The solid gold Rolex Submariner is the archetypal watch of affluence. It seems like this watch which combines precious metals with the solid reliability required for a professional watch has always been with us. But if you've read our comprehensive guide on the Submariner 16610 (which we published in January, click here if you haven't read it), then you'll know that Rolex released the first solid gold Submariner running on the 3135 calibre in 1990, which wasn't that long ago.
The reference 16618 which we have on sale at the moment based its design on the reference 16610, which was the Submariner on sale at the time. It was clear that Rolex had been planning to do a gold model of the Submariner for some time. In 1989, Rolex updated the Submariner line with the new 16610. The highlights included the new 3135 calibre (which debuted in 1988 and only just retired with the introduction of the 41mm Submariner range), 904L stainless steel which was less prone to scratching. It's worth noting that both the 904L steel and calibre 3135 were already in use before the 16610 came along. It just brought everything together in a package that looked nearly identical to its predecessor.
It would be fair of you to say that the 16618 is simply the 16610 but in yellow gold, and you'd be correct. However, that's kind of the point, it's the same go-anywhere do-anything diving watch with the same water resistance rating, but it's been made from a material that's much harder to buy. It still features the Rolex Oyster case and Triplock crown which offer water resistance just like the steel 16610 (aka the watch you are actually likely to take diving).
Gold is rare and therefore expensive, it's also a softer metal being more easily damaged from impacts and scratches. Apart from that, though, it has the same properties. It's no less water-resistant than stainless steel, and because it contains no iron at all, it won't rust or corrode on contact with oxygen, in fact, gold is the most non-reactive of all the metals. It can tarnish, but it will never rust.
We have to consider the clientele it was being made for as well. Life was improving for many in the West in the late 1980s and early 90s, technology was moving faster than ever before, and people suddenly had more money. For Rolex, it seemed like the ideal time to release a sporty watch in solid gold. Of course, they couldn't have seen the recession of the early 90s coming, and that didn't seem to hinder Rolex much anyway. Some countries were hit harder than others, of course, but here in the UK things could have been a lot worse. The UK would remain a strong market for luxury watches after the recession officially ended in 1993. The UK wouldn't see a decline in economic growth until 2008's financial crisis.
So, what about the 16618? Well, it came in two colourations, either a black dial with a black bezel as you see here or a blue dial with a blue bezel (often referred to as a 'bluesy') and stayed a part of Rolex' collection until 2010. That year, Rolex replaced the entire 16610 range and all its versions, the 16680 was also replaced with the 116680, featuring a ceramic bezel and 'Maxi' case and dial. Around the same time, Rolex also introduced the Submariner reference 116619LB, the first Submariner made of white gold (it also featured a blue dial and bezel earning it the nickname 'Smurf').
We're sure this watch will remain the solid gold Rolex we all think of for many years to come. It was built for 90s excesses, people who lived the Wolf of Wall Street lifestyle. While the 'go-go nineties' may be long gone, the legacy of the solid gold Submariner certainly isn't.
The example featured in our photos is a 2006 model that comes with the original box and papers, as well as a service by Rolex in July of 2020. Click here to see the listing in our web shop.