After recently selling my Rolex Date Submariner, I had occasion to reflect back on all the years I had the watch and what I would want to buy in the future when I am financially solvent enough to buy a good tool watch again.
I bought my first Rolex Sub in 1972 for - get this - $368 new. At the time I had just completed my diver training and the top divers watches at the time were made by Bulova and Rolex. The Bulova was considered to be the intelligent choice by most divers in the know because at $238 it was $130 cheaper and was considered to be the equal in performance and durability; but the Rolex, because it was being used at the time by the US Navy, was the watch to get if you had the "best because the Navy uses it" mentality. Although I had every intention of buying the Bulova, the salesman at the Jewelry store I bought it from upsold me to the Rolex. Being 16 at the time, I was an easy mark but then again it was one of the few times in my life that I was upsold on something that turned out to be for the best.
This particular Rolex had an acrylic crystal and a bidirectional rotating bezel. At the time Rolex used a feature called Acculock, if I recall correctly, which was designed to lock the bezel in place unless you pushed down on it while rotating it. This feature never worked very well and was of course eventually replaced in future versions by a unidirectional one.
I ended up losing that first Rolex in a mugging in 1977. The replacement cost me $700 new, and I managed to hang on to that one for 34 years. The main reason I stuck with the Rolex Sub was that before my first Rolex, I kept breaking any watch I had, including good brands such as Waltham. A Rolex Sub was the only watch that I could find that would stand up to the hard use I put it through when I was on a fire department and wearing it to fires, where everything from getting shoved around by fire hoses to having ceilings fall down on me were routine occurrences. I also wore it when I did bodyguard work and during my time in the Navy where I was a Corpsman stationed with the Marines. Not to mention diving with it in the Ohio River as a recovery diver, the Florida Keys and caves in Northern Florida while on vacation and various other miscellaneous activities.
Now, these Rolexes were from back when the Sub was a tool watch used by professional divers and military, and not the fashion watch it has become today. It had faults but overall my experience with these watches was good - they served me well. But this is not a perfect watch by any means and if I was buying today would not be my watch of choice, mainly because of the inflated price but also because the watch does have real world problems that Rolex has not addressed as they should when you consider the price.
The main problem I have had with the watch was the bezel. I really believe that manufacturers should address how the bezel is retained on a tough duty watch and positively lock it in to the case, much as how Sinn does their dive watches. Several times over the life of my Rolex the bezel was sent flying by small knocks, such as bumping a door frame or having a self-closing door catch it when walking out of a convenience store; very disturbing. Again, this happened numerous times to me even after sending the watch back to the Rolex authorized service center in New York to have the bezel reseated once and replaced another time. Also, I have had the watch stop working on me once and the crown also had to be replaced once.
Then, there is the matter of the Rolex bracelet, which until the introduction of the GlideLock clasp version in 2008 basically sucked. Every other month I would have to adjust the pawls on the clasp to get the clasp to lock up properly. I really feel that Rolex should never have taken over 35 years to address this problem, which if you ask around is a commonly encountered one by Sub owners.
And now the main drawback to attempting to own a Rolex Sub - the price. Everything about the watch costs too much. Why else would the Navy have dropped the watch as they did? The stainless steel Sub should not cost over $2,000 max - in my opinion, any watch that costs the $6,000 to $7,000+ that a new Rolex does better be made of solid gold or have diamonds on it or something! I mean, let's face it - the only reason a Rolex commands these prices is because of all the drug dealers and hot tub commandos that over the years have turned what was once considered the ultimate tool watch into a fashion accessory.
When I do eventually get another "good" watch, I really feel that something like a Sinn is not only better engineered but will prove to be much more durable. Especially when you consider how the bezel is retained with a positive locking design rather than the press fit you see on the Rolex. Plus, I feel the Sinn is probably the best engineered watch overall and they accomplish that task in a form factor that is fairly manageable in size. I really hate an overly thick watch and believe that the Sinn, while it could be thinner, isn't overly thick when compared to other dive watches. Also, the price is much more realistic than the "standard" that everybody always looks to when it comes to dive watches, the Rolex Sub.
So let's hear it, people - take the Sub off the pedestal and talk realistically about the faults that you have run into with it, how other manufacturers have addressed similar issues, and what you feel are the best engineered, most durable and fairly priced divers out there.