Review: The Rolex Submariner ref. 16613
By the time the ref. 166XX range of Rolex’s legendary Submariner made its debut in 1988, its days as the last word in out-and-out tool watches were long gone.
In fact, it had begun making the switchover from robust but stylish dive companion to lavish status symbol as far back as 1969, with the introduction of the all yellow gold ref. 1680.
The ref. 16613 belongs to that series of Subs considered by many devotees as ‘the last of the best’, retaining the more graceful profile of earlier models, before the brand rolled out their Supercase across much of the Professional Collection. While the thicker lugs and crown guards of the contemporary portfolio certainly add a deal more wrist presence, purists seem to prefer the sweeping lines of these earlier pieces.
The ref. 166XX references were the replacements for the short-lived ref. 168XX range, which started in 1979. Those are known as transitional pieces, in that they had only a relatively brief run, but were responsible for presenting a number of vital upgrades. In the case of the 168XX, they were the first to have a 300m water resistance, they gave the Submariner its first sapphire crystal, as well as its first unidirectional bezel, the patent for which had been held by Blancpain for the Fifty Fathoms since 1953.
They also brought a never-before-seen color scheme to the model, although it had been part of many of Rolex’s other collections for many years.
The ref. 16803, unveiled in 1984, was the initial Rolesor Submariner, the name the brand gives to their two-tone stainless steel and gold combination. After just four years in production, the ref. 16613 superseded it, sticking around for over 20 years, and it has remained among the most popular but surprisingly undervalued iterations of one of Rolex’s biggest hitters ever since.
Below we take a look in more detail.
Rolex Submariner ref. 16613 Metals and Bezels
Rolex copyrighted Rolesor in the 1930s, using it first on the Datejust in 1948. While it took a little while to catch on with the public, it would go on to become a signature look for the brand, and was enjoying its heyday by the 1980s.
Although it might seem an odd choice for a dive model, it actually balances the personality of the Submariner perfectly. The watch has always been renowned for both its luxuriousness as well as its strength, and the two metals can be thought of as representing each side of its character.
On the ref. 16613, stainless steel makes up the case and the outer links of its Oyster bracelet; 18k yellow gold is used on the bezel, crown and center links. Overall, it is unmistakably Rolex—not as workmanlike as pure steel, nor as flashy as solid gold.
The unidirectional bezel used on the ref. 166XX series was the last time the Sub would be given an aluminum insert. Rolex were hard at work behind the scenes developing a material that would resist fading and scratching as much as possible, finally introducing the Cerachrom ceramic alloy in 2005 on the GMT-Master II. (Coincidentally, the first Sub to get the new insert was the ref. 16613’s direct replacement, the ref. 116613LB, in 2009). Undoubtedly a huge achievement for the brand, and one that does exactly as promised, it nevertheless has split opinion since it was brought in. Many collectors, especially fans of vintage Rolex, like a watch that shows the effects of a life well spent, including the odd bit of color aging and the occasional scuff mark you only get with the aluminum bezels. Different strokes, etc!
Rolex Submariner ref. 16613 Movements
The reason the previous generation of Subs was so fleeting was that Rolex had produced a new movement to fit inside, and deemed it a big enough change to warrant giving the watch a fresh reference number.
The outgoing caliber, the Cal. 3035, had been the mechanism to debut the high beat 28,800vph frequency to the men’s collection, now standard across every Rolex model. The updated engine inside the ref. 166XX series, the 16613 included, was the Cal. 3135.
Between the two, there are far more similarities than differences, but the Cal. 3135 did manage to up the power reserve to 50 hours over the previous 42, increased the jewel count to 31 from 27 and also benefited from using Kif shock absorbers. Other than that, it retained the Glucydur balance wheel (an alloy of beryllium and copper favored for its rigidity and resistance to temperature variations) complete with Microstella regulating system and Breguet overcoil.
However, it wasn’t a case of simply slipping the movement in the case and forgetting about it. Rolex continued to improve on its design as they went along, most notably in 2000 when they had perfected, after five years, their Parachrom Bleu hairspring. Made from a combination of niobium and zirconium, with an oxide coating, it was completely antimagnetic and reportedly around 10 times more shock resistant than the Nivarox spring they had been using.
Although the retiring Cal. 3035 had been a big success and was among the most well thought of movements the brand had created up until that point, the Cal. 3135 is regarded as perhaps the finest mass produced caliber ever made. As evidence, it is still running the show in the current Submariner, more than 30 years later.
Rolex Submariner ref. 16613 Dials
The Submariner ref. 16613 came with four dial options, each one contributing to a hugely different look.
The traditional Sub choice, and the most understated, was in glossy black, with the bezel in a matching color.
But perhaps the one which exemplifies this particular variant of the watch the best is the sunburst blue, again carrying over onto the surround. Unlike the modern version, which has a uniformly flat shading across the face, on the ref. 16613 it has a shining iridescence, constantly changing in different light. It is a highly distinctive element, pairing beautifully with the Rolesor metals, and is loved by many collectors who have awarded it the fairly unimaginative nickname ‘the bluesy’.
The two other alternatives are rarer and, if anything, even more eye-catching. Known as the Serti dials (after the French word ‘sertir’ meaning ‘to set’) they came in either champagne or silver and were finished with gemstone indexes; sapphires at the 12, 6 and 9 o’clock, with diamonds for the rest. Each was available with either the black or blue bezel.
The inscribed numerals on the surround on all versions were in yellow gold, as were the outer rings of the hour markers.
Like the movement, the dials were also subject to alterations during the ref. 16613’s run.
The luminescence was changed twice, firstly with Luminova replacing the former tritium in 1998 and then, just two years later, it swapped again to SuperLuminova, basically the same substance but bought through a Swiss supplier. Those early tritium pieces, easily identified by their ‘Swiss T<25’ or ‘T Swiss T’ markings on the dial below the six o’clock index, could well have picked up an interesting patina by now if they haven’t been relumed, something many fans look out for especially. For the record, the Luminova pieces are marked simply ‘SWISS’ while Superluminova has ‘SWISS MADE’.
Additionally, in the mid 2000s, in an effort to thwart the counterfeiters who have long plagued the Submariner’s existence, the brand started engraving ‘ROLEXROLEXROLEX’ on the rehaut of their watches, as well as etching a tiny crown logo on the very bottom of the sapphire crystal. All these little details act as handy ways to estimate the date of a specific model.
Rolex Submariner ref. 16613 Bracelets
As to be expected with a reference that stayed in production for so long, the bracelet received some modifications as well.
The ref. 16613 came factory fitted exclusively with the three-link Oyster, Rolex’s longest serving and most utilitarian of its trio of metal bands, a fitting accompaniment for what was a tool watch, once upon a time.
The brand had been receiving criticism for the relative fragility of its bracelets for a few years and had been making strides in remedying it, moving away from the riveted links in the 1970s to folded links. However, the central parts were still hollow, leaving the bracelet as a whole susceptible to a certain amount of stretch over time.
In the early 2000s, Rolex began introducing solid end links (SEL) to give a much welcomed increase in strength, and also started phasing out lug holes on the case.
Additionally, the clasps were altered, with the Easylink extension system eventually introduced allowing wearers to quickly lengthen or shorten the bracelet by up to 5mm. On the ref. 16613 in the 2000’s, Rolex also added a thin strip of solid gold to the clasp to give it a little extra opulent touch.
Many people actually prefer the clasp of the 1990’s on this model over its successor, feeling it is able to withstand more wear and tear than the highly polished version on the current watch.
The bi-color Rolesor combination originally started out as a best-of-both-worlds arrangement for Rolex’s dressier pieces, such as the Datejust. But as the brand’s sporty offerings started to be worn more as statement pieces than the tools they had once been, it made sense to carry the look over to the Professional Collection as well.
On the Submariner, it is the ideal way to showcase both its impressive resilience and its aspirational nature.
Still the luxury dive watch against which all others are compared, the venerable Sub is top of the list for every serious watch collector.
— Featured Photo Credits: BeckerTime’s Archive.