I have, for years, lusted after a vintage 60s Rolex SS sub. I am fascinated by a number of factors, including (not in order of performance): history, prestige, toolishness/capability, design and looks.
Unfortunately for me, I will never afford a Rolex sub. Even though I probably have the money, I have other things that have a higher priority. Fortunately for me, I have a collection of Seiko 6309/6306 divers which fascinate me for the same reasons listed above. But I always wondered how the Rolex Sub would compare to the Seiko 6309.
Recently, I had the chance to obtain a very “accurate” Sub fake from a trusted buyer, for comparison purposes. The following is a thus “review” based on stylistic/design criteria, rather than quality criteria (although I am sure the venerable 6309 would fare surprisingly well in the quality stakes!)
The Rolex movement hacks, but more importantly, it hand winds! The Rolex date (even on the fake) changes at precisely midnight. I like that. Otherwise, the Rolex is a tried-and-trusted tractor, capable of excellent accuracy. 10/10
The 6309 movement is also a tried-and-trusted tractor, capable of excellent accuracy (although not as stable as a Rolex), but lacks a handwind capability. I would love to wind my 6309s once a week. 8/10
Dial, hands and crystal
The Rolex dial is very busy (lots of text), and a little blingy with the white-gold bordered indices. I am not a fan of the much-copied Mercedes hands, which I consider too thin for a tool watch. Both the Seiko and the Rolex have sapphire crystals (aftermarket for the Seiko), although the Cyclops in the Rolex is not my cup of tea. I would change the Rolex hands for MOD hands, and fit a new crystal. 7/10
The Seiko has day/date (a very important plus for me) rather than the date of the Rolex, the hands and dial are immensely readable and toolish, and in my opinion the Seiko-trademark arrow hands are aesthetically the most pleasing of any diver. The only thing I would change is to fit a black day/date and, of course, the sapphire upgrade. 9/10
The Rolex Oyster strap has solid endlinks (even on the fake) and a simple yet effective flip clasp with diver’s extension. I am a sucker for Oyster straps. 8/10
The Seiko is fitted with an aftermarket Super Oyster with solid endlinks from Harold (Yobokies). The clasp is more solid and detailed than the Rolex, with great pushbar opening. This strap has no dive extension. 9/10
The Rolex case is a much-copied classic; it sits well, looks purposeful and has stood the test of time. The crown and crown protectors are a bit dominant. 9/10
The trademark Seiko cushion case is another design classic, the crown protection offered by the case is nothing less than genius. The contours of the case mould to the wearers arm, making the Seiko hug the wrist. The case looks more balanced on a rubber strap than on steel. 9/10
The Rolex Sub is the epitome of prestige, in my neck of the woods. It is capable, dependable and bloody expensive. I would so love to own a vintage Sub (pre-“bling” model from the 60s), albeit with the mods suggested above. 10/10
The Seiko 6309 is also a prestigious watch – among divers and soldiers of my generation (40+), and increasingly among WIS tool watch enthusiasts. 7/10
I have given the Rolex a slight edge (44/42). The Rolex is about 10-15 times the price of a top-restored Seiko 6309. If you consider that both watches will resell for their original used buying price, then the pricing / value-for-the-buck issue diminishes. If there where no issues of price/prestige, and I could evaluate both watches as the capable, well designed and historically significant tool watches they are, I would be hard pressed to choose between modded Seiko 6309 with a handwind movement, or a modded (crystal and hands) vintage Rolex Sub. Unmodded, the vintage Sub would (by my criteria) narrowly beat the 6309, while the 6309 would beat a modern Sub hands down.