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1958 Rolex Submariner ref. 5508 "Small Crown"

As one of the single most recognizable timepieces in the world, the Rolex Submariner truly needs no introduction. That said, not all Submariner models are equal, and among the most desirable and collectible Subs ever made are vintage examples from the 1950s that pre-date the implementation of crown-guards.

These examples represent Rolex’s original vision for its dive watch before it blossomed into the icon it’s become. During the first handful of years that the Submariner was in production, Rolex released a surprising number of different references – and even produced two different versions of the Submariner alongside each other during the late ‘50s. One model featured an oversized winding crown and the other was fitted with a standard one. In our latest episode of What Is On My Wrist, Craft + Tailored’s CEO Cameron Barr takes a deep dive into all of the the details and eccentricities that make the “Small Crown” Rolex Submariner ref. 5508 so special, and breaks down exactly how these early Rolex dive watches differ from their “Big Crown” sibling.

Launched at the end of 1957, the reference 5508 represents the final evolution of the “Small Crown” Submariner. These watches were produced alongside their “Big Crown” counterparts, including the reference 6538 and 5510. The “Big Crown” models offered 200 meters of water resistance, whereas the “Small Crown” variants like the ref. 5508 only offered a 100-meter depth rating. Despite the different sizes of their winding crowns, both versions of the Submariner from this era feature cases that are characterized by their lack of crown guards, which offers a distinct profile that is significantly different from later iterations of Rolex’s famous dive watch. Additionally, the “Small Crown” Rolex Submariner watches have a thinner, more compact profile, which makes them perfectly suited for smaller wrists.

This particular example from 1958 is in great condition and it still has its original glossy gilt dial with radium lume that has developed a rich golden-brown patina that matches the patina on its Mercedes-style hands. Although this model would have originally been fitted with a bezel insert with a red triangle at its zero-marker, it was replaced at some point early in its life, and it is now fitted with a MK1 “Long 5” insert that has faded to take on blue/gray color that perfectly frames the dial and compliments the patina on its hands and hour markers. Similarly, the original bracelet was also lost at some point during its life, and it is now fitted with a leather strap that further plays into its vintage overall aesthetic.

When it comes to value, “Small Crown” Submariner watches represent some of the most compelling and attractive options on today’s market due to their relatively low production numbers and high demand. That said, while prices for “Small Crown” Submariner references have been increasing in recent years, they remain significantly more affordable than their “Big Crown” counterparts, but still offer that same overall look and feel of the early dive watches from the era, and are still one of Rolex’s most famous sports watch icons.


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