Style / World of Watches (WOW)

Rolex Submariner ref. 5512 details and Things to Look for when Buying Vintage Rolex Watches

When it comes to vintage Rolex watches, there is a great amount of detail to verify and authenticate – here’s what to look out for in this Submariner ref. 5512

Jul 28, 2017 | By Jonathan Ho

The Rolex Submariner, particularly those vintage Rolex models, is a subject of great discussion and debate. By their very nature as the world’s premier tool watch, Rolex Submariners have tolerated some of the harshest environments and worked at some of the greatest depths. As such, some vintage Rolex Submariners can suffer ‘water infiltration’ because the crown was improperly screwed down or left unsecured through simple forgetfulness; Other times, the damage accrued to a Rolex Submariner stems from regular day to day abuse necessitating service replacements to any combination of dial, bezel, winding crown or its internal components which potentially penalise the owner of a pre-owned Submariner in terms of value on the market – technically, the pre-owned Submariner hasn’t lost any of its value or currency, only that the pre-owned Rolex suffers from the watch not being ‘coeval’ – that is to say, the vintage Submariner is no longer intact with all its original watch components as it originally had from that time period. Thus, with so many potential pitfalls, buying vintage Rolex watches comes with many challenges, more so when it comes to a really popular reference like this Rolex Submariner ref. 5512.

Rolex Submariner ref. 5512 – The allure of vintage details

In 1959, Rolex introduced a never before seen ‘innovation’, parenthesis used because it’s not a horological innovation in a mechanical sense but as a matter of a physical modification of the case – for the same time, the Rolex Submariner was about to see introduction of “shoulders” aka crown guards to protect the crown, a first for the model; the first few models of the production had “pointed crown guards” and because they were not the most practical in terms of functionality, they were upgraded to the classic ground guards you recognise today – round-ish. All the prior models -the 6200, 6204, 6538, 5508, 6536 and 6536-1 were all made with no crown guards.

As the first ‘modern’ Submariner, the Rolex ref. 5512 looks similar to many other models including its successor, the ref. 5513 but the series is relatively unique compared to its replacement model. The Submariner ref. 5512 was only in production for approximately 15 years as opposed to the 5513 which ran for 30 years – thus as a vintage Rolex Sub, it enjoys a certain rarity.

The vintage Rolex Submariner 5512 also enjoys a distinctive functional difference from its predecessors, the bidirectional bezel has deeper, more pronounced fluting than other models without the crown guards. If one is fortunate enough, removal of the case back will reveal a calibre 1530 movement with “butterfly” rotor, named for its shape.

On the dial, this ref 5512 Submariner no date has luminous tritium indexes (identifiable because it still says “Swiss” on the dial versus newer models which said SWISS-T<25 which followed legislation pertaining to radioactivity which was eventually required to emit equal or less than 25 millicuries), gilt printing and “4 lines” – the depth rating, the SUBMARINER text, and Superlative Chronometer officially certified. Some other Submariner ref. 5512s only possess 2 lines on the dial. This vintage Rolex Submariner 5512 currently owned by the CEO of Bob’s Watches is not the rarest “exclamation mark” edition ( a tritium dot at the 6 o’clock) but it is still highly desirable.

According to Paul Altieri, CEO & Founder of Bob’s watches, this Ref. 5512 was purchased from the original owner’s son who was a retired military engineer who had fought in WW2.

Here are some of the things which cements the provenance and collectibility of this vintage Rolex Submariner Ref. 5512:

  1. All original components
  2. Gilt dial
  3. Pointed crown guards
  4. 2 color print on dial, white depth rating, 4 line
  5. Ghost faded bezel
  6. Chapter ring Dial

This particular model of Reference 5512 is valued by Bob’s Watches at about $75,000. The Rolex Submariner 5512 ceased production in 1978, replaced by the reference 5513.

Things to Look for when Buying Vintage Rolex watches

You might have been distracted by the mindboggling array of details which add (or subtract) from the value of a vintage Rolex Submariner so here are a few key points distilled from the article. Caveat: This list is not exhaustive but a general guide. There are too many minutiae when it comes to vintage Rolex submariners for a list of this nature to be exhaustive.

This is not the same Ref. 5512 but representative vintage Rolex image showing in-between lug details

This is not the same Ref. 5512 but representative vintage Rolex image showing in-between lug details

  • Reputation of the Seller is key: In 2014, John Mayer began suing high profile vintage Rolex expert Robert Maron for selling him “frankenwatches” – that is to say that vintage Rolex watches are hard to authenticate if not downright impossible since Rolex itself, does not or cannot authenticate these very details (dial variants, bezel types, etc), therefore, a necessary short-cut is to buy from a reputable seller who are trusted by other members of the vintage Rolex community.
  • Not just original Rolex replacement parts but period specific parts: As mentioned, their very nature as tool watches mean that many of these vintage Submariners have been serviced as some point with damaged parts like crowns, bezels and even dials and hands replaced with official Rolex new-old-stock parts. When this happens, some Rolex aficionados go so far as to call them “frankenwatches” – usually meant to imply that they have non-original components but the real value of a vintage Rolex submariner lies in your ability to determine that each and every component is period authentic to watch if not the factory original parts which left the production line. All original models fetch top-dollar and inversely, those which are not “all original” should command the same premium. Thus, buyer beware.
  • Serial number and model identity engravings should all match: Most Rolex components will bear serial number or model number engravings. When buying a vintage Rolex, you should check the calibre or movement, the case, and the bracelet to determine if the components are original or a replacement. A useful place to look is between the lugs as well, so do ensure they all match before paying top dollar for a particularly rare vintage Rolex ref. 5512.
  • Box and Papers: It helps that “box and papers” are available – this means that the vintage Rolex watch is accompanied by all the original documentation like receipts, manuals and old warranty papers complete with the box – the entire package adds to the value and provenance of these timepieces and sellers know that; so disreputable ones try to con you buy putting together a full box-set with papers from non-matching watches – do check that all the documents are in sync with the serial numbers and even period dates before you put any money down. Should some discrepancies arise, you have some bargaining power there, provided you haven’t lost interest in the piece.

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