Rolex 1680 single red submariner is a bit of legend. It is not the first submariner made by Rolex, that was the 6204 released in 1953. After that there were a few iterations like the 5513 (1963-64) with the crown guards and “mercedes” hands. And then there was the 1680 (1969 – 1975), the first submariner with a cyclops and a date. The initial batch of 1680’s had a single red line on the dial, spelling “submariner”. The red line has then been replaced with white, but the initial single reds (SR) 1680 are now fetching ridiculous prices (about $30-40.000) for a well preserved sample. Of course, none of them have papers any more, so establishing veracity is quite tricky.
The movement (rolex 1575) initially did not hack (that was introduced around 1974, so some 1680’s do hack now as they were retro-fitted). The beat rate was 19800 beats per hour. In the modern era the most common beat rate is 28800 beats per hour.
The crystal was acrylic and it rose quite high above the bezel, earning a nickname of “top-hat”.
All in all it is a legendary and iconic watch, but technically, while a marvel 50 years ago, it is a bit underwhelming now, especially for the price. Anyway. I am now quite interested in the vintage rolexes, and I was contemplating getting a single red 1680 rep for a while now. 1675 GMT master is next on the list, for those who keep score. But this entry is about the 1680.
I do not believe it is possible to buy a 1680SR from a replica dealer right now. I suppose you could try for a complete watch, but there will be problems. For one thing the watch will look brand new, which would not be likely for a genuine that is 50 years old. If gettable, there will still be a myriad of problems. For one thing, it would probably have a DG2813 movement, which is a cheap copy of the Japanese Miyota 8205. It literally costs $10 or so. Not high quality at all. If it breaks, people just replace the whole movement. Also, no one services these things. You couldn’t even get get the smallest vial of watch lubricant for that kind of money. A service would cost about $150 and who would pay that, if they could buy 15 whole movements for this kind of money?
So, if I bought a cheap 1680, assuming I could even get it, I would need to replace the movement, and the dial (wrong feet positions), and hands (wrong hole sizes) and I would need to find a datewheel, which is almost impossible – you need so called open six date wheel, which in many years of my tinkering I have never found available anywhere for any kind of money (for an ETA movement, with eta date position). I would also need to age the bezel inset, and reshape the case. Most affordable cases (and even the not really affordable ones 🙂 ) need to be reshaped, new holes for the bracelet pins drilled, crown guards made sharper… in short, a lot of work would need to be done.
Another option would be to buy parts and create the watch from scratch. I found one 1680 dial from a parts seller from Singapore for $29.99. Another well known seller of Rolex aftermarket parts sells several versions of the 1680 dial + hands for approximately $170 (with postage). Both of these sellers sell ETA dials and hands, and Rolex feet positioned dials and Rolex sized hands. Neither of the two sellers sells the datewheels for ETA movements with the correct fonts.
I bought dials from both sellers, figuring I would put them into a 16610 (non-ceramic Submariner) case, which I do have. The problem with using a rolex dial (with Rolex feet and date window) is that the movement is a real rarity now and costs a pretty penny. It would also need to be serviced, which is harder because Rolex would not touch a watch with non genuine parts. In the past five years or so, I have seen genuine Rolex cases being sold twice, for ridiculous amounts ($7500+). I have recently seen a replica 1680 submariner, advertised as replica, with fake case, bezel, crystal and insert, with the genuine white dial and hands, plus the genuine 1575 movement. It sold for almost $8000. This is a fake toy watch people, get a grip.
The dials were problematic – the cheap (lets call it bingo, as a pun on the seller’s name) one had an off colour lume, and I had no hands to match. The Jukee (another bad pun 🙂 ) had an ok coloured lume, and hands to match, but it was too small for the 16610 case. I used the bingo one for a bit, but it did nothing for me. Totally wrong in every respect. Wrong case shape, wrong insert, wrong crystal, crown guards, and crown, wrong bracelet and clasp.
I bought several replica inserts for a 1680 (properly aged and stuff, almost completely ghosted, with no pip). I figured I would use that on the 16610 case. After all, Rolexes have been 40mm watches forever, with rare larger exceptions. However, it turns out that 1680 inserts do not fit 16610 bezel (the inner diameter is too small, the outer diameter not large enough. We are talking half a millimetre here. But might as well be a mile.
So I waited for a suitable case. Luckily enough, there was a 1680 case for sale for a reasonable price at my preferred forum. It came without a crown, and a bent bezel (with an insert that was glued on). The crystal was a reasonable quality aftermarket one, but the seller told me that the previous owner scratched it on purpose to make it look older. I bought the case and bezel and waited for delivery.
I have several ETAs in my spares drawer, and several rep Rolex crowns, which might be useful. For the build, I used a genuine ETA2386-2 Standard grade, with a Rolex fonts datewheel.
In the meantime, I decided to age the dial(s) and hands. I had to age both dials as I had no idea which one would fit the case. I would prefer Jukee, but it might be too small.
I have read several accounts on how to age a watch. All of the ones I read use water-based paints. While this is fine, I thought I would try something a little different. I used coffee. Coffee stains are brownish, kind of like an aged dial might look. I tried it.
I did several iterations/layers and in the end I also painted the dials with clearcoat matte lacquer (for toy models). While this was drying, the case came.
The bezel assembly is interesting. I am not sure, but I thought that it should have a washer, not a spring… Like the 1665. No matter. I’ll remove the insert because I need to in order to get the bezel on anyway. There is no crown and no movement ring provided. I knew that already – I have plenty of spares.
First the crown. All crowns I have are triple lock 7mm for the modern submariner. They are not exactly correct for the 1680, however, the 1680 crown is 7mm, so at least it will fit between the guards. See the helpful chart below.
I do find a crown which fits the tube. I do have more tubes too, but getting these out from the old cases is a bitch. The newer crown tubes have a stars-haped indentation, so they are easy to unscrew. Not so with older ones.
Once I unscrewed the back, I also noticed that the back gasket was missing. I do have plenty of genuine Rolex spares, I just had to pick the right diameter one. In this case the gasket goes around the back case not into a groove on the case (which is not present anyway).
I pick one. Screw the case tight (without lubing anything. It will either work or won’t. If it won’t, I’ll lube it then. If it still does not work, I’ll glue the crystal in). First test in the water resistance machine.
It passes easily. No need to glue anything on, for now. Now to put in the bezel ring. These springs are fiddly. What you need to do, is rope it in, and then use a small screwdriver to push it in. These old Rolex bezels do not click and are bi-directional (they turn both ways).
Once you have the ring on, you push in the insert. It needs to be glued in. What I did was to put small amounts of resin glue on the edges, push the insert in, and then exposed it to UV light.
Now, we turn to the innards of the watch. First find a movement ring that fits. I’ve ordered several, a while ago. I will also need washers, but that comes later.
Now, the movement. I try both dials, Jukee just about fits, but so does bingo. I will use Jukee.
Put the hands on, test date flip, case the movement.
I had to shorten the stem by about half a millimetre, otherwise I could not fully screw in the crown. Find the correct size washers and fasten the movement in the case now.
Put the movement on the timegrapher. Amplitude and accuracy are quite good, but beat error is atrocious. This is NOS ETA 2386, the beat error should be 0.
I don’t know what’s up with the beat error. I’ll play around with it some more. Also I might need for the movement to bed in. I’ll let it be for now, to see how it behaves on the wrist. Close it down, take a photo.
I am not done yet. I need to remove the swirls on the crystal. I’ll use polywatch.
Now I am done. We’ll see how the insert works out for me. I might still replace it, but generally, I am quite content. Here are a few shots next to my 1665 DRSD.
I am now off to find a strap and wear the thing for a bit :).