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A Fistful of 5-Digit FrankenSubs!

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    A Fistful of 5-Digit FrankenSubs!

    As you might have guessed from the subject of this post and the photo above, I’m a fan of the Rolex 5-digit dive series. And I’m fortunate to have assembled a small collection of Frankens. So, I’ve put together a photographic celebration of the examples I own. My gratitude and compliments go to @tripdog123, Grimlocktime, ado213, and Johnny Depp for the amazing skills they demonstrate in creating these little mechanical masterworks.

    The first example of the 5-digit Submariner Date, the reference 16800, launched in 1979 – replacing the 4-digit 1680. Its replacement, the 16610, launched in 1988. And this in turn was replaced by the 6-digit “Sub-C” range in 2010.

    16800 LN
    Built by tripdog

    The first watches in the 5-digit Sub series had matt dials with printed tritium markers – similar in appearance to the 1680 model it replaced. Later models in the ref. 16800 series were supplied with a gloss dial, with applied markers. The example that represents the earliest 5-digit in my line-up is built around one of these dials. In the words of tripdog, who built this beauty:

    “The 16800 gloss dials turned matte over time, sometimes taking on unique and stunning patina. Some would take on a blue hue, others charcoal grey, others a tropical dark chocolate hue - such as this one for sale here. The dial has been relumed to match the hands and insert, and the insert itself has a slight dark brown hue, matching the dial perfectly.

    The watch is in very good working condition, the new Swiss ETA 2824 runs strongly and keeps excellent time, bezel rotates firmly and smoothly, crown screws down tightly, clasp opens and closes precisely.

    JF case has been modified, reshaped and refinished. The lugs have been drilled through the existing lug holes so you can fit it with either a 93150 bracelet with hollow end links or a 93250 bracelet with solid end links.

    The dial has patina - matte, textured surface turning chocolate brown, and in the interests of harmony, the hands have patina. If you like your watches to look new, have sharp edges that cut your fingers, look elsewhere.”

    Parts list:

    Rolex flat 4 tritium insert
    Rolex non LEC, non AR NOS crystal
    Rolex 704 crown, Swiss aftermarket tube
    Rolex 16800 MKI gloss dial
    Swiss ETA 2824 - new
    Reworked JF V2 case
    Bespoke movement ring
    JF bracelet & clasp
    Riyi open 6 & 9 DWO

    The first owner of the watch, Revolper, also added a gen (service) clasp.

    The dial and insert combo complement each other beautifully. The lume pip on this insert has a slightly strange appearance – the lume under the glass is deteriorating, giving it an uneven appearance. But I’m happy with its subsequent slightly funky look.

    The gen crystal’s cyclops has a strong magnification, which enhances the vintage look of the open 6 and 9 datewheel.

    16610 LN Tritium dial
    Built by Grimlocktime, with additional work by tripdog

    In 1986, Rolex began production of cases for the new references 16610 (stainless steel), 16613 (stainless/yellow gold) and 16618 (18 carat yellow gold). This model line launched in 1988 – powered by the new 3135 movement. From the 1989 Rolex catalogue:

    “Oyster Perpetual Date SUBMARINER, stainless steel chronometer. Fliplock bracelet. Graduated rotating bezel for checking decompression time spans. Special Oyster case with crown guards to the Triplock winding crown. Waterproof to 300 meters. Selfwinding. Sapphire crystal.”

    I purchased my Grimlocktime built example in a reserved sale from RWI member Replica01. He described it thus:

    An awesome drilled lug vintage build. Including a vintage T dial with character... a nice light spider effect.

    Here's the specs:

    Gen T-dial with light spider webbing
    Gen hands relumed
    Gen crystal
    Gen crown
    Gen Tritium Insert
    SH3135 V2
    Perfectly centered rep datewheel selected for it's vintage bold appearance
    Drilled lug case
    JF bracelet

    When it arrived, I loved the gen elements of the watch but to my eye the lack of any case work let it down. So I sent it to tripdog, for his transformational wizardry. I also got him to fit a gen datewheel. Tripdog described the work he carried out on it thus: “Slimmed lugs, tube recessed into the case, light CG reshape, full brush and polish, lugs chamfered, case back and bezel ring polished. Bracelet brushed and polished, everything ultrasound cleaned before reassembly. Hands relumed to match dial, lume plots lightly cleaned, crystal cleaned. Genuine DW re-sized and installed - date flips over cleanly in quick set and time set position, no drag or jumping out of position.”

    Following this work, the watch really looked the part.

    The dial has more of a close-textured patina than a classic “spider web” crackle, but still – it’s an attractive, interesting example.

    16610 LN “Swiss Only”
    Built by ado213

    In 1999, the Tritium dial (SWISS – T<25) model began to transition to the A-Serial Luminova dial (SWISS MADE) model (the bracketed phrases here refer to the text at the base of the dial, under the 6). But, just for the first half of 1999, the dials were marked “SWISS”. Hence, these rare examples are known as the “Swiss only” dials - and watches from this limited run are highly sought after.

    This watch was built for RWI member Baron Rees by ado213, based around a TC V6. Baron Rees sold it to Jaegodylan, who in turn sold it to me. Here are the specs, as described by the original owner:

    “This watch started out as a stock TC V6 and has had the following gen parts added over time:

    Yuki 3135 with gen date wheel
    Gen Rolex “Swiss Only” NOS dial and matching NOS gen hands
    Gen insert
    Gen crystal - no AR, no LEC
    Gen crown
    Gen 93150 clasp & divers extension - X7 date code - period correct for an A-Serial “Swiss Only” Sub
    Italian made 93150 bracelet links - engraved 93150
    Gen 501b end links
    Gen spec 2mm shoulders spring bars
    ado213 also recently serviced the movement and drilled lug holes in the mid case.

    I'll also include the original TC 93250 bracelet should the buyer want it.”

    Although I’m very pleased to have this example in the collection, I have to admit that the low date position on this one bugs me, as does a dent right in the middle of the long side of the case. So it’s going back to Ado213 soon for a VR3135/gen datewheel transplant, and for the dent to be sorted.

    It should also be noted that there’s a strong possibility this “Swiss only” dial isn’t one of the rare originals, but rather a service dial for the Luminova Sub – as these were also printed with just the word SWISS. But given that Luminova dial Subs were only made for a year (before the move to Super Luminova) it’s still an item that falls into the “lesser-spotted” category. Plus, it looks neat.

    16613 LN with spider dial
    Built by Grimlocktime

    This LN is the most recent addition to my collection, bought on RWI from Apyg. Here’s the spec from his M2M sale post:

    Gen Tritium spider dial in amazing condition
    Gen Tritium NOS gold hands
    Gen Tritium heavily serifed insert in excellent condition.
    Gen NOS 18K crown
    Gen Champagne datewheel
    Gen Crystal with a little damage @ 11 very hard to see.
    Solid Gold 18K Star Time bezel
    Noob Gold wrapped bracelet (not plated, wrapped!) with micro adjust
    JF case with rehaut engravings removed
    SH3135 movement (Serviced)
    Gen clasp lock
    Gen 3 end links solid gold
    The spider dial is beautiful. It’s a horrible time waster tho – I find myself constantly distracted, gazing at it and twisting my arm around to get the light to catch its cracked surface. It’ll probably give me tennis elbow or something.

    I’ve got a gen crystal in perfect condition, to replace the slightly chipped one that’s currently fitted.

    16613 LB
    Built by tripdog (gold plating by Johnny Depp)

    This was bought from RWI member Legger. It was originally commissioned by Rufctr2 (nice Franken Porsche reference there!). Here’s the original spec from Rufctr2’s M2M post:

    JF 16610LN base no rehaut
    Bezel, crown gold plated by Johnny Depp
    Gen dial
    Gen hands
    Gen champagne Date wheel (NOS)
    Gen crystal bought here on RWI from Thehitman
    Gen Insert bought here too but I forgot the seller
    Gen gold pin buckle
    The nubuck leather strap will patina very quickly

    When Legger sold the watch he’d also added an Eddie Lee gold wrapped bracelet. “Colour very close to gen. Has gold plating on the SELs, which were made additionally.”

    This is a beautiful Sub. The sunburst on the gen dial is awesome, and the champagne date wheels on these TT models gives them a lovely vintage look. I’ve only worn this on the TT Oyster bracelet – at some point I should really give it a whirl on the leather with the gen gold buckle.

    16600 Sea-Dweller
    Built by tripdog

    The production of the cases of this reference began in 1986, but launch came in 1988, so the watch could be supplied with the new 3135 movement. It remained in production for twenty years (to be replaced by the Sea-Dweller DeepSea in 2008).

    Tripdog’s description of the watch:

    Base watch is a Noob 16600 SD with a clone 2824, running well with good power reserve.
    Rolex MKIII 16600 dial, restored and relumed by me - there are a few micro-swirls and a couple of hairline marks on the dial, but nothing you see under normal conditions. Relume is not as perfect as Rolex, but it's pretty good.
    Rolex 16600 Luminova insert, a few marks, nothing that breaks the paint or stands out
    Rolex 704 crown
    Case has been reshaped around lug area and CG area, fully brushed and polished, bracelet has been brushed and polished too. Bezel click is nice and firm, no backlash or play.

    The case shaping, gen dial and insert really give this SD the air of a “proper Rolex”. With no cyclops, the lack of a gen crystal doesn’t appear to let down the overall look.

    As well as the 5 digits in this article, I’ve owned a Luminova dial (SWISS MADE) 16610 Franken by Grimlocktime, which I sold last year – and I still regret doing that, dammit!

    I also have two JF Kermits (one with, one without rehaut engraving). Both are currently with ado213 for case work (including lug drilling on the no rehaut engraving one) and gen crystals to be fitted (as both rep crystals are scratched). One has a gen D/W, and the other is having a VR3135 fitted. But as I will probably never be prepared to spend the money required for gen LV dials/inserts, I don’t think they’ll ever be Franken spec.

    And talking of money… I know that I could sell these Frankens and buy a gen with the proceeds (or, if I really wanted to, I could just go buy a gen as well). So why don’t I? Well the main reason is because I reckon that, if I owned a gen Sub, I’d be too worried about it as an “investment object” to really enjoy it. And I’d probably avoid wearing it, not least because I’m a clumsy sod (see the note about the Kermit crystals above). And I can’t help thinking that 9k+ for a watch is a bloody stupid amount of money, particularly when I own this bunch - that not even a keen watch fan would be able to call out as fake.

    Now the question is… should I update all of the watches shown here with the new 904L cases from ARF..?

    Thank y’all for looking, and for taking this little voyage around my 5 digits with me! Feel free to comment or add your own contribution. Corrections to my text are also welcome – I am keen to learn… And by all means ask any questions you might have – I can almost guarantee I won’t be able to answer them!
    FrankenSubs! - Subs! - Daytonas! - Seamasters! - A 1675 Adventure - A Budget 6538 build - Tudors! (COMING SOON!)

    Such a beautiful collection and amazing pictures! Thank you !


      Beautiful collection of 5 digit subs mate! I really love this reference and the write up is entertaining =)




          Great collection.


            Great collection! The spider dial is lovely!

            The 16800 is my grail, if you ever wanna sell it. Please let me know



              Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
              Divers, Chronos, Cars and Coffee



                Superb!! Amazing Rolex there

                Love it. Thanks for sharing




                  My rep:
                  114060 ZZF V2
                  Pam111 V3 Noob
                  214270 JF
                  126334 ARF V2
                  16610LV TC




                    My rep:
                    114060 ZZF V2
                    Pam111 V3 Noob
                    214270 JF
                    126334 ARF V2
                    16610LV TC


                      I’d anticipated this might be a post by you P0ppers before spotting your name and seeing the title alone - Superb sub collection and excellent post. I really enjoyed reading that, thank you!


                        Thanks for your positive comments guys. The post took several days to put together, so your kind words are genuinely appreciated!

                        Apologies to tripdog and Johnny Depp for the incorrect/missing tags respectively BTW - RWI still throws a wobbly when I try to add tags to my posts.

                        Edit... trying out something suggested to me in order to correctly tag tripdog here, rather than in the OP - let's see if it works this time. Dammit the man deserves to be correctly tagged somewhere in this thread!
                        Last edited by p0pperini; 11-08-20, 15:22.
                        FrankenSubs! - Subs! - Daytonas! - Seamasters! - A 1675 Adventure - A Budget 6538 build - Tudors! (COMING SOON!)


                          Amazing pictures (& collection). Would you mind sharing your photo set up?
                          Looking for:
                          - 9401 vietnam case
                          - Vintage serif 3135 datewheel


                            Originally posted by heska View Post
                            Amazing pictures (& collection). Would you mind sharing your photo set up?
                            Of course heska, I'd be happy to.

                            These pics were taken using a Panasonic Lumix DMC GX-8. The full-length shots were taken using a Lumix 20mm f1.7, and the close-ups with an Olympus 60mm macro. I connect the camera to my iPad using the Panasonic Image app, which lets me alter settings and shoot remotely.

                            The lightbox is the most useful purchase you can make if you want to take nicely lit photos of your watches. I got the one I use off Amazon, and it has twin strips of LED lights (with a nylon diffuser sheet) that can be clipped in and moved around. It also has a dimmer dial. The lights were turned up bright for these snaps - when in use, I tend to have them turned right down so they provide a very subtle light. Hence the need for tripods and remote/timed shutter - exposure times can be 10 seconds or more.

                            However, even in a darkened room stray reflections and unwanted additional light is an issue - hence the old sheet used to create a tent.

                            Last edited by p0pperini; 23-07-20, 11:10.
                            FrankenSubs! - Subs! - Daytonas! - Seamasters! - A 1675 Adventure - A Budget 6538 build - Tudors! (COMING SOON!)


                              Looking for:
                              - 9401 vietnam case
                              - Vintage serif 3135 datewheel