Lapis Dial 16618 Rolex Submariner
Stone dials are just for Day-Dates and Daytonas, right? Not exactly. The excess of the 90s led to the creation of two fantastically collectible ref. 16618 Submariners that ditched the tool watch Submariner remit in favor of the depth that comes from hardstone: one in onyx and one in this lapis. Yes, this is a lapis dial Sub, it exists. But unlike what you might expect, there isn’t a diamond on this dial. The lack of gem setting allows these to camouflage almost entirely with standard production, and that makes them far more interesting to me. For whatever reason, I don’t hear many people talking about them, ever.
Production was both sporadic and tiny. The lapis blank is .2mm thin, the difficulty of manufacturing this dial for a Sub case and calibre meant the failure rate was around 80%, or 2 dials for every 10 attempts. They are so rare, only appearing on this sole reference, that many Rolex collectors aren’t ever aware they exist. They simply appear another blue dial at a glance. But look closer, and there are hints. Not just the stone texture, the fonts are slightly different almost everywhere. A greater tell, lifted straight from the Day-Date, it has an aperture surround made entirely of solid gold. The difficulty of production meant that, in period, the 17.5K MSRP nearly doubled a standard 16618’s 10K. Today, the rarity and general obsession with stone means a Lapis dial will command nearly 200K, vs the standard 16618’s 20-30K.
Broadly speaking, vintage Rolex people tend to draw a line either at the transition to white gold surrounds, sapphire crystal, or ceramic bezel. Wherever that line is individually drawn, 90s Subs are often accused of exhibiting less character and charm than what came prior. Rolex, before emoji date discs, was usually only concerned with making the best tool possible, whatever the material choice. This is the greatest exception to that philosophy I know of. This is the one neo-vintage Sub which most eschews its purpose in order to bring back that special soul, peculiarity, and quirkiness that much of vintage holds. And even though it’s so rare that most of us watch mortals will never hold or even hear of one, that’s worth celebrating. Just don’t bang it into stuff like a regular Sub.
This example presents in excellent condition overall. The lapis has no hairlines or fractures. Its case is full, minimal light surface wear across all the exterior, only really visible on the high polished center bracelet link. It comes with its full set from a well-regarded California retailer.