Rolex - The Hong Kong Watch Auction: XVII Hong Kong Friday, November 24, 2023 | Phillips

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  • Manufacturer: Rolex
    Year: Circa 1978
    Reference No: 5517
    Case No: 5’339’731; inside caseback stamped 5513, 5339731, caseback stamped with military markings 0552/923-7697 for the NATO and issue number 914/78
    Model Name: Submariner “MilSub”
    Material: Stainless steel
    Calibre: Automatic, cal. 1520, 26 jewels
    Bracelet/Strap: Nato
    Clasp/Buckle: Stainless steel pin buckle
    Dimensions: 40mm diameter
    Signed: Case, dial and movement signed

  • Catalogue Essay

    A tool built to last, a true field watch, the Rolex Submariner Milsub is by far one of the most elusive and coveted models amongst the vintage realm of Rolex timepieces. As the forerunner in their expertise in creating timepiece with the utmost durability and waterproof certainty, it is no surprise that they caught the attention of the British Ministry of Defense (MOD) and marking the first appearance of the commissioned military-issued Submariner in the 1970s.

    Robust and ready for combat, these “Milsubs” were equipped with fixed spring bars welded to the lugs to prevent the fitting from failure. Another feature was a revolving bezel insert calibrated for 60 minutes, instead of the civilian 15-minute calibrated bezel. The Military of Defense also required a hack (stop seconds) feature and permanent. Fitted with a black dial paired with wide sword-shaped hands for enhanced readability, an encircled “T” is marked above the depth rate indicating the use of luminescent tritium. The casebacks bears military engravings—the present lot marked with the "0552" code for British Royal Navy, "923-7697", the NATO code, followed by the issue number, "914", and year of issue, "78". The inside case back on this watch is repeated with the serial number, which is correct for a special order watch.
    Following decommissioning, these military wristwatches often were either destroyed by the MOD, or purchased by civilians, 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. An exquisite specimen, the present 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. Bearing a case number 5’339’731, PHILLIPS is pleased to present the 3rd specimen of the rarefied ref. 5517 at our auction. The other two examples bears close case number proximity: the 1st example case number 5’339’610 offered at Racing Pulse New York with a result of 567,000 USD, and the 2nd example case number 5’339’827 offered at Geneva Watch Auction: XIV sold at 504,000CHF.

    Well-preserved with crisp reference numbers engraved between the lugs and on the caseback, the “Maxi-dial” has also aged with an attractive patina on the large luminous plots and sword hands. Fresh-to-the-market, this impressive relic from circa 1978 was in possession of a discerned Japanese collector for over 12 years. A rare opportunity to own one of the most prized vintage timepieces that rarely appear at auction, this is an exciting chance for all Milsubs fans.

  • 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 important stainless steel military diver’s wristwatch with fixed lugs and military engravings, made for the British Royal Navy

Circa 1978
40mm diameter
Case, dial and movement signed

HK$1,950,000 - 3,900,000 

Sold for HK$3,429,000

Contact Specialist

Thomas Perazzi
Deputy Chairman, Watches, Head of Watches, Asia
+852 2318 2001

The Hong Kong Watch Auction: XVII

Hong Kong Auction 24-25 November 2023