In 1904 Cartier created the first men's wristwatch for pilot Albert Santos-Dumont, who wanted a timepiece he could read without taking his hands off the yoke. A century later, men lust after vintage watches not as objects of practicality (we have cell phones for that), but as wearable history. Going vintage can seem daunting at first – all the jargon and the ever-present worry of being ripped off – but if you go in knowing just what to expect, you'll come out with the watch you've always wanted.
The Rolex Submariner, a lesson in vintage variations.
When Rolex unveiled the Submariner in 1954 as the first wristwatch designed to withstand extreme depths, few realized it would become a classic. Since then Rolex has issued 11 references – watch-speak for individual versions of a particular model – some far more valuable than others. The smallest details distinguish a $5,000 Submariner from a $30,000 one. Here's what to keep an eye out for.
On gilt-faced Submariners (Ref. 5512 and 5513 models), the Rolex crown and writing is colored gold, making them some of the rarest versions of the model available. Look out for fakes; no Ref. 1680 Submariners were ever made with a gilt dial.
The Ref. 1680 model was made for more than 30 years, but it wore only a red Submariner label on the face for the first five. Around 1973 Rolex switched to white type for the name.
When a Submariner is given to Rolex for maintenance, the bezel is typically replaced. Collectors much prefer an original bezel, which has thicker numerals than modern bezels.
This handy complication, which first showed in 1969 with the Ref. 1680 model, adds value. If you're holding a Submariner from before then and it has a date window, then you've found yourself a genuine Faux-lex.
Meters-first Depth Rating
Some earlier Submariners have meters printed before feet on the depth rating, which makes them more rare.
A chronometer is a watch certified as accurate to within roughly five seconds a day, adding to its value.