The Military Issue Rolex Submariner aka "Milsub" has its own special place in the heart of every vintage collector. Unlike most Submariner models, the Milsubs were designed, manufactured and distributed solely for military use instead of the standard versions.
It wouldn’t be fair to say that I am interested in vintage timepieces. I may have some specific models in my shopping list for the coming years but the fact is I never had the enough motivation to actually buy one ( excluding the B series/1998 prod. Panerai PAM0036 ). Well, the main reason for my hesitation is my lack of knowledge and experience about the world of valuable vintage watches. I had many important experiences about modern watches for the last 15 years . I keep learning new things each and every day and I am quite confident about my knowledge. However, things get a bit uncertain when it gets to the valuable vintage timepieces. It is a must to consult an expert first who can be a little tricky to get to... You may a have bunch of information from different sources like internet, books, magazines etc. but, I doubt the benefits of that information in terms of practice...
Despite my hesitation mentioned above, a ROLEX Milsub will be my first deal to enter the world of valuable vintage watches. I looked at the stunning pictures of that special watch among many articles I read through the years. About a while ago, I found myself fortunate enough to see an impeccable sample in person.
I had the chance to examine a perfect Milsub among other several hi-end timepieces during the special event in Istanbul hosted by the world’s famous Auction House Christie’s and its Watch Department Manager and my dear friend Thomas Perazzi.
Vintage Rolex enthusiasts are quite familiar with the reference 5513. Though almost every Milsub we see at the market bears the same reference however, we cannot say every Milsub is actually a 5513. The story of that iconic timepiece starts in 1950s.. The British Ministry of Defense asks Rolex to produce a custom version of their world famous dive watch Submariner referring to the special naval requirements. The Ref.6538 Submariner -which has also been seen on the wrist of the famous James Bond character played by Sean Connery- gets revised as per the specs provided by the British Ministry of Defense. This military exclusive version is differentiated from the regular versions with its unique reference A/6538.
In my opinion, the most significant difference was the Tritium filled sword shape hand set. The wider and 60 minutes marking bezel was also the other important difference. The bezel on the sample I have here, which was designed wider than the standard model’s in order to provide a full grip at extreme conditions, looks pretty new... I am not sure if it’s been changed or not but Christie’s experts guarantee it’s authentic and correct era version.
The Milsub is in absolutely perfect condition especially considering it production date as 1972. The bezel, which was made of German sterling silver shows some dings and dents. Since the bezel has been requested in sterling silver in order to stay one piece after taking heavy impacts, I believe this watch’s bezel has got the job done.
The dial is in pristine condition. It’s definitely un-touched and the heavy patina markers boost the retro character superbly. There is T marking on the dial at 6 o’clock position which refers to the usage of Tritium instead of Radium. This unique detail has become a signature feature for the Milsub models.
The Milsub models have been offered on nylon straps and fixed bars as well.
The British Ministry of Defense pauses its collaboration with ROLEX between 1967-1971 and works with Omega for their dive watch requirements. The sample I have here today is the first batch of re-newed contract between the BMD and ROLEX. The Milsubs have been marked with three references; for the models in early 70s 5513 has been used. Mid 70s models has been issued with 5513/5517 marking ( which are known as the “double stamped” versions ) and the late models has been produced with 5517 reference.
Only 1200 pieces of Milsub models have been produced and 180 samples survived. Holding an amazing condition sample in my hands is a pleasure beyond explanation.
The timepieces have been produced with one of the most durable movements of the era ROLEX Cal.1520. As per BMD’s special request, hacking function has been added to the movements to allow the watches to be synchronized to an outer source precisely.
This specific timepiece was estimated to be sold 80.000 – 120.000 CFH price range. Considering the auction ended at 118.750,00 CHF the experts of Christie’s are not experts for no reason.
There are many versions of Milsubs which are serviced, restored with modern parts or altered to look like original items however, they are not 100% genuine ROLEX Military Submariners. This is an un-pleasant situation for me as it blocks my enthusiasm and motivation to buy one. Paying such high amounts to a vintage watch is a risky investment and consulting an expert like Christie’s is essential.
Stay tune at Horobox for upcoming Vintage Corner articles..