There are already a multitude of articles documenting the history behind the iconic James Bond Rolex Submariner 6538. So we’ll just highlight a few key details here. Introduced in 1953, it’s a design that has influenced nearly every diver watch that’s come since. And, as most Bond fans know, Connery’s 007 wore the watch in Dr. No, From Russia with Love, Goldfinger and Thunderball.
To to say this particular reference is a popular collectors piece would be a massive understatement. Vintage 6538s have sold at auction for prices between $100,000 and half million dollars, depending on the condition and variations. Obviously the Bond connection isn’t entirely responsible the watch’s legendary status. But it’s important role in the history of the franchise certainly doesn’t hurt.
Features Wanted for the James Bond Rolex Submariner 6538
Imagine a generic diver watch and probably 90% of what you’ve pictured in your head comes from the Rolex Submariner. However, despite its famous design, the reference 6538 has a number of distinctive features. The large, screw down crown (which earned the watch its “Big Crown” nickname) and lack of crown guards are something collectors look for. There’s also the small red triangle at the top of the bezel. And, believe it or not, the lack of a date window is a feature that’s very difficult to find on a modern alternative.
Of course Bond’s relationship with the Rolex Submariner didn’t end with Connery. Both George Lazenby and Roger Moore wore reference 5513s in their films. And, after years of Seikos, it returned when Timothy Dalton wore a 16610 in License to Kill. Some of the alternatives we’ll see below will also work as options for these other references.
And just a quick note before we get started. I completely understand that for many of us, getting as close to screen accurate as possible is a priority. But I won’t be recommending cheap knock-offs or fakes that will likely stop working after a month. If that’s what you’re looking for, you’ll find plenty of options on Ebay. Instead, I’ve gone with watches that come close in looks, but still have their own identities. Sure, we’ll be sacrificing some style details. But we’ll also be getting decent quality timepieces at fair prices that capture some of that Rolex spirit. Personally, I think it’s a much better way to go.
Best Option for the James Bond Rolex 6538
Steinhart Ocean 1 Vintage Red: $460.00/€395.00/£355.00
Both Ben and Theo recommended the Steinhart in the comments for this post. And yes, I should have absolutely known about this manufacturer. Despite making a blatantly obvious homage to the Rolex Sub, Steinhart still gets a fair amount of respect out there on the watch forums (I checked). And the specs for the watch are pretty impressive for the price. It’s made in Switzerland and powered by time-tested ETA 2824-2 automatic movement. They use a 42mm 316L stainless steel case topped with a sapphire crystal and steel and aluminum bezel. It’s water resistant rated to 300m and comes with a 2 year international warranty. So that’s a lot of bang for the buck! In the U.S., the only dealer I could find was GNOMON Watches. For those of you in the UK, Chronomaster is the authorized dealer if you don’t want to buy direct from Steinhart. Thanks again, Ben and Theo!
Well this one gets a lot of the details right for a good price! Timex uses their standard quartz movement and the watch is only water resistant to 100m. So definitely NOT a true diving watch. But with a case diameter of 38mm and 18mm lug width, it should be pretty easy to swap around straps to give you different looks on the cheap. It might just be the perfect beater watch for those of us on a tight budget.
Parnis Submarine 01: $145.00
Parnis definitely has its haters who feel their designs are less “homage” and more “straight up copies”. But the brand also has it’s fans who are looking for a specific style at an affordable price. Anyway, the inspiration for their Submarine 01 should be obvious. Parnis uses a Chinese 21 jewel automatic movement and packs it into a 40mm, stainless steel case topped with a sapphire crystal. Aside from the date window, the design details are pretty close to the Rolex (no surprise). You can read a buyer’s full review of the watch on the watchyouseek forums. I’ve linked to the official Parnis website above. But you can also regularly find the watch on Ebay for around $80.00.
Stuhrling Regatta 792 Automatic: on sale for $200.99
Another brand that watch fans either love or hate. Much like the Parnis, the design of Regatta comes dangerously close to “direct copy” territory. Sturhling uses the reliable Miyota 8215 automatic movement and a display case back to show it off. At 42mm, the watch is on the larger size, but still wearable for most of us. And with water resistance rating of 200m, it can handle getting wet. So in no way is this a “bad” watch. The customers that have so far given it 4.7 out of 5 stars seem to agree. I’ve linked to Macy’s above (they have the sale price). But definitely check out the Sturhling website. They regularly have deals there as well.
Davosa GMT on Black Leather Strap: $299.00/£295.00
With it’s orange tinged hands and square hour markers plus the 24 hour bezel, the Davosa isn’t exactly screen accurate. But I think it still has enough of that Rolex vibe to be included. Still, it is sneaking up there in price for quartz watch. I’ve linked to Amazon above for a reason. Some of the reviews for this model are … let’s say less than kind. Some buyers have reported problems with the functionality of the GMT hand, accuracy and the overall quality. So if you buy the watch and have any issues, it should be easier to return it with Amazon. I’ve also shared the model with the leather strap. There is a version with a metal bracelet for $379. But I’m thinking since most of us are going to put it on a nylon band anyway, spending the extra eight bucks doesn’t make much sense.
Pantor Sealion Dive Watch in Black: $419.99
The Pantor Sealion is kind of interesting watch. They’ve gone with a more of a cushion style 42mm stainless steel case which, while not totally in keeping with the Rolex style, still has a nice retro vibe. Pantor also gives it a water resistance rating of up to 300m and has added an automatic helium valve positioned at 9 o’clock. On top of that, you can also choose the type of movement you want. They offer both a Japanese SII NH35A or Swiss ETA 2824-2. I’ve linked to Amazon above, where the Japanese movement is available for $419.99. If you’d like the Swiss movement, you’ll need to go the Pantor website. The price jumps up to $889.00 for that variant, unfortunately. I have no experience with Pantor, but you can find in-depth reviews of the watch here and here. Overall, the feedback is pretty positive!
Glycine Combat Sub Automatic Watch GL0083: on sale for $426.00
Update: And the Drop deal is over. But you can still get it from Ashford for about $60 more than they were asking.
The Glycine Combat Sub is a beauty of a watch. It’s powered by their GL224 25-jewel automatic movement and is water resistant to 200m. With a diameter of 42mm, it’s not crazy big and should look good on most wrists. And it comes with a 2 year manufacturer’s warranty. Plus this makeup comes with a SPECTRE style NATO! Bonus!
The Investment Piece
Maybe it’s just me, but I think this is a real fine looking watch. Even with the new Christopher Ward logo, of which I am NOT a fan. The Quantum of Solace Omega Sea Master Planet Ocean is one of my all time favorite Bond watches. So the slightly thinner looking bezel definitely appeals to me. Personal preferences aside, the C65 Trident also has some decent specs. It uses a 26 jewel Swiss-made Sellita SW200-1 movement inside a 41mm marine grade stainless steel case. And the old radium SuperLuminova lumes give it a nice vintage touch. It already comes on a black leather strap, so your Dr. No look is ready to go. And hey! No crown guards!
That little extra …
Many of you probably already know this. But the classic black, green and red Connery strap first appeared in From Russia with Love. And it was not a NATO! Judging by the name, I’m guessing Esprit NATO really wants to hammer home the point that they nailed the screen accurate style. It’s available in 18mm, 20mm and 22mm widths.
Next up, we’ll be looking at the Brosnan-era Omegas! In the meantime, if you have some suggestions for alternatives for the James Bond Rolex Submariner 6538, tell us about them in the comments! And remember to check out our Facebook Page, Instagram Account and Pinterest Boards for more James Bond style advice, inspiration and info. You can also now visit our official Amazon Store Page! We created it to make it easier for you to find all the different alternatives we find on the giant on-line retailer. Hope you’ll come and visit and let us know what you think!