The Real Steve McQueen Rolex: The Submariner ref. 5512


In the Rolex collecting world, many models are just as often called by their nicknames as they by their official model + reference number. Take the Explorer II ref. 1655 for example. This particular Rolex watch is often incorrectly called the “Steve McQueen” Rolex. Why incorrectly you ask? Well, because Steve McQueen never actually wore an Explorer II. An Italian magazine misreported this information and as quickly as things could go viral back in those days, the association stuck. Wrong or not, the Explorer II ref. 1655 will always be known as the Steve McQueen Rolex. In actuality, the real Steve McQueen Rolex is the Submariner ref. 5512 as this was The King of Cool’s everyday watch. In fact, Steve McQueen’s actual Submariner ref. 5512 sold at auction back in 2009 for $243,000. Urban legends aside, let’s take a closer look at the vintage Submariner ref. 5512 and investigate its variations.

The Submariner Ref. 5512 Crown Guards

When it made its debut in 1959, the biggest contribution the Submariner ref. 5512 gave to Rolex’s signature dive watch was the inclusion of crown guards. Prior to that, the winding crown on the Rolex Submariner sat bare without any side protectors. So, in an effort to make the popular underwater tool watch even more robust, Rolex thought it best to add the protective shoulders to prevent accidental damage to the winding crown. Remember, Rolex Submariner watches were actually used for diving. Scuba diving is risky business with plenty of impending danger to both the diver and his gear. So any improvements that could be done to the Rolex diving watch was a great thing.

The first round of crown guards that made an appearance on the Submariner ref. 5512 were in fact square shaped ones. Out in the wild, the square crown guards on the Sub ref. 5512 proved to inadequate. Armed with gloves, divers found it difficult to unscrew and pull out the winding crown flanked by the square steel shields. Rolex quickly rectified that and replaced them with pointed crown guards. The pointed crown guards didn’t last long either, as they eventually paved the way for the now standard, more rounded crown guards.

The Submariner Ref. 5512’s Chronometer Rating

Early models of the Submariner ref. 5512 only include two lines of text above 6 o’clock: SUBMARINER and the depth rating. However, later models of the ref. 5512 included the “SUPERLATIVE CHRONOMETER OFFICIALLY CERTIFIED” designation on the dial.

The two-liner Submariner ref. 5512 indicates the non-chronometer Caliber 1530 while the four-liner Submariner ref. 5512 signifies the chronometer Caliber 1560 within. When the Submariner ref. 5512 was upgraded to a chronometer, Rolex launched the ref. 5513 as a non-chronometer version. The lower price point of the ref. 5513 led to great demand, therefore, Rolex produced more of that model over the ref. 5512. It’s estimated that the production ratio of the Submariner ref. 5513 vs. the ref. 5512 is 6:1. As a result, the rarer Submariner ref. 5512 is more difficult to source in the vintage Rolex market.

Crown guards and chronometer rating variations give plenty of options when picking the perfect ref. 5512. But frankly, pretty much all versions of the vintage Submariner ref. 5512 would be a fantastic addition to any watch collection. If it was cool enough for Steve McQueen, it’s certainly good enough for us!

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