Rolex is not a brand known for producing a lot of models and changing them often. Like Apple, Rolex strategically offers a narrow, premium product line, and press and Rolex fans eagerly line up every year at Baselworld to see what novelties the brand will bestow upon them. There are never many, so each one is special. For a brand whose portfolio features so many iconic timepieces, even minor modifications can become dramatic events to collectors.
From 1989 until 2012, Rolex produced a no-date Submariner reference 14060 (1989-1999) and 14060M (1999-2012). The primary difference between the 14060 and the 14060M was that the former used a caliber 3000 movement while the latter housed a 3130 featuring a full balance bridge. In 2012, Rolex updated what is perhaps the most important, recognizable and imitated sports watch in the world. The new no-date Submariner, reference 114060, boasts a modified case design, a ceramic bezel and a spiffy new oyster bracelet with Rolex-patented GlideLock technology.
Since its introduction in 1954 at Basel, the Submariner has undergone more enhancements over the years than some other watches in the history books, like the Omega Speedmaster. The (non co-axial) Speedmaster itself is still produced by Omega and has seen subtle improvements throughout the decades to meet modern expectations. However, Omega never stepped far beyond introducing a sapphire crystal. Although, sapphire is merely an alternative because the standard Moonwatch still comes with a Hesalite lens. Unlike a Speedmaster, it’s a stretch to suggest that today’s Submariner directly resembles its mid-century lineage, and Rolex doesn’t keep heritage models running in parallel with contemporary ones. But that’s not necessarily a problem. For one, that makes the vintage models so much more collectable.
On the other hand, technology advances, tastes evolve and the market responds accordingly. It’s easy to hate change. I’m not a vintage purist, and I believe that a lot of watch brands, Rolex included, still make incredible watches today. When it comes to the 114060, though, I think a question on a lot of diehard Rolex collectors’ minds is: how much can you change an icon before it’s no longer an icon?
Subtle case changes make a big difference
The Rolex Submariner has the perfect case dimensions and wears well on small and large wrists alike. Its 40mm wide case is cut from a solid block of 904L stainless steel. It measures 47mm lug to lug and it’s 13mm thick. The top surfaces of the case are brushed while the sides are mirror-polished. One thing about Rolex and other luxury watches in this price point is that you can expect incredible case finishing. You’ll see brushed and polished surfaces joining at clear and crisp lines.
On the 114060, Rolex replaced the aluminum bezel inserts with ceramic. It’s actually a scratch-, fade- and corrosion-resistant compound patented by Rolex called Cerachrom. Within the bezel, the diving scale is etched into the ceramic and PVD-coated with a thin layer of platinum. The new choice of bezel insert is controversial with collectors. Some prefer the older bezels because they were less blingy than the ceramic ones, which do readily reflect light. In certain lighting conditions and and at particular angles, the black ceramic bezel can even appear to be gray. Rolex fans who enjoy swapping bezels inserts as often as they do straps should take notice here that the new ceramic bezels aren’t as friendly to the DIY crowd. They’re installed differently on the 114060 than they were in previous models and the ceramic material itself is brittle, all of which make removing the inserts a challenge for the average Rolex owner.
We see a slightly redesigned case shape in the newer model that is more angular and chunkier than in the 14060. Notice how the lugs are about as thick as the outer links on the bracelet. This lends a boxy geometry to the case that divides collectors, as well. Some prefer the smoother case-to-bracelet transition of the original models while others enjoy the enhanced tool appearance and harder lines of the 114060. The redesigned case enables the 114060 to wear a bit larger on the wrist and appeal to modern tastes without technically adjusting the case width, a move that would almost universally infuriate collectors. Operating the Rolex-signed crown is pure joy. You’re hard-pressed to find a crown that unscrews, springs out and then screws back in as buttery smooth as the crowns on a Rolex. It’s these small things where Rolex sets itself apart.
Meet the most imitated dial in the world
If I were to try to list all the brands and models that imitate the Submariner’s dial, I’d probably fail to make it even halfway. This is the most classic dive watch dial in existence. The time is easy to read, and without the date aperture it’s symmetry is stunning. There is quite a bit of writing on the dial relative to the 14060 and earlier models of the 14060M. The 14060M wasn’t COSC-certified until around 2006/7, and that was the last time 2-line models (only one line for the model and another one for the depth rating) were in production. So if you owned a no-date Submariner manufactured in the five years leading up to the release of the 114060, this isn’t a change for you.
The new Submariner features the Maxi dial and hands that is becoming the standard for Rolex sport watches. It’s another touchy subject with Rolex fans who prefer the more subtle and elegant hour markers and slimmer minutes hand. The more pronounced dial elements are bolder and do lend the watch a more rugged tool appearance, but they aren’t as cartoonish as those on, say, a Seiko diver, so they don’t sacrifice the sophistication you expect from Rolex. Hour markers and hands feature Chromalight that glows blue instead of the green lume we’re used to with 14060 models.
The Rolex caliber 3130 movement & its Parachrom hairspring
Inside the 114060 is the Rolex caliber 3130, a COSC-certified chronometer with a 48-hour power reserve. This is one key aspect of the watch that Rolex kept the same from the 14060M. It’s a reliable automatic workhorse, accurate and easy to service.
You don’t hear much about Rolex movements these days without mention of the blue Parachrom hairspring. What’s Parachrom and why does it make the hairspring so special? Hairsprings along with the balance wheel regulate the timekeeping in a mechanical watch. Shock and magnetic forces can disrupt the oscillations of the balance wheel, causing accuracy to suffer. These hairsprings used to be made of steel, which were rather magnetic, until the industry switched to Nivarox, which is an alloy that is more shock resistant and much less prone to magnetism. Parachrom is a Rolex-patented alloy researched and developed entirely in-house that is immune to magnetic forces and is ten times as shock resistant as Nivarox. Rolex says this innovation is a contributing factor to their movements’ accuracy.
A best-in-class bracelet and a versatile look
The new Oyster bracelet is reason enough to consider the 114060 over the previous models. For one, the new Oysterlock clasp is far superior in that it’s much easier to use and feels more secure. The older clasps were also a bit bulkier than the current model and featured a texture meant to mimic the Oyser style of bracelet, as if to create the illusion that the case and bracelet were one. I much prefer the newer clasps both visually and functionally, as it was always obvious to me that the clasp’s link texture was false.
Rolex’s GlideLock technology is another big win for the the brand. Instead of micro-adjustment holes in the clasp or a hidden foldover dive extension, the clasp employs a technology that enables the wearer to make incremental adjustments to the size of the bracelet without the use of tools. If you need to slip the 114060 over a wetsuit, it’s easier than ever, but for most of us, it guarantees a comfortable fit since we can tweak the bracelet sizing as our wrists swell and shrink throughout the day. GlideLock along with the usual extreme taper of the Oyster bracelet makes for the most comfortable bracelet I’ve worn.
The Rolex Submariner is the most versatile watch made today. It’s at home under the sea and wears well with a suit. It has the specs to withstand various conditions and carries the right amount of elegance to be suitable for everyday wear. I’m not saying this is the toughest or dressiest watch ever made. It’s not. But there’s really never a situation this particular Rolex can’t handle or isn’t appropriate for, and you can’t say that about a lot of watches.
The Final Word
I’m glad to have taken a closer look at this watch because it embodies attention to detail. From the bracelet to the crown to the heft of the case and its finishing, the Submariner embraces the concept of the whole watch. It’s a complete product where engineers and designers labored over every decision until they got it just right. Granted, you’re going to pay for this perfection. The 114060 retails for $7,500. That’s real money.
Back to the question I asked earlier. How much can you change an icon before it’s no longer one? As much as you can, especially when you’re a tastemaker. If you’re Rolex, you may have the luxury of change as long as you continue to reclaim the throne with each modification. With every change that Rolex makes to the Submariner, or any of its historic models for that matter, the model has to prove itself all over again. With every update it has made throughout the last several decades, it reestablished itself as the epitome of a well made and versatile luxury sports watch. Given the 114060 released in 2012, it’s too soon to determine whether it’s proven itself, but I’m confident that it won’t be an exception.