Watches which have lived a full life and have that story to tell on their exterior hold pride of place for many us. In that pantheon, Rolex’s milsubs are arguably the most highly collected military watches of all time. Records denote ~1250 delivered examples across the three reference varieties. The run has everything: slight variation, visual distinction from civilian models, excellent record-keeping/scholarship, and true rarity. The number that survive today is far lower than 1250, but not knowable. Each surviving milsub certainly holds a story and has already survived far worse abuse than you could possibly throw at it.
To meet MoD requirements, a handful of alterations were made to the standard sub. The most obvious variation is the handset, which features a broad sword hand for increased underwater lume legibility. The ringed T at 12 was printed to meet government requires denoting tritium use. Perhaps not obvious at first, the bezel is demarcated through the full 60 minutes, as opposed to the standard 15 minute subdivision. Not visible from the exterior, milsub movements also included a hacking seconds which later translated into a few civilian models in the early-mid 70s. Spring bars were fixed as is the hallmark of a true military diver. I also find it telling that the bones of Rolex’s 1520 did not need significant alteration to meet all the abuse the Navy could throw at it. With robust engineering for the period, Rolex had measured twice and cut once.
Once decommissioned, these watches were not terribly desirable in period, while normal 5513 subs were. As a result, many less-scrupulous dealers changed handsets and dials to standard configurations, then sourced a standard case back or polished off numbers. This was not an uncommon practice and, in addition to the usual causes, has inflated the number of missing or unaccounted of the 1250 milsubs. Any surviving milsub is a beautiful thing, but this one features a dial more lovely than most with a gorgeous pumpkin tritium tone.
That said, the case has likely seen a polish or two. However, the vast majority of milsubs have seen a polishing wheel as it was standard servicing practice at the time. The reference and case back engravings are still mercifully deep, with this example bearing ‘0552’ code for the British Royal Navy and ‘923-7697’ for NATO, 1972 production. Any collector would be lucky to have this military beauty, but don’t expect it see in range of the estimate.
Find this 5513 Milsub here as part of Phillips 2022 Geneva Auction XV set to hammer 7 May 2022 (estimated 105,000-157,000).