In 2020 we’ve witnessed a flourishing of colors across the Rolex line of watch references. Most notably this year, the Oyster Perpetual line was unveiled with a bright spectrum of dials. Off on the sidelines while the colorful OPs were stealing the show, the green Submariner was busy making its comeback as the reference 126610LV. At this point, the watch buying community is fairly comfortable with the diverse color palette Rolex employs, even among staid and otherwise utilitarian “sports” references, but many collectors rightfully have a soft spot for the variants of green Sub that have been kicking around for nearly two decades now. Marking the occasion of crown’s latest mean green reference, we’re taking a quick look at all three references. The three muchachos—Kermit, Hulk, and Cermit.
Green has a wide array of associations in the human consciousness. Some observers point to the green fields marking the Swiss countryside during the warmer months as an inspiration for Rolex’ color choice. The U. S. dollar was dubbed the “greenback” when it was introduced by the Union government as a means of payment during the Civil War. Some would call it wise marketing for a luxury brand to embrace a visual association with money, and financial success. Green is also associated with the rebirth of spring, and new growth in nature. It is impossible to determine whether any, or all, of these considerations lead Rolex to introduce the green colorway. What we do know is that it was a highly successful choice.
The first appearance of green arrived in 2003, as the Submariner reference 16610LV arrived in celebration of the 50th anniversary of its sought-after dive watch. Retailing for approximately $6,000, it left a lasting impression, and quickly adopted its longstanding nickname of “Kermit”. Writing for Europastar at the time, Paolo de Vecchi pointed to the “extraordinary green bezel, in the purest Rolex style, that completely transforms the Submariner without any substantial modification” as a highlight of the Geneva and Basel trade shows.
There were some important updates in the reference 16610LV, though. It was the first Submariner reference to use the “maxi” dial with enlarged hour markers. There are no drilled lug holes on the 40mm case. The hands are also slightly enlarged and, along with the hour markers, which accordingly means larger application of luminous material. This Submariner uses a COSC certified version of the caliber 3135 automatic movement, with 48 hour power reserve, and its case boasts a screw-down crown, a unidirectional rotating bezel, and 1000 feet of water resistance. The earliest examples from 2003 carry a “Y” serial number while low “F” serial numbers originate in the final months of that year.
The use of green for this 50th anniversary piece was a logical choice to a certain degree. Rolex used green boxes to deliver its timepieces to collectors, even in the 20 years prior to the introduction of the Submariner. It was a natural choice to draw from the tones of boxes which, in turn, coordinated nicely with the traditional design of guarantee papers. The Kermit reference enjoyed robust demand across the seven years it was produced by Rolex, a success which continues to this day.
Introduced in 2010, the Submariner reference 116610LV was an equally successful descendant of the Kermit. Dubbed “the Hulk,” it carried a retail price of $8,550 at launch. This reference sports the thickened lugs of a maxi case design (first introduced to the GMT Master II reference 116710 in 2008). Perhaps the most striking feature of the Hulk is its green dial with a sunburst detail. The careful observer will also note that the Hulk includes a rehaut engraving reading “Rolex” and that the minute hand is slightly widened. The hallmarks of a dive watch are carried through in this reference: water resistance to great depth, a unidirectional rotating bezel, screw-down crown, and luminous material on hands / markers. Rolex also offered COSC certification of the automatic caliber 3135 movement beating within the Hulk. Additional convenience is present in the “Glidelock” clasp, which allows up to 20mm of adjustment in the bracelet length in 2mm increments.
The Hulk, and its contemporary reference with a traditional colorway (116610LN), also introduced a materials innovation to the Rolex line. In 2003 the brand submitted a patent for a bezel made of a new type of ceramic subsequently marketed under the name “cerachrom.” After the patent was granted in 2007, Rolex decided to introduce this newly designed bezel in the Hulk. Cerachrom is an example of a zirconium toughened alumina, a compound often used for medical applications. Cerechrom has a number of desirable properties for a watch bezel, such as high strength as well as corrosion and scratch resistance. Equally, if not more, important is cerachrom’s resistance to fading from ultraviolet light exposure. Bezels on earlier Rolex references would often change color significantly, giving rise to famous vintage condition categories including the Submariner “ghost.” Such examples feature a bezel which has faded from black to grey.
Rolex introduced a second materials innovation for the Submariner line in the form of the Hulk’s lume. Early Subs employed radioactive material, such as radium, and then tritium in order to create low-light legibility. These materials typically glow in a greenish hue. Rolex phased out radioactive material in its watches in 1998 when it adopted Luminova. With the reference 116610 Submariner (both Hulk and non-Hulk) Rolex introduced Chromalight lume, which glows a distinctly different, bluish color. Against the backdrop of the Hulk’s green dial, Chromalight undoubtedly creates a greater contrast and higher legibility. Rolex also notes that Chromalight will continue to glow for approximately 8 hours, which represented a notable improvement to prior luminous duration.
In August of 2020 Rolex released its third iteration in the line of green Submariners, the reference 126610LV, for a retail price of $9,550. At the same time, Rolex “retired” the Hulk. The broad stroke of the new Submariner’s design evokes the earlier Kermit: a green bezel is paired with a black dial again. Given the relatively recent release of this reference, there is still some debate over its nickname. The leading contender seems to be the “Cermit,” which reflects the fact that the reference 126610LV updates the earlier Kermit with a Ceracrom bezel. This is one of many important changes.
The Cermit leaves behind the maxi case in favor of a new 41mm variant. In all reality, though many were quick to point at a larger case, tangible measurements lead to the reality that you are unlikely to notice a difference in the width of the case itself. Whats more noticeable is the shrinking of its lug profile to fit a 21mm bracelet rather than the 20mm that was the standard on the Submariner for ages. Changing the relationship between bracelet width and case width is a subtle one, albeit one that plays well to the overall wearability of the new reference. As an additional noteworthy update, the mercedes-style hour hand is noticeably larger in the Cermit, once again given a thorough Chromalight treatment.
The most significant update in the Cermit, though, is the introduction of a new movement—the automatic caliber 3235. If I may digress a little here, many may not have realized that any evolution of Rolex case dimensions of late have all been aligned with the introduction of 32xx calibers. The new line of calibers do not have the same dimensions of the outgoing 31xx variants, so lo and behold, casings get upgrades alongside their mechanical innards.
Now, back to the point at hand. With this movement, Rolex introduced the chronergy escapement to the Submariner line, an update which enhances the efficiency of timekeeping. The pallet stones are halved in size, reducing friction with the escape wheel. The wheel itself is lighter due to “liga” manufacturing, a process employing X-ray lithography to produce microstructures. As a result, the chrongergy escape wheel is “skeletonized” and lighter, which further enhances efficiency. The hairspring is made of a patented alloy called Parachrom which offers superior resistance to magnetism, shocks and temperature. Rolex significantly reduced the wall thickness of the barrel, thereby accommodating a larger mainspring. As a result of these innovations, the Cermit’s power reserve is 70 hours.
The Cermit shows every indication that it is highly prized by collectors, with secondary market prices typically exceeding twice the retail price. In light of the success of these three green Submariner references, it is perhaps not surprising that Rolex has expanded the color variants for other watches in its collection. In 2016 the Daytona Reference 116508 was introduced in green and, like the Cermit, its secondary market price is a multiple of retail. While the introduction of green to the Submariner line may have seemed like a bold step, the brand’s long historical association with this color made it a natural choice which was well-received by the watch buying community.
In many ways the long arc of the green Submariners is emblematic of how Rolex operates as a brand. There are surprising incremental changes which steadily accumulate until a truly novel timepiece is available, either in design, function or both. It is a formula which has well served the brand for over a century and, undoubtedly, for decades to come.