Around 1200 watches of this type, known as the Ref 5517, were ordered by the Ministry of Defence for British Special Forces in the early 1970s. They had specific requirements and case backs engraved with the codes for the British Royal Navy (0552) and NATO (923-7697).
After decommissioning, many of these military wristwatches were purchased and the military features were removed. As a result, fully original Milsubs are very rare and among the most desirable of all ‘tool’ watches.
Fellows’ example, offered in Birmingham on August 24 with an estimate of £50,000- 70,000, attracted five interested parties, with a phone bidder eventually making the winning bid. The firm’s previous high for a watch was £110,000 for a Rolex Milgauss c.1958 sold in 2017.
The hammer price for the Milsub is comparable to others that have sold at auction in recent years. Phillips took $175,000 (£132,500) for one in New York in December 2019 while Sotheby’s Geneva sold another in November 2018 for SFr175,000 (£135,000).