Rolex - The 2021 New York Watch Auction New York Saturday, December 11, 2021 | Phillips

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  • Manufacturer: Rolex
    Year: Circa 1975
    Reference No: 5513/5517
    Case No: Case No: 3’926’848, repeated inside the case back. Case back exterior further stamped with military issued numbers 0552/923-7697 and unit number 695/77, case back interior further stamped 1.72. Underside of lug further stamped 5517
    Model Name: Submariner, “MilSub”
    Material: Stainless steel
    Calibre: Automatic, cal. 1520, 26 jewels
    Bracelet/Strap: Nylon
    Dimensions: 39mm Diameter
    Signed: Case, dial and movement signed
    Accessories: Accompanied Rolex UK letter dated 27th January, 2009, signed by General Manager Henry Hudson, and confirming the watch was supplied to the Royal Navy in 1975 and destined to Devonport. British Royal Navy-issued stainless steel folding knife

  • Catalogue Essay

    Rolex military-issued Submariners are amongst the most sought after of all vintage Rolex sports watches. Made upon special request for the British Ministry of Defense (MOD), MilSubs were worn during combat and on special missions. Research indicates that approximately 1250 units were delivered, from 1971 to 1979 with the following reference numbers: 5513, double reference 5513/5517, and 5517.

    Known today by collectors as the “MilSub”, rather than design a new model, Rolex modified these timepieces to conform to specifications required by the British Ministry of Defense. “MilSubs” feature wide sword-shaped hands for enhanced readability and an encircled “T” on the dial indicating the use of luminescent tritium. 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, fixed spring bars welded to the lugs to prevent the fitting from failure. Another noticeable difference between the military and civilian models are their case back engravings – the present lot marked with the "0552" code for British Royal Navy, "923-7697", the NATO code, followed by the issue number, "695", and year of issue, "77". The inside case back on this watch is repeated with the serial number, which is correct for a special order watch.

    The present example, a double reference 5513/5517, displays reference 5513 between the lugs, and 5517 engraved under the lug, and is especially desirable as it is the rarest of the three MilSub references.

    When decommissioned, these timepieces were sold by the MOD during the 1980s, and purchased by civilians and dealers who often replaced or removed the military-specific components - the encircled T dial, sword hands, 60’ bezel, engraved case back, and fixed spring bars - to transform them into more commercial, “civilianized” Submariners. Thus, very few MilSubs have survived with their full, “military-spec” configurations.

    This double reference 5513/5517 is made all the more rare with the “Henry Hudson Letter” from Rolex Bexley, UK which accompanies it. The letter, dated 2009, outlines to the owner that the watch was issued to the Royal Navy in 1977, and based on the military markings was destined for Devonport. These letters are very rare, and add to the authenticity of the watch, as well as provide an important reference for the history of the “MilSub”. The original military characteristics as issued in 1977 are all displayed on the present watch, making it a very impressive “full-spec” example. Consigned by an internationally-renowned Rolex collector, it is preserved in excellent overall condition and comes accompanied with a Royal Navy-issued folding knife of the period. The world of watch collecting is highlighted by rare watches that only appear at auction occasionally, and this is a rare opportunity to own one of the most iconic vintage timepieces for the discerning connoisseur.

  • 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. 5513/5517
A very rare “double reference” stainless steel military diver’s wristwatch with rotating bezel, fixed bar lugs, and military engravings, with Henry Hudson letter from Rolex, made for the British Royal Navy

Circa 1975
39mm Diameter
Case, dial and movement signed

$100,000 - 200,000 

Sold for $352,800

Contact Specialist

Paul Boutros

Head of Watches, Americas

+1 (212) 940-1293


The 2021 New York Watch Auction

New York Auction 11 - 12 December 2021