The New York Watch Auction: EIGHT takes place on June 10 and 11, inside our Manhattan headquarters at 432 Park Avenue. The auction includes more than 120 of the world's finest watches; here, we look at lot 80, one of the best 18k yellow gold Rolex Submariner ref. 1680/8s we've ever seen.
– By Logan Baker
We’ve dedicated a lot of time over the past few years to exploring Rolex’s gradual evolution from a maker of primarily toolish sport watches to true-blue luxury items. The 1980s is often identified as a major turning point for Rolex in this transition, thanks to the release of the first serti-dial Submariners, gem-set GMTs, and bejeweled Daytonas (the famous ref. 6269 and ref. 6270), but Rolex actually began the evolution even earlier.
The 1958 introduction of the GMT-Master ref. 6542 in 18k yellow gold is technically the first of Rolex’s professional watches to receive the all-gold treatment (although certain pre-Daytona chronographs were offered in gold), but I’d like to point your attention a little later down the road, to 1969, when the solid-gold Submariner Date ref. 1680/8 showed up.
The yellow-gold Rolex Submariner Date has become such an individual icon over the years that it feels like it’s always been with us, but it didn’t officially join the party until it was already 15 years old. The ref. 1680/8 was offered with either a matte black or reflective blue dial, with matching bezel insert, and the earliest examples featured the covetable dial configuration of applied gold “nipple” hour markers and a “meters first” depth rating. (We wouldn’t be talking about vintage Rolex if there weren't a whole host of esoteric nicknames to throw around.) Rolex only offered the “nipple dial” on certain vintage GMT-Masters and Submariners in gold or two-tone – never in stainless steel. Although the blue dial examples are known to go tropical with age, the black dials have exhibited more of a natural staying power.
The reason we’re discussing the ref. 1680/8 today is to call attention to lot 80 in the upcoming New York Watch Auction: EIGHT. It has the entire New York office abuzz. Multiple specialists have told me it’s the best example they’ve ever seen.
The watch comes from 1969, the first year of production for the 18k yellow gold Submariner Date, and it features all the correct attributes, including the “nipple” hour markers, the “meters first” depth rating (200m=660ft), the 7mm Triplock crown, and “top hat” plexiglass crystal. The “Mark I” dial is original and in immaculate condition for its age, with crisp gilt printing and intact tritium plots that have aged to a soft shade of yellow, perfectly matching the lume in the handset.
The 40mm case also displays all its original factory finishes, with razor-sharp edges and precise facets throughout. All the hallmarks and even the original retailer inventory number are clean and legible. Outside of slight marks on the case and bracelet from general wear, the only ding our specialists could find is a slight nick on the bottom right lug. Gold is a soft metal, so it’s remarkable to come across a watch more than five decades old with a case in such fine condition.
Based on the 2.1 million case serial number on the case, we believe this example to be one of only around 100 examples of the ref. 1680/8 produced with a Mark I “meters first” dial. Rolex followed the initial production run with a Mark II dial, featuring a depth rating with “feet first” (660ft=200m). That means that lot 80 in the New York Watch Auction: EIGHT is likely one of the first 100 Submariners ever crafted out of precious metal. The ref. 1680 would eventually be discontinued in 1979 in favor of the ref. 16808, which included a number of small updates including the addition of a quick-set date.
Offered complete with its original punched Rolex guarantee and punched guarantee booklet, the present Submariner Date ref. 1680/8 represents the rare opportunity to own an exceptional, early example of Rolex's first true luxury dive watch. The pre-sale estimate is currently set at USD $60,000 - 120,000.
You can learn more about and register to bid in the New York Watch Auction: EIGHT by visiting our online catalog.
About Phillips In Association With Bacs & Russo
The team of specialists at PHILLIPS Watches is dedicated to an uncompromised approach to quality, transparency, and client service. Phillips in Association with Bacs & Russo holds the world record for the most successful watch auction, with its Geneva Watch Auction: XIV having realized $74.5 million in 2021. Over the course of 2021 and 2022, the company sold 100% of the watches offered, a first in the industry, resulting in the highest annual total in history across all the auction houses at $227 million.
About Logan Baker
Logan has spent the past decade working in watch-focused media, reporting on every aspect of the industry. He joined Phillips in Association with Bacs & Russo at the start of 2023 as the department's Senior Editorial Manager. He splits his time between New York and Geneva.