Words by Cameron Barr
The reference 5513 is not the oldest iteration of the Submariner; however to many collectors and aficionados, the reference 5513 represents the classic vintage example of Rolex’s legendary dive watch. Additionally, certain rare variants of the reference 5513 (such as those with COMEX dials and those issued to various military divisions) have attained legendary degrees of value and collectability, making the reference 5513 one of the most interesting and diverse Submariner references to collect and own.
The reference 5513 was initially introduced in 1962, and enjoyed a long and successful production run until 1989, when Rolex finally discontinued it and replaced it with the reference 14060. At the time of the reference 5513’s release, Rolex already had a stainless steel, no-date Submariner in their catalogue in the form of the reference 5512; however the reference 5513 did away with the COSC-rated movement of the reference 5512, and instead used Rolex’s caliber 1520 movement, which allowed the reference 5513 to be sold at a lower price point.
Other than the movements inside and the accompanying “Superlative Chronometer / Officially Certified” text on the dial of the reference 5512, the two, non-date displaying, Submariner watches were entirely identical. Despite their numerous similarities and apparent overlap, Rolex simultaneously manufactured the reference 5512 and the reference 5513, and sold the two, seemingly identical dive watches alongside each other, until the reference 5512 was discontinued in 1978.
Both the reference 5512 and reference 5513 use 40 mm stainless steel cases, which feature crown-guards for additional protection against impacts and accidental unscrewing/opening while underwater. Previous Submariner references lacked crown-guards, and it was this new generation of Submariner watches (along with the date-displaying, reference 1680) that mark the point in the Submariner’s history, where Rolex’s now-iconic dive watch first started to take its contemporary shape and form.
For the first several years of its production, the reference 5513 Submariner was fitted with a glossy, gilt dial; however in 1967, Rolex made the switch to a matte black dial that had white text and luminous hour markers painted directly on its surface. Sometime around 1984, Rolex changed their dial design yet again, and began fitting the reference 5513 with a gloss black dial that had white text, and now featured applied, white gold surrounds for its luminous hour markers – similar to the dial that is fitted to contemporary Submariner watches. A number of minor dial variations exist within the three, different generations of reference 5513 dials, and it is these tiny details that can often help determine the originality and correctness of a watch and its components.
Although its production period lasted until the end of the 1980s, the reference 5513 is a decidedly vintage timepiece. The thick, domed, acrylic crystal on the reference 5513 provides it with a distinctly vintage look and feel, regardless of the dial generation that lies below it. Additionally, the vintage aesthetic of the reference 5513 is reflected in its bezel design, which is of the bidirectional, friction-fitted variety, rather than the unidirectional, ratcheting style of bezel that can be found on all later-era Submariner references.
The first reference 5513 watches left the Rolex factory back when glossy gilt dials were still being fitted to sports watches, and production of the reference 5513 lasted all the way through the appearance of white gold indices and the widespread adoption of synthetic sapphire crystals – both of which are still used on the contemporary Submariner watches that Rolex sells today. Additionally, the reference 5513 has a rich history of being modified by Rolex to meet the specialized needs of private orders. Examples include the military-issued, Submariner watches that were fitted with “sword” hands and fixed spring-bars, as well as the early Sea-Dweller prototypes that had helium gas escape valves, and were issued to the French deep-sea diving company, COMEX for real-world, field-testing.
A large part of why the reference 5513 Submariner has come to represent the quintessential vintage example of Rolex’s iconic dive watch has to do with its remarkably long production period. Rolex manufactured the reference 5513 for over a quarter of a century, and its production spanned every major generation of Rolex sport dials, including the entire matte dial era. No other watch in Rolex’s history has been fitted with all three, different generations of sport dials, and the incredible diversity that exists within this single Submariner reference (including the ultra-rare anomalies and prototypes) is a big part of the overall excitement and appeal of the reference 5513 to vintage Rolex collectors.
Due to the reference 5513’s long production run and the vast number of differences and nuances that can be found between the individual watches, prices can range dramatically; and certain well-preserved, rare configurations have been known to reach stratospheric levels of value and collectability. While it may not be the oldest iteration of Rolex’s iconic Submariner, the reference 5513 can easily be considered the most diverse, which has helped make it one of the most interesting and exciting Submariner references to collect and own.