Damaged Rolex MilSub smashes estimate at auction to reinforce its grail watch status Damaged Rolex MilSub smashes estimate at auction to reinforce its grail watch status

Damaged Rolex MilSub smashes estimate at auction to reinforce its grail watch status

Luke Benedictus

A 1970s Rolex MilSub that had been languishing in a chest of drawers for more than 25 years has sold at auction for £155,000. The sale that took place at Bonhams, in London’s New Bond Street, comfortably smashed the estimated value of £80,000 to £120,000.

The anonymous owner from Scotland, took the rare item to an antique dealer Nick Brewster who immediately clocked its value. On “first sight of this exquisite watch, I felt that there was something about it,” Brewster told The Scotsman.

“After a wee bit of research, I realised that it was an original Rolex MilSub, bar the missing bezel, one of the rarest and one of the most collectable watches today.”

Once a standard-issue piece of equipment from the British Ministry of Defense, the MilSub has become one of the most famous military-issued dive watches. Between 1971 and 1979, some 1,200 of the watches were issued for use by Navy submariners and their top divers and mine-clearance experts.

Rolex MilSub

To meet their specific requirements, the MOD demand certain details that made the MilSub different to the civilian version. The bezel was made of German silver for greater toughness and was sized larger to provide extra grip. To deliver greater security on the wrist, the MilSub also came with fixed bars made of welded steel instead of the standard spring bars. Finally, the watches were also re-lumed with Tritium by the MOD as that was deemed to be safer than the original radium – hence the “T” on the MilSub dial

For Rolex to make so many concessions to a client is extremely unusual. That rarity value coupled by the watch’s limited allocation and military credibility promptly turned the MilSub into a grail watch for many collectors.

Rolex MilSub

This particular MilSub was the 5513/5517 that was originally issued to a former Royal Navy diver in the 1970s. The second owner, who just sold the watch as auction, bought it in the early 1980s and used it as his trusty dive watch until the bezel fell off in 1996. Despite that lack of bezel and its tatty NATO strap, this auction result demonstrates that demand for the MilSub is still sky-high. Today it is estimated there are only 120 to 180 pieces that still exist.