Rolex - The Geneva Watch Auction: XIV Geneva Friday, November 5, 2021 | Phillips

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  • Manufacturer: Rolex
    Year: Circa 1978
    Reference No: 5517
    Case No: 5'339'827 caseback further stamped with military markings 0552/923-7697 for the NATO and issue number 842/78, inside caseback stamped with serial number 5'339'827
    Model Name: Submariner “MilSub”
    Material: Stainless steel
    Calibre: Automatic, cal. 1520, 26 jewels
    Bracelet/Strap: Nylon NATO
    Clasp/Buckle: Stainless steel pin buckle
    Dimensions: 39mm Diameter
    Signed: Case, dial and movement signed
    Accessories: Accompanied by letter from Rolex UK signed by Henry Hudson confirming the watch was issued in 1978 and Rolex International Service Guarantee dated 14 June 2011.

  • Catalogue Essay

    The aura of adventure and adrenaline that surrounds them - combined with their intrinsic elusiveness - is what makes the Rolex Submariner “Milsub” timepieces one of the most popular and coveted models from Rolex.

    In the 1970s, the British Ministry of Defense (MOD) commissioned Rolex for a watch with specific military specifications to be worn by its officers. Their requirements included fixed spring bars welded to the lugs which prevented the fitting of a reflective bracelet, a nylon strap (by contract from the Phoenix company), a 60-minute bezel insert, large sword-shaped hands, and a luminous dial. In addition, the MOD required that dials be marked with an encircled “T” indicating the use of luminescent tritium. Additionally, the casebacks had military engravings as seen in the present example: 0552 for British Ministry of Defense, 923-7697 for the NATO code, the Broad Arrow characterizing all watches owned by the British Army, the issue number 842 and issue year 78.

    Following decommissioning, these military wristwatches often were either destroyed by the MOD, or purchased by civilians or dealers, with most being transformed by removing the military features and changing the watch to a more “civilian” timepiece. As a result, the present example is an incredible find. It is complete and in exceptional, unrestored and fully original condition. Fresh-to-the-market, the watch is further remarkable for its very rare, 5517 reference, uniquely made for the MOD and without doubt the most prized and sought after of all Rolex Milsubs.

    The case of the present 5517 is in exceptional condition with thick lugs and sharp bevels, crisp reference numbers between the lugs, as well as its military engravings. The original dial displays a stunning rich patina of the luminous markers and sword hands, and is the original “maxi-dial”, a term coined by Rolex collectors to refer to the comparably larger lume plots and bolder graphics.

    The present ref 5517 “MilSub” comes fitted with an original vintage NATO strap and a coveted “Henry Hudson letter” from Rolex UK, confirming its issue to Her Majesty’s Dockyard, Portsmouth in 1978.

  • Artist Biography


    Swiss • 1905

    Founded in 1905 England by Hans Wilsdorf and Alfred Davis as Wilsdorf & Davis, it soon became known as the Rolex Watch Company in 1915, moving its headquarters to Geneva in 1919. Like no other company, the success of the wristwatch can be attributed to many of Rolex's innovations that made them one of the most respected and well-known of all luxury brands. These innovations include their famous "Oyster" case — the world's first water resistant and dustproof watch case, invented in 1926 — and their "Perpetual" — the first reliable self-winding movement for wristwatches launched in 1933. They would form the foundation for Rolex's Datejust and Day-Date, respectively introduced in 1945 and 1956, but also importantly for their sports watches, such as the Explorer, Submariner and GMT-Master launched in the mid-1950s.

    One of its most famous models is the Cosmograph Daytona. Launched in 1963, these chronographs are without any doubt amongst the most iconic and coveted of all collectible wristwatches. Other key collectible models include their most complicated vintage watches, including references 8171 and 6062 with triple calendar and moon phase, "Jean Claude Killy" triple date chronograph models and the Submariner, including early "big-crown" models and military-issued variants.

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Ref. 5517
An extremely rare and well-preserved stainless steel military wristwatch made for the British Royal Navy, with Henry Hudson letter

Circa 1978
39mm Diameter
Case, dial and movement signed

CHF100,000 - 200,000 

Sold for CHF504,000

Contact Specialist

Alexandre Ghotbi
Head of Watches, Continental Europe and the Middle East Director

The Geneva Watch Auction: XIV

Geneva Auction 5 & 7 November 2021