In the first half of the 60s, Rolex produced a Submariner with an Explorer dial (Ref. 5513). It didn’t exactly fly off the shelves; Rolex dropped the design like a hot potatis. Like so many Rolex of that period, the original lack of interest evolved into “rarity.” In 2018, Christie’s sold an original “Explorer” Submariner for $1m. For vintage Sub fans with a bit less money to spend, the Steinhart Ocean 39 Explorer is waiting in the wings . . .
Steinhart’s “homage” to the early Submariner mimics its “inspiration’s” main design elements. First up: Rolex’s iconic Oyster case – the key to the Geneva watchmaker’s claim to the dive watch crown. The Ocean 39 Explorer is a millimeter shy of the the original Sub’s 40mm, but only the caliper crazed will notice.
Steinhart’s repro mirrors the original’s brushed lugs and polished case to a T. The Steinhart Ocean 39 Explorer’s weight (such as it is) sits low on the wrist. Unlike most modern day Subs, the Steinhart O39E is entirely unobtrusive, both in terms of comfort and perceived bling.
In 1957, four years after the Submariner’s debut, Rolex added crown guards to the Oyster case to protect the downsized crown. The Ocean 39 Explorer has the same setup, of course, in the exact same proportions and position. It’s hard to imagine a dive watch without crown guards, but those were the days, my friend.
The Rolex 5513 is ultra-collectible due to its Explorer-style dial, reproduced by Steinhart. Two key differences between the Explorer dial and what became the Sub’s standard-issue: Rolex replaced the 3, 6, and 9 o’clock markers with Arabic numerals, and made the hour indices slim rectangles instead of luminous dots. The Explorer dials never returned to the Submariner after the 5513’s now historic run.
Our review Steinhart was topped by a domed sapphire crystal with inner anti-reflective coating, offering modern scratch resistance and legibility. A few years back, Steinhart released 300 examples of a $529 limited edition Ocean 39 Explorer with a “retro domed plexiglass crystal” that duplicated the original’s dial protection. Needless to say, they now command a premium on eBay.
The Steinhart’s hour markers and hands are covered with lashings of “Old Radium” Super-LumiNova. The application of “faux-tina” lume to modern watches divides the watch community. Some horophiles see it as a scam, designed to create non-existent authenticity. Others love faux-tina for its non-existent authenticity. I say if you’re clearly “evoking” the spirit of a vintage watch, go old glow or go home.
The Steinhart Submariner
copy facsimile shares its Mercedes hands with the original. There are two main theories about their origin: the symbolic explanation (sea, air, land) and the ever-so-Swiss explanation (more stable area for luminescent paint). Either way, I’m not a fan. But I’m on board with Rollie fans who appreciate the way the minute hand tracks “satisfyingly” close to the chapter ring.
The Ocean 39 Explorer’s hands are powered by a middle-rank Elaborated grade ETA 2324-2. The hackable, manual wind movement may be as rare as beer drinkers at Oktoberfest, but that’s a feature, not a bug. Parts and service are available worldwide. The 38-hour power reserve will get you through the night. And the caliber’s accurate to +/-7 to +/- 20 seconds a day. All that’s really missing: big money bragging rights.
But not water resistance. The Steinhart is leaves the original Submariner in the proverbial dust by boasting a 300m underwater capability – superior to Rolex’s 200m rating. Shame they forgot to bank on that: the dial of the Ocean 39 Explorer reads “100m/330ft.” And, amazingly, so does the official Gnomon listing.
At the end of the day, the German-designed, mostly Swiss-made Rolex Submariner copy is an elegant, legible, affordable watch with a bit of history behind it – just not the history of the brand you’re buying.
[Note: The Gnomon Watches’ limited edition exclusive Steinhart Ocean 39 Explorer LE sold out. The HK retailer tells TTAW that Steinhart will be restarting production of a non-limited sapphire crystal edition. Steinhart makes a number of other Rolex repros, available here.]
Model: Steinhart Ocean 39 Explorer
Case material: Brushed and polished 316L stainless steel
Case diameter: 39mm
Case thickness: 14mm (inc. domed acrylic sapphire, 12mm without)
Case lug width: 20mm
Lug to lug: 47mm
Dial color: Black
Crystal: Sapphire crystal, box style
Case back: Solid
Movement: ETA 2824-2 Élaboré
Water resistance: 100 meters
Manufacturer’s limited warranty: 2 years
RATINGS (out of five stars):
Design * * * *
Five stars to one of the best, most effective watch designs ever. Minus one because Steinhart didn’t come up with it.
Legibility * * * *
Very good throughout, including in the dark, despite the faux-tina.
Comfort * * * * *
Sits nice and low on the wrist notwithstanding its relative heft.
Overall * * * *
A sturdy recreation of a piece of history in elegant proportions.
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No considerations were provided by Steinhart or Gnomon Watches