Bonhams, London, December 16 2015
Sold for: £120,100
Considering how few Rolex Submariners were commissioned by the Ministry of Defence during the early 1970s, it’s surprising how (relatively) regularly they turn up for sale – and how many “discoveries” come to the open market for the first time.
Such was the case with this c. 1972 example that the vendor originally bought for less than £1,000. He was blissfully unaware that he had made a decidedly good investment until he spotted a similar watch on the BBC’s Antiques Roadshow. Clearly a patient soul, he waited for the programme to travel to Lincolnshire and presented his own “MilSub” for assessment.
The ensuing good news led him to consign the watch to Bonhams where it duly eclipsed its estimate of £50,000-£70,000 thanks to being in superb, original condition and being an example of the very rare “double reference” 5517/5513 MilSubs.
It is thought that around 1,200 of these were supplied, mainly for use by clearance and deep mine divers. Few, however, have survived in such original condition as the Bonhams offering, which carried all the correct hallmarks of its Naval provenance – sword-shaped hands, Tritium indication, solid lug bars, a fully-calibrated bezel and a caseback engraved with the military branch, unit and issue year.
In this case, that was 1977, a full five years after the watch was originally commissioned by the MoD.
In summary: The MilSub is the Holy Grail for military watch collectors, and a minefield for the uninitiated – so watches that are as correct as this one are unlikely to ever fall in value.