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

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  • Manufacturer: Rolex
    Year: Completed in 1966
    Movement No: 641'867
    Case No: 35
    Model Name: Deep Sea Special
    Material: 18K yellow gold, stainless steel and gilt
    Calibre: Cal 1570, 18 jewels
    Bracelet/Strap: 18K yellow gold and stainless steel Rolex bracelet, max length 210mm
    Clasp/Buckle: Stainless steel Rolex deployant clasp stamped 4.66
    Dimensions: 43mm Width and 62mm Length
    Signed: Case, dial, movement and bracelet signed, case further inscribed 23.1.60 and 35789 feet 10908 meters

  • Catalogue Essay

    The Deep Sea Special can be likened to a Formula 1 car in the world of watchmaking – always pushing the boundaries of what is technically possible, to achieve feats that no other has ever before. Like a Formula 1 car, the model tests technologies to later benefit serially produced models for commercial use. It is a groundbreaking model that paved the foundation for dive watches that we know and appreciate so well today. It is the “Big Bang” of Rolex’s unparalleled development in the last seven decades of sea exploration.

    The Rolex Oyster is today most likely the world’s most famous watch development. It is a household name, known far and beyond the inner circles of watch aficionados. It is thanks to three seminal events that Rolex is today at the forefront of deep dive exploration. The very first, is the concept of the Oyster case, which was created in the early 1920s. Rolex's invention of the Oyster case was groundbreaking - with a hermetic case, watches were now water resistant and could be worn during a number of physical and professional activities. In 1927, English swimmer Mercedes Gleitze wore a Rolex Oyster and crossed the English Channel, establishing the Oyster name. The second was the creation of the “Deep Sea Special” in 1953 and subsequently 1960, such as the present watch. The creation of the Deep Sea Special showed that the deepest point on earth could be reached by a Rolex Oyster. Finally, the James Cameron Deep Sea Challenge, where he wore a Rolex Deep Sea while embarking on a record-breaking solo dive to the Mariana Trench.

    The present watch, the Deep Sea Special, thus represents a key moment in Rolex history. In the 1950s, in response to the increasing demand for water proof watches – whether it be for recreational, professional or military use, Rolex decided to further the concept of an Oyster case. Not just content with making watches water proof, Rolex sought to further develop their line of underwater professional watches to withstand incredibly high pressure from the depths of the ocean - further than any of its previous models. Most notably, this decision to innovate coincided with the launch of the Submariner in 1953 – the underwater tool watch for divers. Thus, Rolex contacted Professor Jacques Piccard, renowned Swiss oceanographer and engineer, to test watches during his diving experiments. Piccard accepted and Rolex engineers developed a watch fitted with a special case and a domed crystal in order to hold up to extreme pressure.

    In 1953, Rolex tested the first prototype by strapping it on the outside the Bathyscaphe Trieste Submersible. The watch was first tested at 1080 meters, then submerged to 3150 meters that same year. Having completed initial tests, Rolex embarked on a second mission in 1960 with a second prototype, pre-testing the new model with a high pressure chamber, tweaking and constantly updating details to improve the watch. This time, the new Deep Sea Special was created to withstand the most extreme conditions, having submerged close to 11,000 meters below sea level, having completed its test in the Mariana Trench, the deepest known point on Earth, with Jacques Piccard and Don Walsh. It is our understanding that the first batch of a handful of pieces were used for professional testing with some being entrusted to Piccard. Following the successful deep dive in 1960, Rolex produced in the subsequent years, a commemorative series such as the present watch, numbered 35, to celebrate this incredible achievement and offered it to only the most distinguished science, technology and watch museums, along with the most trusted longstanding retailers and high profile partners and executives who contributed to the development of the model. Most notably, the Deep Sea Special numbered 3, which was strapped to the Bathyscaphe is currently on display at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington D.C.

    Of the ones known, the vast majority rests in the world's most distinguished museums dedicated to science, exploration, engineering, or seafaring. In preparation of this catalog entry, we have tried to locate as many Deep Sea Specials as possible that reside in public institutions, and are pleased to provide the following listing that we believe is the most complete of its kind so far published, including their individual watch numbers. We believe that Rolex still has a few examples which they occasionally use on tour during thematic exhibitions, new launches or international watches fairs, also listed below.

    No. 03, The Smithsonian Museum, Washington DC, USA - believed to be the very watch strapped outside the Bathyscaphe Trieste Submersible

    Commemorative Models
    No. 01, Musée International d'horlogerie, La Chaux-de-Fonds Switzerland
    No. 03, Deutsches Museum, Munich Germany
    No. 09, The Musée du Léman, Nyon Switzerland
    No. 22, Rolex Geneva Switzerland, toured in the United States with Lt. Don Walsh
    No. 30, Swiss Museum of Transport, Lucerne Switzerland
    No. 35, formerly in the Wuppertaler Uhren Museum, currently offered at Phillips 2021 (present watch)
    No. 36, Beyer Clock & Watch Museum, Zürich, Switzerland
    No. 47, Rolex Geneva Switzerland, toured in Singapore

    Most interestingly, research shows that after the prototypes were created, the commemorative pieces were produced and Rolex numbered the cases starting with 1. This information is confirmed for the first time following correspondence with different museums. Purely on a technical level, what is extraordinarily interesting is that the Deep Sea Special was developed in the early 1950s, and the final watches were completed as late as the second half of the 1960s. According to literature, caliber 1570 was launched in 1965. Over the past decade, the dials followed the evolution of Rolex, starting from Swiss, to displaying an "Underline" in the early 1960s, and eventually to "T Swiss T". On a mechanical level, the prototypes are believed to all have been fitted with the caliber 1000, early examples from the commemorative batch were fitted with the caliber 1530 and later examples (most likely starting from 32), were fitted with caliber 1570, such as the present watch.

    As such, having appeared in the public auction sphere twice, the present watch is numbered 35 and was originally sold at Auktionen Dr. Crott in 2001. We have confirmation from Auktionen Dr. Crott that the watch was deaccessioned by the Wuppertaler Uhren Museum, whose founder, Mr. Abeler had received the watch from Rolex in the 1970s. Indeed, it was originally listed at auction as being "one of the very few examples of this type known to be in private hands. She [the watch] was given by Rolex to the present owner at the beginning of the seventies." The dial most notably displays "T SWISS T", meaning that Rolex had produced the dial not earlier than 1964 - making sense, as this fits the date stamp on the bracelet which confirms the completion date of the watch in 1966. As such, the manufacture was completing the Deep Sea Special timepieces several years after 1960.

    So rare is this timepiece that it joins the extremely exclusive club of which 5 of its kind have been sold in the public sphere, with other publicly known examples owned and displayed by storied institutions. As such, it has been 12 years since the last example has appeared at public auction, underscoring its absolute rarity. Considering that the majority of examples are in institutions, the present watch is without a doubt a trophy piece, of which very few remain in private hands.

    We would like to thank Philipp Stahl, Musée International d'horlogerie, Deutsches Museum, The Musée du Léman and Swiss Museum of Transport for providing valuable information in the research and creating of the present essay.

  • 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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A historically important, extraordinary and museum quality stainless steel and gold ultra-deep dive wristwatch with center seconds and bracelet

Completed in 1966
43mm Width and 62mm Length
Case, dial, movement and bracelet signed, case further inscribed 23.1.60 and 35789 feet 10908 meters

CHF1,200,000 - 2,400,000 

Sold for CHF1,058,500

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