Rolex played an instrumental role in the development of the diving watch, and four separate lots in an upcoming auction illustrate the evolution from the early 1970s to the present day.
The first, lot 189, is a prototype Rolex Comex. The watch takes its name from a collaboration with the French firm Comex, (Compagnie Maritime d’Expertises) specialising in deep-diving operations. This watch, from 1972, has the appearance of a regular Rolex 5513 Submariner, but a closer look at the case shows a helium escape valve at nine o’clock.
The escape valve, which was designed to prevent damage from a build-up of helium after full-saturation diving, is seen on the production Comex Sea-Dweller. Lot 255 is a Sea-Dweller from 1979, which comes complete with owner’s dive-log, diary passport photographs and Comex documents.
Lot 298 is a Military Submariner, or MilSub, from 1979. This was made for active military service and is for many the ultimate tool watch. Few of the original watches (roughly 1,200) ordered by the MoD from Rolex have survived.
The last watch, lot 254, is a Rolex Deep-Sea. The Deep-Sea is water resistant to 3,900 metres and represented a huge leap forward in diving watch technology. This is one of a limited edition of 50 watches made in 2013 to celebrate 60 years of the Royal Navy’s Mine Clearance Diving Unit. The watch was owned by Royal Navy Clearance Diver (first class) Dean Simpson, who sells it along with a copy of his extensive dive logs.
In many ways the prototype Comex is the most interesting piece, according to Adrian Hailwood from Fellows auction house. “Normally collectors like to see a fully fledged Comex with Comex written on the dial. But the prototype really illustrated the steps in developing the watch,” he said. “You could never have bought this as a member of the public, but it really is indicative of the relationship between Rolex and Comex.”
The watches are being auctioned in the Fellows Vintage and Modern Wrist Watches sale on 21st July in Birmingham
Lot 189 prototype Rolex Comex, estimate £12,000-£18,000
Lot 255 Rolex Comex Sea-Dweller, estimate £30,000-£40,000
Lot 298 Rolex MilSub, estimate £12,000-£18,000
Lot 254 Rolex Deep-Sea, estimate £30,000-£40,000