Rolex Sea-Dweller badly scratched in a cycling accident gets shock valuation on the Antiques RoadshowLuke Benedictus
On first glance, the watch looked to be in pitiful condition. Much of the dial was barely visible due to the severity of the scratches that had ravaged the glass. Yet beyond that superficial damage, it turned out to be in surprisingly good nick. Plus, there was the small matter of the fact that the watch presented on the Antiques Roadshow just so happened to be a Rolex Sea-Dweller ref. 1665 also known as the “Great White”.
The recent episode of the Antiques Roadshow involved an unnamed man bringing his watch to the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh to be valued by expert Richard Price. The balding gentleman had bought the Rolex Sea-Dweller ref. 1665 from Watches of Switzerland in January 1982, paying £449 ($788 AUD) – he’d wangled a £34 discount off the £483 list price for paying in cash.
“I was aware that Rolexes made the best watches and my brother-in-law had a Submariner – he said if you’re going to buy one, buy the Sea-Dweller,” the man said.
Expert Richard Price was pleased that the man had brought along his original bill of sale giving him “the full set”.
“This particular one is all described in your original invoice so you bought it new, January 1982. And this is the iconic 1665.”
“You mentioned Submariner and initially it had in red writing Sea-Dweller and Submariner on the dial.
“This one is the last in the series of what collectors refer to as the “Great White”, for obvious reasons, because it’s got the white writing rather than the red.”
At this point, any watch nerds began leaning closer to their TVs, because this was clearly a notable timepiece.
Rolex introduced this Sea-Dweller ref. 1665 in 1977 after a 10-year production of the Double Red Sea-Dweller ref. 1665 from 1967. The new watch featured a few notable tweaks. The red text on the dial was replaced with white writing – a stylistic modification that would later earn it the “Great White” moniker. In addition, the words “Submariner 2000” had also disappeared from the dial. This was a clue that Sea-Dweller would branch out from the Submariner line to form its own family.
Yet the owner on the show was unaware of this provenance of his watch as was demonstrated by the modesty of the watch he was wearing on the show. “Do you know what I’d do if I was you?” Richard said. “I’d take off that quartz that you’re wearing and wear this for a little bit.”
The expert quizzed the man on whether the piece had been “overhauled” or cleaned by anyone, or whether it was in its original condition. At this the man simply shrugged that he couldn’t remember, because “it’s been lying in a drawer for 30 years”.
Evaluating the watch, Richard said the only problem with the watch was the glass that had been badly scratched in a cycling accident. “People are asking silly money for them,” Richard said. “But I reckon from your point of view, a mid-market price of £18,000 to £20,000 [$31,500 – $35,000 AUD] would be fair.”
At this news, the man shakes his head with incredulity and can only utter a single word. “Unbelievable,” he says.