Rolex made the Military Submariners or ‘MilSub’ as a direct order for the British Royal Navy through the Ministry of Defence.
They were made with specific enhancements that set them apart from their civilian equivalent and it is this customisation and macho provenance that makes them extremely collectable.
Specialists will point to three different RN Military Submariners – the reference 5513, the 5517 and the so-called Double Ref 5513/5517 that (as with the example at Bonhams, above) has the number 5513 on case and back and 5517 on a lug.
Customisation included the addition of ‘sword’ hands for enhance legibility, Tritium luminosity signified by the T in a circle on the dial and changes to the strap bars. As spring-loaded bars could be pulled out, these were replaced by solid bars using NATO straps. The military numbers on the back of this particular watch refer to it being issued in 1977.
It was in well-used condition, having been repaired with service parts, and was missing the bezel – the vendor (who purchased it from the original owner in the early 1980s) recalls losing it during a dive in the 1990s. Nonetheless it took £155,000 at the auction on June 15.
The collaboration between the French diving company Comex (Compagnie Maritime d’Expertise) and Rolex started in early 1971. Each Comex Sea Dweller watch was issued to employees marked Comex on the dial and numbered on the case back.
The example pictured (above), a reference 1665 from c.1977, was being offered by the former Comex diver, Graham Rowley, together with 11 logbooks which chart his underwater adventures from 1977 to 2013. It sold at £145,000.