Playing with the Submariner

12. September, 2019 2 By David Modic

So, I already own a DSSD and a SD43, but I thought perhaps the regular submariner (116610LN) is the way to go. Submariners have a long, illustrious history. They first went on sale in 1955 and have gone through many iterations and improvements. The subs were the first watches to introduce 200m water resistance, the first watches to have automatic winding and the first to have a unidirectional bezel. If they look ordinary and not any different from millions of other diving watches, that is not a negative. They look like a copy of millions of other watch models, because all of the others copied the submariner, not the other way around. They are the original tool watch. A watch that was meant to be beaten and scratched and worn everywhere and all the time. They still fetch ridiculous prices – you cannot really get one used for less than about 5.000 EUR, new ones are about 10.000 EUR (I know the Rolex site says 7.900 EUR. Good luck finding one at that price).

The Regmariner

I was looking through the replica forums and there was an offer of a 116610LN replica for about a 150 EUR. That is not too much to play around with, I thought. This is a low end rep, with a DG2183 movement (that costs about 20 EUR, brand new), the construction might not be like genuine, the parts cheapish. But hey, this is really cheap. I thought I would buy a 2836 movement, replace the dials and hands and have a reasonable rep to wear all day. I ordered it.

At the same time I sent an email to a dealer I’ve used before and asked him about the Hulk (the green submariner, serial 116610LV). He did not reply for more than a week, so I forgot about it and looked around some more.

Two weeks later, it arrives

The Noob 116610LN v7 with SA3135

Someone was selling a used rep 116610LN – a Noob v7 with SA3135 for a reasonable price, so I bought it. I suppose the name needs a bit of unpacking.

Noob is the name of the Chinese factory. The name itself is older than the factory.

First, there were three people in Thailand, who decided they would look through the Thai markets and find the best possible versions of replica submariners and sell them on. They developed contacts directly with the factories and did stringent quality control. The Noobmariner was born. It was a reasonably priced replica submariner for someone who first started dabbling in the replicas, i.e. a newbie or noob – a submariner for noobs. It was not a brilliant rep, it had tells, but it was cheap, and a lot of bang for the buck. The trio had a falling out, and the sale of Noobmariners ceased.

One of the original Noobmariner people, Reg, his name is, started selling his version of the same thing, only he called it the Regmariner. This is what I ordered for a bit more than a 150 EUR, directly from Reg. Another of the original trio, Mary, also stayed in the rep game and started selling the Nymphomariner (the joke being that it comes faster than the Regmariner). Both the Regmariner and Nymphomariner are of comparable quality. They are a lot of a watch for the price. The Chinese makers figured Noob is a brandname that is recognizable among the enlightened masses, and why not take the brand? It is not like the original trio could complain. Or sue them. So, Noob is the maker.

There are now ten versions of the submariner, v7 is the seventh generation. The versions in replica industry are a bit of a hit and miss – a v7 is not necessarily better than a v6 in every respect. Usually the makers fix a few glaring errors and introduce one or two new ones. The idea is that they never make a perfect rep, so you always want the next one. They don’t break quickly enough to need replacing every year or so, especially if you know how to fix them. Every few years they make a breakthrough, really they do. In this case there is a replica of the rolex 3135 mechanism, called the SA3135. It can, mostly, be augmented with original Rolex parts. The original 3135 is a really cool movement. It is wildly reliable and designed to work without service for decades. It is not as pretty as many other movements, but it is a workhorse.

Above is the SA3135 (different winding wheels, different balance, different regulation options, compared to the genuine (without winding rotor) below. They both work well, though. The SA3135 is about 250 EUR, the genuine, if you can get it (and they are really really rare outside of Rolex) is about 2200 EUR.

So this watch has an SA3135. There is another thing with rolex reps. Some have DG2318/A2386 movement inside and some have a 3135 replica inside. The problem is that the cases are slightly different across the subs. The thing is that the stem (the little rod coming out of the movement ending in the crown) is of different height between 2318/2386 and 3135. So you cannot just swap them. If you have a 2386 submariner, you cannot put in a 3135 movement. I mean, it fits inside the case, but you won’t be able to insert the stem and screw in the crown. So, you are stuck with what you have.

The AS3135

The VRF 116610LV MAX A2386 Hulk

And then, the dealer I sent an email to, replies and says he has the Hulk, for a reasonable price and from a good factory. I tell him to send it over. And he does.

The Hulk is, unsurprisingly, green. It is a submariner, just of a different colour. The genuine hulks are sought after, and currently you cannot buy them for the recommended price, which is about 8.500 EUR. They can be bought for upwards of 12.500 EUR now.

About ten days after payment, the watch arrives.

All three watches together

Preliminary work

The Regmariner is still waiting for a few other parts to arrive (the dial and hands. I resized the bracelet but did not do anything else with it. I’ll update when possible.

The Hulk

Take the movement out of the can.
Test WR.
see? No bubbles.

WR passed with flying colours. Now the regulation.

Face down: +3s/d, ok amplitude, not loving the beat error.
Face up: +0 s/d, good amplitude, still having the beat error.
Sideways: +9 s/d, good amplitude, still the same beat error.

If I can be bothered, I might, at some time, service the movement and deal with the beat error. For now, it will do. Also the movement needs to bed in too. I only needed to close it up and it is ready for wearing.

The Noob

First open it up, grease the seals, clean the case and then test for WR.

The watch passes WR testing without issues. Now for regulation. Initial regulation is not brilliant. +35s/d is quite a lot, for my standards.

After a bit of tweaking, I get to +9 s/d face down. That is acceptable.
Face up: +5 s/d. Amplitude is nothing to write home about, but I will be sourcing a new movement soon anyway.
Sideways, i.e. the way the watch is most of the day is pretty good. +0s/d

Now, I just need to close it down and wear it. Right? Right….

Further tweaking of the Noob pt.1

I have worn the watch for a few days, however a few things still needed to be done. I sourced: (a) a display back, so you can always see the movement, (b) genuine dial but with gold lettering, (c) genuine hands (yellow gold), a bunch of genuine Rolex crystals (with anti reflective coating and little crown laser etched at six o clock position).

I decided not to swap the dial and hands until getting a new movement. However, I could swap the case back and the crystal. This was the first time I swapped the crystal on a submariner. I read about it, but conveniently forgot about a few crucial details…

First, the case back. That is very simple: open, replace. But also test for WR. it worked. Here is the photo of the new back.

Now the replacement of the crystal. This is more of a chore. Here is what needs to be done:

  • Remove the bezel.
  • Remove the insert from the bezel (otherwise you crack it for sure. It is incredibly brittle).
  • remove the bezel springs (they tend to get lost and that really sucks, because they are really expensive to replace, if genuine and hard to source if replica).
  • Remove the crystal.
  • Remove the retaining ring.
  • Remove the gasket.
  • Reseat the crystal.
  • Put the retaining ring back.
  • Put the bezel back
  • Glue in the insert.
  • Test for WR.
  • Wear.

I made some mistakes. Because I was rash. So let this be a lesson to you, kids. First of all, the crystals came with their white gaskets already on. I popped them out, because, clearly I already had a gasket there. I conveniently forgot that there is a retaining ring, I should have removed. So I spent about two hours trying to push the crystal into gasket with the ring still attached. This does not work. At all. I pushed it in, but had no WR. Rinse and repeat. I tried to remove the gasket and replace it with another I had. It seemed glued it. I was going crazy. why does this not work, I wondered. I tried to scrape the gasket out. it did not want to go. Only then, I went and read about it. Removed the ring. and all of a sudden the crystal with the gasket pops right on.

Removed the bezel, stored the little springs and cleaned around the crystal.
The little springs. Safely stored.
Get the movement out. Put the spacers around the crystal in order not to scratch anything.
Get the crystal out with the crystal press. See the little white border? That is the gasket. held in place by the retaining ring.
Put in a genuine crystal without removing the ring. Wonder why it doesn’t work. Keep messing about. Losing my mind. Swearing like a sailor. It does not f*cking work. Why? I lube everything. No luck.
Keep messing about. Repeat endlessly.
Go back to reading. Need to remove the retaining ring with the bezel knife. Very easy. Now all of a sudden it is all simple. I can center the crystal so that the little magnification window (called the cyclops) is positioned correctly over the date. Very easy.
From another perspective.
Put the retaining ring back on. This is a little fiddly if you do not have the right tools. A good advice is to use another retaining ring over the first one. It is not completely simple but that helps. Also you need another retaining ring, which I actually do have, luckily.
Now this is done. Only need to test for WR. Which I did and it passed. And return the bezel on.
I lubricate everything, so that it will glide smoothly. I press it back on. With my fingers.
I use the 3M bezel insert sticker to fasten the insert. Which was, by the way cracked before I started messing with the watch – I lost the little pearl – it fell out somewhere. I have plenty of those though So I glued another one in. The bezel insert will need replacing, though. I have a noob v9 on the way.
I push the insert back in, lean back to admire the effect and… f*ck, something is not right.
If you look closely, the crystal is deeper than the bezel insert. Damn. With submariners, the crystal should be about half a millimetre above the insert, not below it. I say to myself, screw it, I am not redoing all this. This was already five hours of my life I am not getting back. Perhaps I’ll get used to it.

And then I do not get used to this. It bugs me incessantly. It is not right. But I am not going to buy the genuine bezel, ring and insert. They cost more than a 1000 EUR. I am not paying this much, no way. I am aware that the genuine insert is lower than the fake. So that might be it. I go back to reading and I find out that these gaskets are of different heights. I used the genuine one, but if I used the Noob one, this might all be good. I go home, but think about working on this the next day.

The genuine crystal is quite nice, though. A lot nicer than the rep one.
Next day, I start all over.

Remove everything look at all the gaskets I have, pick the highest one, take another genuine crystal (I have 6) and put it on. It is now a lot better, but still not ideal. Now the crystal and insert are completely flush. Half a millimetre would be all that is needed, but I do not have the correct gasket. Luckily I can order some. I order several different heights and perhaps one of them will work.

I have another problem. This crystal has tiny pockmarks on it. They can be seen on the above photo. I did not check when I was installing it. Damn. Here is another photo, but it is really hard to capture these tiny dots.

I will proceed like this: I will wear the watch as is. It is still better than the rep one. I ordered new gaskets and I ordered lapping paste to polish the sapphire. I’ll try to polish these out. If I cannot, I’ll replace it with the gasket.

For now, I am done. Watch this space.

There is an update now, here.