The Future Grail Series: The Green Submariners
A mid-life crisis can take many forms. For some, it involves nothing more harmful than looking up old flames on Facebook or developing an overwhelming urge to learn the guitar. For others, it can lead to spending the kid’s college fund on a Porsche or excruciating attempts to flirt with people 20 years their junior.
But whether its letting it all hang out at Burning Man or squeezing into lycra to train for an Ironman, there is rarely anything dignified about reaching middle age.
For the Rolex Submariner however, hitting the big 5-0 saw the world’s favorite dive watch buck convention and turn a very stylish shade of green.
That half century clocked up back in 2003 and represented the first time Rolex had used the color on their class-leading professional timepiece.
Green has been a signature for the brand and its logo for many years, bringing with it the obvious connotations of money and wealth. Their particular shade, #265C26, is so associated with the company that it is instantly recognizable on billboards and advertisements even before you see the wording.
For the Submariner’s birthday, Rolex launched the ref. 16610LV, with the LV standing for Lunette Verte, or ‘green bezel’.
Longtime fans of the marque know they are not averse to throwing in the occasional surprise when the mood takes them, and seeing one of horology’s greatest icons suddenly emerge ringed by a bright emerald surround was certainly a shock to many.
Instantly gaining as many detractors as admirers, online Rolex forums, which are not known for their fair-minded objectivity at the best of times, lit up with passionate activists both for and against.
Those smitten with the new direction quickly christened it The Kermit. Those horrified by such a drastic departure from the norm inflicted upon it a different nickname; the vomit Sub. It’s not easy, as the saying goes, being green.
The Next Generation
As well as debuting the radical new color, the ref. 16610LV brought the Maxi dial to the Submariner for the first time. Introduced on the Yacht-Master in 1991, which is basically a Sub in a fancy suit, the fatter hands and hour markers not only made the piece more legible, but also lent it a pleasing vintage air, harking back to some of the earliest models in the series—a little touch of nostalgia for the birthday boy.
Aside from the coloring, the Kermit shared the same specifications as the standard-issue black Submariner of the same period, in an if-it-ain’t-broke kind of way.
Forged from impossibly tough 904L steel, the 40mm case was designed to withstand just about anything a daily wearer could subject it to, including a dip in the ocean down to 300m. The proportions of that robust body are held up by purists as among the most perfectly formed of any of the watch’s many iterations. As opposed to the contemporary model’s broad-shouldered muscularity, the ref. 16610LV has a graceful elegance, sweeping into its 20mm Oyster bracelet and affording the watch an appropriately fluid look.
Inside, the Cal. 3135 purrs away with the sort of rock steady dependability that lasts several lifetimes. The most successful and widely-used of the crown’s workhorses, the 31 jewel creation gives a 50-hour power reserve along with the flowing seconds hand that comes from its 28,800bph frequency.
But it’s the unorthodox bezel that will always attract the headlines. As with many extreme breaks from convention, initial resistance was short lived. Before too long, pre-owned examples of the Kermit were selling for more than box fresh versions of the traditional black models.
Made before the Cerachrom era, the aluminum insert has a lustrous gleam which reflects the light to a degree modern day ceramics can’t quite match. It is a bold, eye-catching element that still manages to retain the essential spirit of the Submariner, and the reason for its continued success—its versatility. Whatever color that timeless design comes in, it is the watch that can be worn anywhere and with anything.
So, is the Kermit a future grail watch? Well, many of the fundamentals are there. It is a dramatically different version of a universally adored icon. It debuted all new features, in its color scheme and Maxi dial. And most importantly, it is a comparative rarity.
Although rumored to be a limited edition on its release, the 16610LV joined the regular line up, but was only in production for seven years. That gives it the sort of finite quantities that collectors yearn for, and prices for pre-loved examples are already on the rise.
During its short run, the first of the green Subs went through just two extremely subtle design changes—one intentional, which doesn’t add much to the value of the watch; the other accidental, which most certainly does.
Around 2007, it gained a laser engraving of the ROLEX name repeated three times on its rehaut, and the serial number changed location to below the 6 o’clock position on the case.
And at some point, very briefly, a machining defect gave us what have become known as the ‘Flat 4’ editions. These incredibly rare examples, already steaming towards grail status, have a slight irregularity in the first digit of the ‘40’ etching on their bezels. Whereas the normal piece has the inside lines of the number join together at the top, forming a point, on the Flat 4’s, they are squared off.
Practically indistinguishable from one another, be prepared to pay up to twice the price for a Flat 4!
Ending The Kermit’s brief reign, its replacement, the ref. 116610LV appeared in 2010 and saw Rolex truly committing to the green motif.
Presenting the crown’s hard-won proprietary ceramic for the first time, the corrosion resistant and scratchproof Cerachrom bezel has been guaranteed to always remain as brightly colored as new, avoiding the age-worn fading suffered by the older style aluminum inserts.
The ultra tough material has a look and feel that is distinctly different to its predecessor, with a surface that, although polished, holds a pleasantly muted finish. It doesn’t so much shine like the metal versions, but rather glows.
Where the ref. 116610LV does sparkle, and where the biggest difference is between it and the 50th anniversary model, is in the dial. While the Kermit kept the traditional black, this new model is set with a face that Rolex call ‘Green Gold’.
By mixing gold dust into the paint (because of course they do—they’re Rolex) the dial’s surface becomes an active, dynamic element of the watch, changing and shifting hue constantly under different lighting conditions. In direct sunlight, it shimmers a vivid jade, under more subdued conditions, it darkens almost to black. It means that dial and bezel are sometimes matched in tone and at others contrast noticeably. Seeing how the colors play in the light is one of the great pleasures in ownership.
Don’t Make it Angry
Contemporary watches, and sports models in particular, have been increasing in size steadily for several years now. What would have once been an unthinkably large model a decade or two ago, these days is not only acceptable, but conventional.
Rolex too, although you suspect somewhat unwillingly, have begun to up the dimensions of their range, with 42mm-plus becoming the new norm.
For the Submariner though, growing beyond the 40mm mark is apparently too much to ask. The dive watch that inspired it all has stubbornly remained true to its dimensions and shows no sign of changing.
In order to compensate, and mollify the fans who have started to grumble that the Sub is losing some of its presence alongside competitor’s offerings, the brand have steroid-infused the latest wave, giving them a well-built, street-brawler physique.
The ref. 116610LV features lugs and crown guards that are nearly twice the width of the previous model, endowing it with a far larger appearance than its numbers would suggest. It gives each version in the new range a more commanding form; in green, it is also responsible for its nickname—The Hulk.
It is one of the more apt unofficial labels given to a Rolex. By far the most solid looking version of the watch, now in its 65th year, The Hulk is an extremely substantial piece of precision engineering. Whereas on paper its dimensions may seem dwarfed by the competition, both from other manufacturers and within its own family, on the wrist, it more than stands its ground.
Inside the bulky frame, an uprated version of the same Cal. 3135 that powered the Kermit keeps the beat. Gaining the antimagnetic Parachrom Bleu hairspring means the movement is even more resilient to shocks and temperature variations than before and, since 2015, all Rolex calibers have been required to maintain an accuracy of between +2/-2 seconds a day, twice as severe as the industry standard. No other manufacturer demands more from their engines.
So, what are the chances of The Hulk reaching future grail status? At this point, it’s difficult to tell. Although it is the first time the Submariner has been seen in this getup, it is also not a limited edition and the ref. 116610LV is still very much in production. Unlike the Kermit then, it doesn’t have that oh so important scarcity factor on its side yet.
However, Rolex do have a habit of quietly retiring their more outlandish models, without so much as a heads up to the brand faithful. It could happen at any time, for no reason, so now might be a good time to invest in The Hulk.
Both of the green Submariners caught fans unawares on their release. Although controversial at first, over the years they have proved themselves as two of the most popular variants of perhaps the most popular sports watch of all time.
Devoted Rolex followers can (and often do) argue at great length over which is better. There is, of course, no right answer—there is simply the one you prefer.
What they share, other than their unfamiliar coloring, is generations of constant refining and development, a pedigree of faultless engineering and a tireless dedication to create a timepiece that is an immaculate combination of strength and beauty.