Robert Weiss is a watchmaker at Zeitauktion GmbH, a specialist in buying and selling pre-owned luxury watches. In his line of work, he holds some of the world’s finest timepieces in his hand on a daily basis. From A. Lange & Söhne and Patek Philippe to Omega and Rolex, Weiss knows what each watch is capable of and what all can go wrong. In this article, the watchmaker puts the Rolex Submariner under his magnifying glass and lets Chrono24 know what he really thinks about the brand with the crown.
Mr. Weiss, what made you want to become a watchmaker?
I have two hobbies: reptiles (particularly snakes) and mechanical systems of all kinds. I have been equally fascinated by both subjects for as long as I can remember. I began working with watches long before I embarked on my professional career. At first, I was just trying to understand my own watches so I could carry out minor modifications and maintenance work. The inclination was already there, and I jumped when the opportunity to act on it arose…
In theory, a watch is a technical system for measuring time. Mechanical watches are no longer essential today, especially since they are inherently less precise than their quartz counterparts. As a child of the 90s, mechanical watches weren’t widespread when I was growing up, at least not in my parents’ generation. Nevertheless, I recall being intrigued by them from a very young age. My father owned a Ruhla pocket watch, and I remember being fascinated by this little machine that functioned without any electricity. However, I didn’t understand how it actually worked at the time. While some of the magic of mechanical watches has been lost through my line of work, my fundamental interest in the inner workings of mechanical timepieces has never waned.
Many people consider Rolex one of the hottest brands out there. As a watchmaker, what do you think of the Submariner?
In my eyes, the Rolex Submariner is a simple, straightforward diving watch. So far in my career, I’ve come across the following Submariner references: 5513, 1680, 1680X, 1661X, 11661X, and 12661X. In principle, the same can be said about each of these watches, though they are all powered by different calibers. I personally prefer the 30XX and 31XX caliber lines. If we just look at the movement and forget about the watch exterior, I can say that dissembling and reassembling Submariner movements makes for pleasant work. Nothing fits too tightly in the 313X movements (i.e., 3135 and 3130), meaning you never have to use excessive force. Everything just fits together nicely. You’d think that would always be the case in the world of luxury watches, but it isn’t. I often deal with A. Lange & Söhne watches in my department. If I were to place both manufacturers on the same scale, they would be miles apart regarding the fit of individual cocks and bridges on the base plate. Anyone who has ever worked on an ALS timepiece has probably experienced the same. For example, I sometimes have to apply serious leverage to the balance cock to get it in place. I’ve never had anything like that with newer Rolex calibers.
Rolex has a unique approach when it comes to case construction, as well. This becomes even clearer when you look at how they fit their watch crystals. They use a particular type of “push-on” construction. On models with sapphire crystal, Rolex has replaced the shaped acrylic crystal with a flat sapphire crystal fitted with a larger seal that rests against the main body of the watch. A steel ring is then placed over the seal, pressing it into the body of the watch across a large area. You’ll find this bezel retaining ring on the Submariner, and as someone who often dismantles this type of watch, I am wholly convinced that this design works well.
The tube is also remarkable. It is easy to remove and really robust compared with many other divers. I really like it.
I tend to view the Submariner through a pragmatic lens, and from that point of view, I think the watch offers a really cool overall package. I particularly like its tool watch feel and no-nonsense case design.
What is the most common maintenance done on Submariners?
Since 99% of the Rolex Submariners that I come across are purchased by us (Zeitauktion GmbH – Ed.) and then prepared for resale, I seldom receive service requests for the model. That being said, rarely a week goes by that I haven’t had my hands on a Submariner. Since the work that needs doing is quite similar to standard service, I would say that a deep clean is the most common.
Submariners that have been worn for a long time will often have well-worn rotor axles. You usually know this is the case if the rotor makes noise when you move the watch. In “bad” cases, this can cause the oscillating weight to drag along the movement. The rotor axle should really have the minimum amount of give possible.
In addition to carrying out complete overhauls or movement repairs, I also deal with watch cases and bands. Both take up roughly the same amount of my time. I regularly replace all the seals on the watch, including the crystal seal, case back seal, seal beneath the bezel retaining ring, crown seal, and the four seals on and in the tube. The Submariner has its fair share of seals.
In your opinion, how water-resistant is the Rolex Submariner?
The Rolex Submariner 16610 is water-resistant to 30 bar. I would have no trouble believing this makes it suitable as a diving watch, even if I didn’t know it has been used for that purpose by professional and amateur divers in the past. Thus, I could answer your question by simply saying: It’s pretty water-resistant.
As mentioned, the Submariner has a lot of seals. Redundancy is a big issue in the diving world for safety reasons. As a non-diver – but more of a swimmer (haha) – it strikes me as though the designers of the Submariner have successfully ticked all the boxes.
As long as you’re sure that the watertightness isn’t compromised by defective seals, I don’t think you’ll have any problem taking a Submariner diving.
What should Submariner owners pay attention to?
If you want your watch to stay looking beautiful for a long time, you need to take care when wearing the Rolex Submariner. I would recommend avoiding certain activities that aren’t very watch-friendly. For example, rotatable bezels don’t do well with dust, and mechanical watches and strong vibrations don’t go hand in hand – the same goes for the Sub.
As a sports watch, the Submariner is pretty robust, but I wouldn’t wear it mountain biking or during a game of tennis or squash. I’ve already mentioned that the rotor axle can cause problems. I wouldn’t say that this is a weakness of the Rolex caliber 3135, but I would suggest wearers pay attention to the rotor axle to prevent damage to the watch. This means no longer wearing it and taking it to a watchmaker as soon as the automatic winding mechanism becomes noisy. I’ve seen 3135 calibers with no finishing left because the oscillating mass has sanded it all off…
How important are box and papers for the Rolex Submariner?
Box and papers are certainly important when it comes to resale value.