The Beckertime Comparison Series: The Rolex Submariner 40mm Vs. The Rolex Submariner 41mm
There is no other watch in the world like the Submariner. Sorry, no, that’s not true at all. There are a million watches like the Submariner—practically every brand, either in existence now or in the past, has used it as ‘inspiration’ for a dive model of their own. It is quite possibly the most emulated, copied and downright counterfeited watch ever made.
However, there is only one real Rolex Submariner.
Born in 1953, its turbulent start to life saw it go through nearly a dozen references in its first decade or so, before hitting on the form it would stick to for the next half a century.
When the ref. 5512 emerged in 1959, it unified every fundamental component which had proved successful over its previous iterations and added one final touch of its own. So the 40mm steel case was present, as were the Mercedes handset and wider bezel with its new serrated edge (thanks to recommendations from the British Royal Navy which had already adopted the watch as standard issue). The additional element was the inclusion of crown guards, finishing off what was to become one of the most recognizable forms in horology and a design which went more or less untouched, outwardly at least, right up until 2008.
That year saw what constituted a major upheaval in the life of the world’s favorite dive watch. Although the dimensions stayed the same on paper, Rolex introduced the Sub to their new Super Case. A squarer, more bulky alternative to the formerly sweeping lines of earlier references, the 2008 Submariner got lugs and crown guards nearly twice the thickness as before, making it look bigger than previous models and gaining plenty of wrist presence.
While the move was welcomed among those who considered 40mm just a tad too small for a modern sports watch, the ref. 1166XX series wasn’t without its detractors. Some missed the elegance of old and longed for a more vintage-inspired silhouette.
12-years later, Rolex seemed to pull off the impossible by keeping both sides of the debate happy. The broad shouldered Sub was replaced by an updated version, one which both returned the watch’s graceful curves and also genuinely moved up a size for the first time in more than six decades.
Below, we will take a look at all the differences between them.
The Rolex Submariner 40mm vs. The Rolex Submariner 41mm: Looks
In fairness, the Submariner’s visuals have changed very little since the debut reference, the ref. 6204 from 1953.
So ask someone with no interest in watches to spot the difference between the ref. 1166XX series and the latest ref. 1266XX range and you will most likely be met with blank stares. They are there, though.
Most obvious is the overall profile. The new 41mm models actually look closer in shape to vintage Subs than they do to the generation just retired, despite the increase in size. The crown guards have been trimmed down to a shorter length and the lugs are now slimmer and more elongated. To do so, Rolex have shaved half a mill off the inside of each, meaning the bracelet (the three-link Oyster comes as standard) is now 21mm where it meets the case—rather than the 20mm of the outgoing collection—and narrows down to 19mm at the clasp.
For the rest of the aesthetic changes, you are going to have to look really hard. The bezel, for instance, is reportedly wider than before, although there are no official measurements from Rolex and I personally can’t tell. Similarly, the minute hand is marginally longer, but again, you might just have to take my word for it.
The only other difference is a second coronet logo, in-between the ‘Swiss’ and ‘Made’ text under the six o’clock index. All the script and the crown are now printed below the minute track as well instead of above it.
And, er…that’s it as far as looks goes!
The Rolex Submariner 40mm vs. The Rolex Submariner 41mm: Materials & Colors
The 40mm ref. 1166XX range of Submariners wasn’t all released at the same time. Their launch came about in the period when Rolex was replacing their aluminum bezel inserts with the new proprietary alloy, Cerachrom.
The material appeared first on the green dialed, anniversary GMT-Master II; the ref. 116718LN from 2005. But the Sub wasn’t too far behind and, in 2008, the brand unveiled three solid gold Submariner Date models all with ceramic surrounds; the ref. 116618LN (18k yellow gold with black dial and bezel), the ref. 116618LB (18k yellow gold with blue dial and bezel) and the ref. 116619LB (18k white gold, with blue dial and bezel—aka the Smurf).
After that, the steel pieces everyone had been waiting for turned up in 2010, with the ref. 116610LN (black dial and bezel) and the ref. 116610LV (green dial and bezel, better known as the Hulk). The only no-date Submariner, the steel, all-black ref. 114060, wasn’t released until 2012.
This time around however, with no new revolutionary materials waiting in the wings, Rolex has brought out the latest generation in one great lump.
The options and colorways are almost identical, but even these have been scaled back to a more retro era, in much the same way as the watch’s general shape.
For example, the Hulk’s direct replacement, the ref. 126610LV, keeps the green bezel but has reverted back to a black dial, reminiscent of the original green Sub, the so-called Kermit from 2003 which marked the watch’s 50th birthday. The new version has been nicknamed the Starbucks, and the color scheme does reflect the coffee shop’s logo, to be honest.
Likewise, the Smurf’s successor has also gone for subtlety in the same way. The rich blue dial is no more, and is now a glossy black one.
Aside from that though, the eight-strong 2020 collection is the same as the previous range. You can take your pick from the three steel models, including the sole no-date example, along with two each in yellow gold or yellow Rolesor (in either all-black or all-blue) and the one white gold piece.
The Rolex Submariner 40mm vs. The Rolex Submariner 41mm: Movements
The Submariner’s size increase might have gotten most of the headlines, but the other big news (actually the biggest news for helpless watch nerds like us) was the long overdue update to the movement inside.
The Cal. 3235 takes over from the legendary Cal. 3135, Rolex’s longest and most wide-serving caliber of all time.
It was the mechanism which powered the Sub from 1988 to 2020, a truly superb engine loved by wearers for its accuracy and resilience and adored by watchmakers for its simplicity.
So the new movement has big shoes to fill. Fortunately, this is where Rolex excels and, rather than a few cosmetic modifications and a different reference number, the Cal. 3235 actually replaces or upgrades around 90% of the components of the older caliber.
Most tellingly of all is the inclusion of the Chronergy escapement, the manufacture’s own take on the traditional Swiss lever escapement invented over 250-years ago.
For the Chronergy, Rolex has skeletonized the pallet fork and escape wheel, the two main components in the system, and geometrically offset them both, which has resulted in an improvement in efficiency of around 15%. Both parts are constructed from nickel-phosphorus, rendering them completely antimagnetic as well.
Elsewhere, the walls of the mainspring barrel have been halved in order to fit a longer mainspring, giving a power reserve of 70-hours over the Cal. 3135’s 48. And the new monobloc-shaped rotor on the self-winding module is now seated on ball bearings to increase its speed.
Although it is new to the Submariner, the Cal. 3235 has been in production since 2015, seen first in the 39mm Pearlmaster before going on to drive the Seamaster and Deepsea. So this move finally brings the Rolex dive trio onto the same page.
The Rolex Submariner’s iconic status was sealed generations ago, so huge changes are completely unnecessary, both for the company itself and the watch’s legions of fans.
If the Sub suddenly turned up with a massively different shape or measuring 46mm across, it would destroy nearly 70-years of gentle evolution in one go, and lose Rolex one of their most admired creations.
This latest version is simply another soft progression, one which takes a small step backwards and forwards at the same time, except it manages to end up not where it was before but right where it should be.
— Featured Photo: BeckerTime’s Archive.