The Watch that Time Forgot: Rolex “No-Date” Submariner

I decided that this blog post would be about a watch that I have always wanted but didn’t realize it immediately; the Rolex Submariner 14060M, aka as the “No-Date Submariner”. I had an hour to kill at a high-end mall that is home to Atlanta’s largest authorized Rolex dealer and I was no stranger to the staff there as I had been coming to this store for many years. My purpose in going was to hopefully see in the “flesh” and possibly purchase the all-new stainless steel Submariner, with its buffet of improvements and design changes. First, let me add a little historical perspective though to set the stage.

In 1986, both my brother and I purchased new Rolex watches. Mine was a steel DateJust with a Jubilee bracelet; his was a steel Submariner Date. I remember how much I liked the Sub but I was 21 and wanted everyone to know my watch was a Rolex and I didn’t think the Submariner had the “true” Rolex look. I was pretty stupid back then. I remember that he decided to return his and I kept mine; in retrospect, I wish I had returned mine and kept his instead because as time went on, I began to notice the proliferation of the Submariner and I became enamored with its mission-specific look. More than that, my own Rolex had become somewhat of a cliché for the late 80’s-early 90’s era of greed.

In 2004, to celebrate the birth of my first child (we watch people will find any reason to buy a watch, won’t we?) I decided to rectify that old mistake and bought a brand new Submariner Date at the aforementioned dealer. This was during the time Rolex was celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Sub and they had made a number of “improvements” to the original design. Like all Rolex watches, changes to their designs occurred with the progress of a glacier so these were not drastic ones but important nonetheless. Solid end links (the part that connects the bracelet to the case) had finally replaced the thin, folded metal kind that had been a Rolex mainstay for the entire run of the Sub; the bracelet links were a bit thicker; the diver extension a little better engineered and there had been modest improvements to the movement. The sapphire crystal remained but was virtually flush with the bezel, which could be had in black or, if you opted for the true “50th Anniversary Edition”, green. A green bezel model also garnered you larger luminous markings, denoted as the “Maxi Dial”. These changes improved the quality built into the Sub but in my opinion, they took something away from the look of the classic sub. A couple of years later, not having ever gotten that warm and fuzzy Submariner feeling that the original had garnered, I traded this one in on a new GMT Master II.

Fast-forward back to the present, May of 2011 where I am standing in front of the largest array of new Rolex watches assembled together in Atlanta, each one bright, shiny and pristine. The word has been handed down from Geneva; another price increase for the Rolex watches as of May 10th. If there was ever a time to buy a new Rolex, this is it. Inside the case is the almost totally new Submariner with its beefy steel case, a new ceramic bezel, a maxi dial and a totally re-engineered bracelet whose quality was beyond question. It even had a new diver’s extension that had been patented and was light years ahead of its predecessor. In every measurable sense, it was improved over the previous generations of Submariner…but it didn’t quite look the same and I wasn’t totally sure I liked it.

Don’t get me wrong….the new Submariner “C” (for ceramic) is by every standard a beautiful watch that has been engineered to the limits to handle what it was designed for….a diver’s watch…but in appearance, it was markedly different from the generations of Submariners that had come before it. After almost six decades in production and several iterations of the original model, all of whom had improved in an evolutionary way, here suddenly was revolutionary (for Rolex) and the pleasant aesthetics that had always been a part of the Sub character were suddenly different, like coming back home to a familiar place that seems familiar but all the angles are not quite the same. This was certainly not the watch for me.

Fortunately, among all the new ceramic models, a lone relic waited patiently for someone to “adopt” it and take it home with them and I was smitten the minute I saw it. The Submariner 14060M, also known as the “No Date Submariner” is a holdover from bygone days at Rolex and could easily be thought of as the “Watch that Time Forgot”. This particular model has been the most resistant to change of all Submariners, foregoing many of the changes that came about in 2004 and completely avoiding the changes that define the new 2011 model. The case is incrementally smaller than the Submariner Date-39.5 millimeters vs. 40.0 millimeters to be exact. It also sits more flush to the arm as it is a single millimeter less in height; in appearance, it looks almost like a vintage Submariner as it is devoid of a date window and the requisite Cyclops lens. To me, the Cyclops is a visual cue that tells everyone “Look at me, I’m a Rolex” watch and while this was desirable in the 1980’s, many would prefer today that Rolex just leave the Cyclops lens off the watch completely. Some even go to the trouble of having the crystal replaced with a non-Cyclops crystal if they can find a dealer willing to risk the wrath of Rolex by putting a non-original spec part on one of their watches.

Without the date window and magnifying lens, the dial of the 14060M achieves perfect balance and symmetry, having an equal number of hour markers on both sides of the dial. A basic stainless steel Oyster bracelet is attached to the case via end links that mimic the appearance of the old folded metal end links, though on closer inspection, they appear to be a lot more solid than the old ones of yesteryear. There is nothing fancy about the 14060M at all-in appearance, function and form, it looks every bit the part of a Rolex Submariner and without close inspection, one would be hard pressed to determine whether the watch was purchased 30 minutes ago or 30 years ago. It’s that authentic looking.

One should not think of the Submariner 14060M as a “Basic Submariner” because there isn’t anything basic about it. Aside from the lack of a date function, the 14060M comes complete with everything that makes a Submariner what it is: 300 meter water resistance; Oyster bracelet with diver’s extension; Triplock crown; sapphire crystal and top notch construction. The lack of a date complication simply affirms its mission as a no-nonsense diving watch every bit as capable as any other Submariner and who really needs to know the date when they are 200 meters or more below the surface?

The 14060M has seen a few of the changes that have benefitted its siblings though. The old tritium luminous paint gave way some years ago to Super Luminova, a much brighter, non-toxic substance and the inner dial stainless steel ring now has the Rolex name engraved around its periphery, making it harder to counterfeit. Most significant of all, in 2007 Rolex began to fit the “No Date” model with an Officially Certified Chronometer movement like most other Rolexes. It wasn’t that the 3130 wasn’t capable; in fact, it was and has always performed within chronometer specifications. Rolex just chose not to send the movements destined for the Submariner to be tested and certified, which does add expense to the watch…at least not until recent years. Now 14060M owners can enjoy knowing that their movement has been through the same rigorous testing that almost all Rolex movements have to go through to earn their Red Seal.

I left the dealer with the watch on my wrist, a smile on my face and just over $2000.00 in my bank account that I did not have to spend to get a ceramic model. There has been much speculation with the introduction of the Submariner C models that Rolex will discontinue the 14060M after a very long run and the dealer told me yesterday that they would not likely get any more of these in so I felt even better about getting a Submariner that reminded me of all that I liked about that first one I ever saw. Its clean, efficient, balanced and capable, exudes just the right amount of class without being overwhelmed by casual. It is easy to see why this watch has been the choice of many men for nearly 60 years…and apparently some women too as my dealer was wearing a Submariner Date made sometime in the past seven years on her arm as well.

If classic, old school Rolex Submariners appeal to you and you don’t want to take the chance on a used one, get in touch with your authorized dealer as they already were fairly uncommon before; if it is true that they are being phased out, finding a new one will prove difficult very soon.

Author’s note: In 2012, Rolex did decide to issue a new version of the “No-Date” Submariner. In keeping with the other Submariners that had been updated, the new one features the larger lugs and case design, a maxi dial, ceramic bezel ring, the much improved Oyster bracelet and of course, no date window to be found. It is beautiful but only increases the value of the previous one to those who desire the last of the classically styled Submariners.