday watch that was waterproof. It was the perfect plan to expand Rolex’s customer base, while also getting the perfect watch for his favorite hobby, diving. 

While Rolex would have you think the Submariner was the first of its kind, there were actually a few brands developing similar watches at this time. It’s just Rolex was far better at marketing.

At this time, Rolex was developing the Explorer, a watch that would also go on to be very popular. However, the explorer was much more of a tool watch than a sports watch. Thus, the Submariner was really Rolex’s first foray into the realm of sports watches. 

Needless to say, Rolex loved the idea of the water-resistant watch and they began developing this new concept in 1953. That same year they started production and testing it.

The watch was beautiful and it worked! However, they needed to spread the word to the masses about the brand’s ability to produce water resistant timepieces.

Again, Rolex is the king of watch marketing, so they came up with a clever idea. They asked a famous Swiss physicist, inventor and explorer by the name of Auguste Piccard to do a public stunt. The stunt involved him taking his Bathyscape deep-diving submarine down to a mind-boggling depth of 3,131.8 meters with an exclusively designed Rolex by his side. After the dive, the Rolex watch emerged intact and running perfectly. This attracted a lot of media and Rolex clearly proved they were the best in the dive-watch business, and with rapid speed.

That following year, in 1954, The Rolex Submariner made its debut at Basel World. It was the reference 6204. The watch was easy to read and highly practical. Plus, it was super attractive, with its mix of baton and dot-shaped hour markers coming to a full circle around the dial, meeting at 12 o’clock upside down triangle. It also had a chapter ring around the periphery for the minutes and running seconds. 70 years later, this layout remains untouched.

Note: There was no date window and cyclops eye back then. This didn’t come about until 16 years later. 

Over the years, Rolex has perpetually evolved, Submariner included. While the general look is the same, the materials and durability is much improved.

Another thing that has continually enhanced is the Submariner popularity. It is now among the most popular watches on Earth, and arguably, it is the most popular. Surely, it is the most sought after diver’s watch. 

Among the the Submariner collection, there are many popular models, but no Submariner is as popular as the “LN” variety, which is the black dial and black bezel steel Rolex Submariner. 

Because of this, we want to specially dive into the last 4 generations of the steel Submariner. Not to mention, we have all of the last 4 generation of the stainless steel Rolex Submariners available at Diamonds By Raymond Lee. Thus, we were able to take pictures of them so you can see. And, if you feel like you must-have one of them, you can do so immediately by ordering online, contacting us, or coming down to our showroom in Boca Raton. 

black dial black bezel submariners


The last 4 generations of the stainless steel Rolex Submariner cover the past 41 years, starting with reference 16800 in 1979, then 16610 in 1989, 116610 in 2010, and finally, the newest stainless steel Submariner, reference 126610, which was just released earlier this year (2020). 

Let’s go over each of the 4 generations of the steel Submariners so you can see how they have evolved with time. 

SUBMARINER REF. 16800 (1979 – 1988)

16800 black dial Rolex submariner

The Rolex Submariner 16800 was the successor of the Ref 1680. It featured some very notable upgrades. While the overall look was the same, with the (40mm) Oyster case, stainless steel oyster bracelet, date, hours, minutes and seconds functions, and black dial black bezel color combination, the materials were significantly more advanced. What’s more, they continued to advance and upgrade reference 16800 over the course of its life. So, let’s start with changes that went into effect with the earliest models. 

Modern Sapphire Crystal

All previous Submariner watches featured a plexiglass crystal, but reference 16800 introduced the modern sapphire crystal that we now take for granted and simply expect. At the time, this was huge news. It was way more robust and durable, not to mention, scratch resistant!

More Rubust Case & Triplock Crown

The Submariner reference 16800 also received some internal changes to the case design. It didn’t change the dimensions but it did make the case more robust.

One of the biggest upgrades was Rolex’s patented Triplock crown, which still remains a feature to this day. Although the Triplock crown debuted a few years before reference 16800 came out, with the Sea-Dweller, it was a big selling point. The system of the Triplock crown uses three o-ring gaskets, creating three separately sealed areas. This ensures the watch is perfectly watertight. Because of this, the water resistance rating went from 100m to 300m (1,000ft). That’s three times the water resistance! Again, this is a feature and rating that we still appreciate today with the newest Submariners. 

Glossy Dial with Applied Indexes

In the early years of reference 16800, the dial had a matte finish and the luminous indexes were painted on. However, two years after its release, Rolex upgraded the dial to a more modern, less instrumental glossy dial with applied indexes. The appliqués (hand applied indexes) were made of white gold and filled with lume, as they still are today. 

Note: The watch featured in this post is the later version of the Rolex 16800, so it has the glossy dial with applied indexes. 

Uni-Directional Bezel 

These later models of the reference 16800 also featured a ratcheted uni-directional bezel rather than the bi-directional bezel of all past models. 

This was a very significant change as it was a major improvement on the safety of divers. The uni-directional rotating bezel meant that even if the bezel was somehow to turn while diving, the remaining time could only get shorter, not longer. You can see just how important this is for divers with limited oxygen time. 

New Movement – Calibre 3035

The later models also received a movement upgrade with the Rolex calibre 3035. It beat at a higher frequency than its predecessor calibre 1575 (28,800 beats per hour vs 19,800 beats per hour), and it had a quick set date function.

Calibre 3035 is a Superlative Chronometer, featuring the very similar engineering as the Calibre 3135 found in all the following Submariners (except the newest Rolex Submariner reference 126610).

Nowadays, the stainless steel black dial black bezel Submariner 16800 is considered a classic vintage watch and it is highly collectible.

SUBMARINER REF. 16610 (1988 – 2010)

reference 16610

In 1988, Rolex unveiled a new Rolex Submariner, reference 16610, which would go on to be the longest running reference in the Submariner line (over 2 decades in production!). 

This model highlighted all of the same changes introduced throughout the course of reference 16800’s life – glossy dial, hand-applied indexes, uni-directional bezel, and triplock crown. However, there were still a few crucial upgrades.

Calibre 3135

Reference 16610 unveiled a brand new engine, the calibre 3135, one of the most impressive movements ever made, a movement powerhouse that remained at the heart of the Submariner until 2020, as well as many other Rolex watches. 

Calibre 3135 was a larger movement so it was able to incorporate more components and it was significantly more robust. This means it was more accurate and more durable. It offers a frequency of 28.800 vph. The 31 jewel movement also offers a calendar aperture that is instantaneous, changing itself at midnight, a balance wheel made of glucydur, and a perpetual winding system that is virtually silent. 


Over the years, technology continued to advance, and one of the technological improvements came in the form of Rolex’s Luminova. Luminova replaced tritium as the luminescent material sometime in the late 1990s. It was more powerful and ever-lasting. 

Solid End Link Bracelet

In the early 2000s, Rolex also changed the Oyster bracelet’s hollow end links to solid. While the bracelets were not as light, they were now far more robust and substantial in how they felt. From then on, all of Rolex’s Oyster bracelets were solid metal.

Case Without Visible Lug Holes

During this time, Rolex also altered the lugs of the cases. Instead of having visible lug holes, the case become completely seamless in design. If you look at older models of reference 16610 you will notice this.


ref 116610

At the 2010 Basel World, Rolex unveiled the highly successful Submariner reference 116610LN. Needless to say, there were some important upgrades to note, and they all came from the very first production run.

Cerachrom Bezel 

Reference 116610 was the first stainless steel Rolex Submariner with a Cerachrom bezel. It replaced the aluminum insert bezels of the past. This is a huge change as the Cerachrom bezel, which is a Rolex patented ceramic bezel, is extremely durable and scratch resistant. Moreover, it keeps its glossy, beautiful black color for what Rolex says is forever. 


The Super Case was introduced on Submariner Date models in 2008, but those were not the black dial, black bezel Subs. It wasn’t until 2010 when the reference 116610LN was released that stainless steel black dial black bezel Submariner got the Super Case. 

The Super Case still measured 40mm in diameter, but it is slightly squarer and the lugs are thicker. Overall, it has a chunkier and more robust profile. Although the changes are subtle, when you put it side-by-side the older cases, you can see the difference immediately. The Super Case offers more wrist presence. And on the wrist, we must say it is just as comfortable and wearable.

Maxi Dial

Reference 116610LN also saw the adoption of the Maxi Dial, which was first revealed in 2003 with the Submariner Kermit. The Maxi Dial features larger lume plots and thicker hands, which makes for better legibility. Many people also say it gives the dial a better balance. From then on, the Maxi Dial stuck. 

Newer Glidelock Clasp

The Submariner reference 116610 also took on the newer gridlock clasp, allowing the length of the bracelet to adjust by 5mm without the use of tools. 

Years later, Rolex improved the Glidelock clasp to expand by 20mm in total, with 2mm increments. 

Overall, the Rolex Submariner 116610 was a very successful model, but it was discontinued as of 2020 for the newer stainless steel black dial black bezel Rolex Submariner, reference 126610LN.

SUBMARINER REF. 126610LN (2020 – NEW**)

reference 126610LN

The Rolex Submariner reference 126610LN is the newest and latest black dial black bezel stainless steel Submariner. At first glance, it looks pretty much identical to its predecessor, but there are some subtle yet considerable changes. One of the biggest differences is the size of the case…

41mm Case Size, Slimmer Lugs & Slightly Smaller Crown Guards

While 1mm may not seem like a lot, in the Rolex world, 1mm is like 5mm. It is almost earth-shattering. The difference is very noticeable when putting it up next to reference 1166100.

But here’s the thing, Rolex discontinued the Super Case. This model is not a Super Case. So while the case size is larger, things have slimmed down a bit, bringing back some hints of older models. 

Many people complained of the Super Case being too bulky. So with that, the case also has slimmer lugs and the crown guards are slightly smaller.

Overall, the case size makes the watch wear larger, yet the watch has a more refined look to it. 

Slightly Wider Bracelet

The case isn’t the only change on the design of reference 126610LN, the iconic 3-link Oyster bracelet has grown as well. The new bracelet increases the width of the bracelet by one full millimeter. It is now 2mm between the lugs. Rolex says this change was to enhance the comfort on the wrist.  

Calibre 3235 – NEW MOVEMENT

Now, the biggest change is the new movement. The calibre 3135, which has been in the Submariner for decades, was replaced by the more advanced calibre 3235 movement.

After two decades, it was only a matter of time for the movement to change. While the 3135 was a great workhorse, it was not up to par with the specs we expect these days. 

The Calibre 3235 is a self-winding mechanical movement that possess 14 patents in total. It has the Chronoergy escapement, for higher energy efficiency with greater dependability. It’s made of nickel phosphorus for enhanced magnetic resistance. It has a new barrel architecture and superior efficiency, which means you get a whopping 70 hours of power reserve too!

Of course, the 3235 is a Superlative Chronometer, so it is extremely accurate and reliable with -2/+2 seconds per day. 

On the whole, the steel Rolex Submariner 126610LN is still the classic Submariner that we all love. It has all the same DNA. It is a Rolex Sub, through and through…

But this Submariner might just be the most desirable black dial black bezel Rolex Submariner ever. Right now, the new model is insanely popular. People are coming back from authorized Rolex dealers stating the waiting list is 8-10 years. This is two years longer than a stainless steel Daytona!

What does this mean? If you want it now, you are going to have to look to the secondary market. Just like you will for all the previous generations of the stainless steel Submariner. 

Luckily, we have all of the last 4 generations of the stainless steel Submariner at Diamonds By Raymond Lee


It’s fair to say the Rolex Submariner is one of, if not the, most popular sports watches in the Rolex catalog. It is also fair to say that it’s the most popular sports watch in the world. It’s a timepiece that every watch enthusiast aspires to own. It’s an absolute staple for any collection, with the stainless steel black dial black bezel Rolex Submariner being the holy grail. 

If you want a black dial black bezel stainless steel Rolex Submariner, or one of the precious metal versions, you can contact us or check out or collection of Submariners on our website. All of our Submariners are available to purchase as soon as today. You can come into Diamonds By Raymond Lee’s showroom in Boca Raton or you can order online – we ship the same day and the packages are fully insured. 

If you have any questions, please contact us

Let us know what your favorite steel Rolex Submariner generation is in the comments below!


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