Rolex Submariner

An iconic watch in need of service

My father’s penchant for demaging watches is almost legendary but to be fair he’s not always had a hiqh quality timepiece on his wrist. His watches are inevitably of the tool watch variety and suffer from the active lifestyle he leads. I should of course note that the Bulova Accutron he received as a wedding gift and wore daily for some twenty years was still functioning properly when last removed from his wrist.

My father gravitates towards steel cased wristwatches with sturdy bracelets as they are better prepared to take a hard knock against an automotive engine or survive his daily swim.


The Rolex Submariner above was in my father’s possession until he handed it down to my nephew when it was replaced with another, better functioning, diver watch. When he discovered I had taken a keen interest in watch repair, he immediately asked that I contact my nephew to see if I could get the watch running properly and I was naturally was keen to oblige.

Now, the story of this watch goes as follows. My father, in need of a functioning watch, stumbled across the Submariner at a garage sale. The asking price was about ten dollars. When my father asked if it was a genuine Rolex the answer was “Sure” with a wink and a smile. Inquiring as to whether the watch functioned properly, the owner replied, “Never did” with a shake of his head. Thus with the offer of five dollars accepted, my father became the proud owner of the iconic Rolex Submariner.

My nephew dropped the watch off for me to look over a few days before heading up the coast (he works the summers in rural fire suppression). I unscrewed the crown, gave it a wind, and watch started ticking straight away. This seemed a bit odd since I was told the watch didn’t work at all but since it had a beat I put it on the timegrapher to get a reading.

That’s not how a Rolex works…

The picture was not pretty. The watch was quite slow and had poor amplitude. It certainly needed a service and was performing in a nature very unbecoming of one of the finest Swiss timepieces.

I removed the Submariner from the timegrapher and confirmed with my nephew that he wanted me take a look inside. With his consent I set about finding a case opener.

It was about this time that I noticed that the watch didn’t seem to have any rotor noise. This seemed unusual since modern Submariners are automatic watches. Now, there was already plenty of evidence to suggest this was not a genuine Rolex but if that be the case I would expect more rotor noise as it’s my understanding the Chinese automatic movements are a bit noisier than Swiss.

This mystery was solved once I had the caseback removed. I couldn’t justify springing for a set of genuine Rolex case dies, but it turns out that I didn’t need to. A visit to a replica watch enthusiast forum led me to the answer.

Duct tape- is there anything it can’t do?

With a wad of sticky duct tape in hand I applied pressure to the caseback and twisted counter-clockwise. The duct tape gripped the caseback tightly and turned it on its threads. With the caseback removed, the reason for a lack of rotor noise was quickly apparent- there was no autowinding rotor.

Something’s missing…

Under the microscope you can see the post (center, above)  where the rotor should have been attached. The rotor has been removed- probably after a failure as I can see several small unevenly distributed ball bearings.

Clearly this is not a genuine Rolex. Of course that’s not much of a surprise considering the price my father paid for it.

It didn’t take long to deduce that replacing the rotor made little sense when the movement could be replaced for under thirty dollars. This was mind boggling to me. On other repairs I’ve found a single Swiss part will often cost three times as much.

I removed the stem in order to de-case the movement and noted a slight bend that had caused issues when setting the time and date.

This slight bend caused a few problems

With the movement removed from the case I set about removing the dial and hands. This may be a knock off Rolex but the dial is still gorgeous.

I really like the simplicity of the dial

I can only say that about the front of the dial though. Is it held to the movement with glue?

That brown gunk isn’t normally found inside a watch

Why yes it is! Note below the dial feet have been removed from the dial. I imagine the factories that turn out these knock offs use any movement available so dial feet would probably just be a nuisance.

I’ll have to remove all the glue from the back of the dial

The new movement arrived in about a week and I set about installing it. The numbers on the date ring supplied with the replacement movement wouldn’t line up with the window on the dial and so a little work was required to swap the two date rings.

Brand new movement
Date ring removed from old movement
New and old date rings

The cannon pinion, which is a friction fit on most Swiss movements, is held in place with a tension spring on this movement. If it separates from the spring, the hour and minute hands will not move regardless of the gear action below.

Cannon pinion is reattached to tension spring

With the movement reassembled and functioning properly, I set about refitting the dial. I applied rubber cement with a small oiler as it’s easier to remove than epoxy but tacky enough to hold the dial in place.

You won’t typically find this on a Rolex technician’s bench!
Letting the rubber cement set

I gave the cement twenty-four hours to cure and re-cased the movement. I then reinstalled the rotor (which was removed earlier to work on the date ring) and finally had a properly functioning automatic watch.

Re-cased without automatic winding rotor
Rotor installed!

Silicon grease was applied to the caseback gasket and crown gaskets. I don’t have the tools necessary to test for watertightness but we’re not talking about a real Submariner here anyhow. I’ll be sure and advise my nephew to swim at his own risk!

With the watch re-cased and ticking away happily I was ready to ship it off to my nephew… until I noticed the luminous compound at the nine o’clock position had disappeared sometime during the service. A luminous compound kit is on order though so this should  be resolved soon.

Just about ready to ship

Rolex watches are beautiful and superbly crafted timepieces. Working on this homage has resulted in quite a strong itch that I fear will not be satisfied until I have one of my own. I really couldn’t settle for a replica though- my love is directed more at the craftsmanship on the inside of the case than the outside.


Author: JPMoeller

Amateur watchmaker and California resident

3 thoughts on “Rolex Submariner”

  1. Great story and such a beautiful watch. High quality pictures too! I’ll be getting my first rolex in a few weeks. I’m also going with a submariner but the no date 114060


    1. Thanks for the comment. I too am partial to the no-date Submariner although I like quick date change mechanism that Rolex uses. It would be a tough choice for me, but I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it!


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