It goes without saying that the Rolex no-date Submariner is truly a versatile, timeless classic, so much so that here at Wound For Life we like to refer to it as the “white t-shirt of watches”. While the no-date Submariner is the quintessential dive watch, and has been produced for decades while maintaining most of it’s original DNA, the arguable king of all Sub references is the 5513, and some of the most interesting variants of this reference are those produced with a glossy, gilt dial. In today’s market, we’re seeing examples fetch exorbitant prices, which makes one question the reasoning behind such high regard. Without further ado, let’s take a look under the loupe at the miniscule nuances and details that make certain iterations of gilt 5513’s so intriguing.
Now, before we move on into the nitty-gritty, let’s get the basics down. What exactly is a “gilt” dial, and why is it so highly coveted? As some may know, the very definition of the word gilt is “covered thinly with gold leaf or gold paint”, and this is exactly the case with vintage Rolex. Beginning in late 1962 with the introduction of the reference 5513 Submariner, Rolex produced these “meters first” dials with a glossy surface and gold lettering for a period of four short years. Earlier examples would be produced by etching at a black surface to reveal the gold text, and would later be switched to simply applying gold text. It would then go on to be replaced in 1967 with the well-known matte dials that we see on numerous vintage pieces today. While aesthetic appeal definitely plays a role in the interest in gilt dials, the main reason for its collectability and reverence, as with most other premiums you’ll pay for in the vintage market, is purely rarity. Of all the 5513’s produced over the reference’s astonishing 28-year run, a considerably smaller number of examples were fitted with a gilt dial versus a matte dial – making it quite difficult to find an example today, let alone an example in decent condition.
Due to Rolex’s previous inconsistencies in dial printing techniques, the coronet seemed to slowly evolve depending on which year a dial was produced in, and who was manufacturing the dials. I like to think of this as somewhat of a blessing in disguise, as it’s given us compelling dials like what we now know as the Bart Simpson. Essentially, these examples made predominantly in 1966 featured a considerably more short and stout version of the coronet that seems to resemble the head and hair of the mischievous cartoon character, Bart Simpson.
As stated earlier, Rolex discontinued the gilt dial on the 5513 in 1967, so that makes Bart Simpson dials somewhat of a transitional reference within a reference. This can be further seen through the use of steel hands. Additionally, you’ve probably seen Simpson dials before with a bumpy, near-matte surface. If gilt dials were made with a glossy finish, then why is this you ask? Well, when these dials had completed the printing stage of production, they were then finished with a thin coating of clear lacquer. In their early years, they would’ve had a mirror-like surface to the dial, but after years of sunbathing and deep-sea endeavours, several examples have aged to acquire an interesting granular surface. All of these factors make for an incredibly interesting sub-reference (pun intended).
These transitional dials are quite interesting, because they represent Rolex’s study of radioactivity through just a simple word. In the 60’s, laws regarding the use of radium in certain applications began to change. Lawmakers were becoming more aware of the hazardous dangers posed by using a material as radioactive as radium, and hence started regulating its use. While the amount of radium in a simple wristwatch may not pose a great threat to its owner, the true danger of using this substance was known by Rolex themselves. So, the brand gradually started to use less and less radium in their watches, and this can still be seen today when using a Geiger counter.
The “White Swiss” was one of the last few 5513 variants to use radium, and then got replaced with the much safer luminous compound, tritium. This increases its overall level of desirability, as not only does it visually stand out against a gilt dial, but it represents the end of an era. Tritium dials were most commonly indicated by the marking Swiss – T < 25, and were used all the way up until the end of the 5513’s run in 1989. As most will know, Rolex now exclusively uses a version of superluminova that they call Chromalight for all their luminous applications.
Across the entire range of both sports and dress Rolex watches, you’ll be sure to see some examples bearing an underline dial. On a gilt 5513, there’s two places you could possibly spot an underline, below the Submariner text, and below the Oyster Perpetual text. Underline examples are known to be much rarer than those bearing standard dials, and typically command a premium.
There is much debate as to why Rolex added underlines to some of their dials. Many will claim it’s indicative of the transition from radium to tritium, and this is backed up by lower radiation readings on underline dials. Alternatively, some say it was done to ensure that printing was carried out in a symmetrical fashion, but at the end of the day, no one really knows. Rolex has never officially stated why this was done, but until then we can come up with all the crazy theories we want.
Of all the gilt 5513’s, this is by far one of the most radical and drool-worthy versions out there. In a nutshell, the Explorer dial 5513’s are exactly as they sound, a 5513 fitted with Arabic numerals at positions 3, 6 and 9, with stick markers at the remaining positions – similar to that of an Explorer. These dials were introduced after 1963 for a very short period of time, and have now become quite collectible, and very pricey.
Now although one might want to snap up the opportunity to own one upon finding a decent looking example, buyers definitely need to do their homework. Over the past few years, more and more 5513 Explorer counterfeit dials have emerged, and they’re becoming harder and harder to point out, thus making the market even more grey. So, to avoid being burned, be sure to look for how the feet are attached to the plates on the backside of the dial, and also pick up a Geiger counter. The perceived patina of counterfeit dials that’s often applied with coffee, lemon juice, and other color altering liquids may provide the right look, but it’ll never read correctly on a Geiger counter. Moral of the story: buyer beware!by