From the research I did over the last two to three years, I now know that the earliest Red Subs are made with 2.1xx.xxx serial numbers and with early ’69 caseback stamp. My addiction to tropical dials brought me to the ‘Meter First’ series 1680s, because we see that in several early batches, the black dials nicely faded into a tropical brown (when worn in the right condition and of course never having been serviced, because Rolex did change these faded dials in earlier days for free to a new black one).
After seeing and buying many Red Subs, I discovered that there are three different ‘Meter First’ versions instead of the two we previously knew about.
Here the three types side by side…. Ref. 1680
First in line was the one with the long F that goes over the T from FT starting with the 2.1xx serial, it has closed 6s and the red paint was printed on top of the white Submariner transfer.
I managed to find a prototype version where the minuterie hasn’t been printed on the dial. Here we see the “Swiss T < 25” print at 6 o’clock but no rest of the paint or even the no pressure print on the surface of the dial and also first one that has been discovered in an original case matching the dial — 2,1xx serial number.
Here a big scan to see all details clearly…
With tropic 39 I like it the most…
Second and third version were delivered at the same time, starting with 2.2xx serial. Difference between the two is the print and the fact that one has the red submariner directly printed on the dial and the other not.
Here is a 2,29x.xxx Brown where the red is printed directly on the dial…
And here a 2,38x.xxx serial with red over white print and thin font…
Here is a Red (directly printed on dial) that has been serviced by Rolex New York and got a extreme relume ;- )
Here is a Red (directly printed on dial) with great-looking original patina indexes.
Here’s a scary FAKE “Meter First” dial. Focus on the last two lines on the dial and you can see it’s NOT okay.
If you don’t see the wrong details, compare it with this dial and you see the differences…
For me, the change from “Meter First” to “Feet First” came probably with serial numbers 2.421.8xxx. I came to this conclusion because I have a 2.421.7xx complete with box and papers, and I have also seen a “Feet First” with open 6s with serial number 2.421.9xx.
The rumour is that Rolex decided to change the position of the meter and feet ratings because exports to the US were getting strong. It might even have been something as simple as a decision to change their dialmaker. I don’t know what made them change their minds, but once it was printed differently, we don’t see the colour of the dial change anymore and it made the ‘Meter First’ Red Sub into a very rare sports version, only being produced for a short experimental time.
Here is a nice and complete ‘Feet First’ with 3.1 million serial number and slightly open 6s.