The status of the vintage Rolex Submariner as the ultimate “cool guy” fashion accessory has been cemented by the likes of Steve McQueen, Jacques Cousteau and James Bond. Cousteau got there first. The watch’s mechanical innovations made it a favorite among professional divers, and Auguste Piccard and his son Jacques used it while setting a world depth record of 10,335 feet in 1953, a year before its official introduction to the public. The popularity of the Submariner amongst non-divers first peaked after it appeared on the wrist of James Bond in Dr. No, first in the 1958 Ian Fleming novel, and later in the 1963 film as portrayed by Sean Connery. The specific reference of Submariner that appeared in the film, the 6538, is distinguished by gilt (or gold) dial details, a lack of crown guards and a domed crystal — and it looked just at home with a full dive suit as it did paired with a white tuxedo.
The Submariner has been in continuous production since 1954, but while modern incarnations are, arguably, among the finest mechanical diving watches money can buy, they don’t quite capture hearts in same way early models do.
But finding a decent 6538 these days is often challenging and prohibitively expensive. And let’s face it, the 60-year-old, rare, investment-grade watch probably wouldn’t see much wrist time, regardless. There are other options, though. If approaching original authenticity is what you’re after, look no further than the Tempus Machina Watch Co 216A. At $25,000 (including the cost of the donor watch), it’s still expensive, but in comparison to the 6538 that Christie’s sold earlier this year for $175,000, the 216A may be your best bet.
Tempus creates a near-identical modern incarnation of the 6538 by modifying a brand-new Submariner (ref. 114060) from Rolex. The 216A captures the most important details of the 6538 with an acute eye for the details. The crown guards have been trimmed, the dial recreated using the same methods you’d find in the ‘50s, the bezel reformed and the crystal replaced (the only non-Rolex part used). The case — built using a modern, 40mm donor — has been trimmed to 39.5mm in diameter to get a touch closer to the 38mm of the original. The result is a thoroughly modern, vintage Rolex.
You can get a modded Rolex from other outfits, such as Bamford, but you’d be hard pressed to find one that sticks so closely to the source material. It might not capture the exact same emotions as a true original (that patina counts for something, right?), but it is, for all intents and purposes, a brand-new reference 6538 that you could wear day in and day out without worry.
Would McQueen or Cousteau be wearing a 216A if they were around today? Probably not. But if you want to leverage a touch of their style without resorting to the now-ubiquitous modern variant, the 216A from Tempus Machina should do the trick just fine.