The Red Rolex Submariner Date Reference 1680
Created August 2021, by Morningtundra

This post is not a history lesson but an examination of the details that distinguish dial variants from oneanother. It is meant to be a tool to help collectors determine what dial they're looking at, and whether it is consistent, matching, and appropriate for the rest of the watch.

The white-dial 1680 has it's own variants and is not covered in this article. As does the 18K yellow gold version (1680/8) which is the subject of its own dedicated post.

When discussing dial variations of the stainless steel 1680, we're really concerned with small variations in lettering and dial surface finshing.

The Marks (Mk) break down into three groups

  1. Earlier and rare Meters-first (MkI, MkII, MkIII)
  2. Later and more common Feet-first (MkIV, MkV, MkVI)
  3. Luminova service dials (MkVII)
It is generally thought the switch from Meters to Feet-first was to address the growing North American market. While a compelling hypothesis, it could also have simply been a diversificaiton of suppliers to meet growing demand. There is no clear concensus on why any of these small variations exist and the classifications are arbitrary. So while they serve as a helpful guideline they are not authoritative beyond general collector concensus.

Across the collections, Rolex commissisoned dials from Singer, Beyler, Stern, and Lemrich. While each would have employed tampography, minor variations can be expected. Dial plates baring the names Singer and Beyler are most common on the red Submariner dials, but a few are known to be made by Lemrich.

Between them, at least seven dial variations (Mk1 to MkVII) are thought to exist. Each Mk is distinguished by their lettering and tampography characteristics. Most of the differences are seen in the specificaition text on the lower half of the dial. However, close examination of the coronet will also show some very minor differences in the spape of the open elipse and the outline of the bottom half of the coronet.

Singer dial plate
Beyler dial plate
Lemrigh dial plate

Dial fonts and letter forms evolved independently from those used for print. They have unique and distinctive characteristics due to the manufacturing process, limited space, and small size.

A typeface is a fixed system intended to produce consist uniformity. Specific typefaces are used on Rolex-branded Advertising and Marketing materials. Lettering is not a typeface and allows for adaptations for the medium and space. This is apparent in inconsistent kerning, leading, and serifs on dials.

The dial printing process is called tampography and involves using a sponge pad to transfer ink from an engraved plate (cliche) to a painted dial.

macro picture macro picture To achieve crisp, legible results, the individual letterform needs to overcome the natural tendencies of liquid ink to withdraw under surface tension. Wide apexes of characters like '4' and 'A' are designed to reduce acute angles where liquid tends to pool. These characters have a low cross bar in an effort to dilate (maximize) the enclosed space. The wide-topped '4', the sharp-centered 'M', and the short-limbed 'R' are examples of design solutions to the pooling ink problem.

Serif (noun) ser·​if | \ ˈser-əf \ | sĕr′ĭf : A short line or stroke attached to or extending from the open ends of a letterform; also refers to the general category of typefaces that have been designed with this feature.
Leading (noun) lead·​ing | \ ˈlē-diŋ \ : A typographic term describing the distance between each line of text. It comes from a time when typesetting was done by hand and pieces of lead were used to separate the lines.
Weight (noun) \ ˈwāt' \ : A typographic term describing Stroke widths. These range from very light to extremely heavy; letter shapes range from very condensed to exceptionally wide.
Kerning (noun) kern·​ing | \ ˈkər-niŋ' \ : A typographic process of adjusting the space between individual characters in an otherwise proportional font, usually to achieve a visually pleasing result.
The Early Meters-First Dials
Photo: HQ Milton
1680 MKI
Made by Singer.
2.07 - 2.2M serial range.

The red text is printed directly on the black dial. There is no over-printing on top of white text as seen in MkII.

The white lettering of the specification text has a thicker heavier weight and more prominent serifs than later MKs.

The letterform of the 6's are closed with wide eliptical enclosures.

The letterform of the 'f' has a wide, obtuse curve. The top of the letter (ascender) extends over the adjacent 't', with unusually narrow kerning. The leading between the bottom tail of the character and the line of text below is quite small, almost touching the N beneath.

The second markers on the outer chaper ring at 29 and 31 seconds. These strokes appear half-height.

1680 spec text MKI
Photo: HQ Milton
1680 MKII
Made by Singer.
2.2 - 2.45M serial range.

The red text is over-printed on top of white underlying text, giving the apearance of a white outline or shadow.

The white specification text has a lighter, thinner, weight with a less prominent serif, which is most apparent on the leading 'S'. The down stroke (descender) of the trailing 'R' is short giving a truncated appearance.

The letterform of the 6's are open with a tall, narrow form.

The letterform of the 'f' is thinner with an acute curve that does not extend over the 't'. The bottom tail (descender) has more leading between the text below.

The 29 and 31 second markers of the chapter ring are still present but almost gone.

1680 spec text MKII
Photo: HQ Milton
1680 MKIII
Made by Singer.
Also 2.2 - 2.45M serial range.

Differences over the preceding MKII are very minor and this variant appears concurrently with the MKII.

The red text is not over-printed but directly printed on the black dial, like the MKI. Despite this, the letterform weight is very consistent with the MKII but heavier than the MKI.

The top of the 'f' (ascender) is short, giving a more compact appearance. Note the top tip of the ascender relative to the 'R' above it and then compare to the MKII. It appears the entire 'SUBMARINER' text is right-aligned compare to the MKII.

The minute track (chapter ring) is missing the 29 and 31 second markers entirely.

1680 spect text MKIII
The Later Feet-First Dials
Photo: HQ Milton
1680 MKIV
Made by Singer.
2.45M - 3.xM serial range.

The red text is appears bold and heavy and over-printed on the white text beneath.

The open 6's are pronounced with a wide gap.

The 'f' ascender has a sharp acute curve.

1680 spec text MKIV
Photo: HQ Milton
1680 MKV
Made by Beyler.
2.xM - 3.xM serial range.

The red text is printed directly on the black dial and has a noticably thinner, lighter weight. The letterform of the 'S' resembles a 'Z', especially compared to the MKVI.

The opening of the 6's is narrower than the MKIV but retains the same overall letterform.

The curve of the 'f' acender assumes a more curved, obtuse form.

1680 spec text MKV
Photo: HQ Milton
1680 MKVI
Made by Lemrich.
3.xM - 4.0M serial range.

The red text has a medium thickness and weight compared to the heavy weight of the MKIV and the light weight of the MKV

The letterform of the 6's is now fully closed.

1680 spect text MKVI
Red Service Dials
Photo: HQ Milton
1680 Luminova red service dial
Luminova Service Dials

These appeared in the 1990s along with Luminova and no longer feature Swiss-T<25 at the bottom of the chapter ring. The letterforms are quite faithful to the earliest versions including a medium weight and modest serifs.

Despite the collectors general prejudice against service parts, these are extremely rare and quite prized. The standard replacement today is white dial text.

It's not uncommon to see the service dial referred to as the MKVIII, as some collectors consider the white dial to be MKVII. This is strange given white dials have their own genres and MKs.

1680 spec text luminova red service dial


All these details can be challenging to memorize, especially if you don't have good reference materials to hand. Here's a simple way to think about this,

  • If it's not a Luminova Service Dial (very rare), it's either an early Meters-First (MKI-III) or later Feet-First (MKIV-VI) dial.
  • If it's Meters-First and the 6's are open it's a MKII or MKIII.
    • If the red is over-printed, it's MKII
  • If it's Feet-First and the 6's are open it's a MKIV or MkV
    • If the red is over-printed, it's MKIV

Another way of saying this, is each group

  1. Meters-First (MKI-MKIII)
  2. Feet-First (MKIV-MKVI)
only has one 'overprint' (MKII and MKIV). And each group only has one closed '6', the first (MKI) and last (MKVI).

It's all in the red overprint and the closed 6's

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