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The Rolex Military Submariner

Throughout the 1970s, military specification Rolex Submariners (o!en referred to as ‘milsubs’ by
collectors) were delivered to the British Ministry of Defence (MOD) by the Rolex Watch Company and
made available to both the UKSF Special Boat Service (SBS) and Special Air Service (SAS) divers.

The features of the Rolex military Submariner di"ered to the standard production Rolex Submariner
sold by Rolex via their authorised retail outlets, as the military versions were modified to meet the
needs of the MOD elite units specific requirements, thus replacing the previously supplied Omega 300
Seamaster as the MODs approved dive watch.

Approximately 1200 modified military specification Rolex Submariners were delivered by Rolex to the
Royal Navy & British Army between 1972 and 1979.

Due to there use in such hostile conditions, the survival rate for watches in their original configuration is
low. Thus rarity along with their fascinating and important military provenance is the reason they have
become so sought a!er by vintage and military watch collectors.
The Model References
The original Rolex military Submariners were issued using 3 di"erent references 5513, 5513/5517
(referred to as a double reference) and 5517. Each reference is engraved as follows:-

5513 (engraved between the lugs at 12:00)

5513/5517 (5513 engraved between the lugs at 12:00 and 5517 engraved under the 7:00 lug)
5517 (engraved between the lugs at 12:00)

NOTE: Whereas model reference. 5513 was a modified version of the existing standard production Rolex
Submariner, model ref. 5517 was unique to the military Submariner. This particular model reference
was never sold commercially, and thus has become the most sought a!er of the 3 references by
collectors.
Full Specification
Each reference of the Rolex Military Submariner has the same modified specification:

A 600 ! = 200m matt dial with circled T – denoting the use of Tritium within the luminous compound
Sword or gladiator Hands – for greater visibility
A continually graduated 60 minute bezel – for more accurate measurement of time underwater
Anti reflective satin case finish
Military fixed bars – for enhanced durability, to be used in conjunction with an admiralty strap
Military, crown property and unique issue, case back engravings

As mentioned earlier due to the environments they were o!en exposed to, milsubs would o!en need to
be serviced more regularly than their standard civilian counterparts. Unfortunately this resulted in far
fewer watches surviving in their original configuration. Watches in original condition with the full
military specification as defined above continue therefore to attract significant premiums.

The Dials
The dials of the Rolex issued military Submariner were standard Submariner dials with a circled T
added below the hands and before the ‘SUBMARINER’ model designation.

Between 1972 and 1979, 4 versions of dials were used, as follows:-


SERIF NON SERIF

SMUDGE CROWN MAXI MK 1

The di"erent dial types were not exclusive to any particular model reference but were relevant to the
date of issue of the watch. For example a ‘serif’ dial should really be found on certain batches of the
model ref. 5513 until 1977 and the last batch of 3,9 million double references (5513/5517) issued in 1979.
The ‘non-serif’ dial is most o!en found on watches in the 3.7 and 3.8 million range. A ‘smudge’ and
‘maxi’ dial will feature only on watches issued post 1977 (unless the dial was changed on an earlier
watch during service).

Outer Case Backs


The outer case back on a correct full specification Rolex milsub will be engraved, depending on whether
it was a British Navy (0552) or British Army (W10) issue.

Contrary to popular belief all watches would have been used for diving, as although the W10 deliveries
were Army or SAS issue, during the 1970s both units were trained divers, thus the watches were
available to divers of either unit.

0552 (RN MOD service code)


923-7697 (NATO code for divers watches)
Broad Arrow
Issue Number / Year for Issue

OR
W10 (MOD code for the Army)
6645 (NATO code for time measuring instruments)
99 (NATO code UK)
923-7697 (NATO code for divers watches) CONTACT
Broad Arrow +44 7977 469 568
Issue Number / Year for Issue
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Inner Case Backs
The inner case back on a correct Rolex Milsub will include the following engravings:-

Model ref. ‘5513’


Date of case/case back manufacture
Serial number matching the case (depending on the particular batch. Some known batches did not
have the case serial number engraved in the case back)

IMPORTANT: Milsubs sometimes surface with mis-matching serials in the case back, meaning that at
some point the case back of one Milsub was incorrectly fitted to the case of another during service by
MOD or independent watchmaker. Whilst the mistake is easy to understand, it has a significant impact
on the value and desirability of the watch.

Documentation
The original 1970s military Rolex Submariner special deliveries to the MOD for issue to the UKSF were
not delivered with the traditional box and papers which accompany the standard model Submariners
sold via retailers. However some later documentation can accompany watches which is of particular
interest to collectors. This is either in the form of:

Documented provenance from the original owner on his service as well as photographs and dive
logs. It must be noted though that due to the covert nature of the original owners occupation many
prefer to remain anonymous, thus documentation is not easy to acquire.
Rolex delivery confirmation letters signed by the former general manager of Rolex UK, Henry
Hudson.

In the 1970s it was Mr Hudson’s department who were responsible for delivering the military spec
Submariner to the UK military. Although later assuming the post of general manager of Rolex UK, he still
retained the original delivery information for each of the issued watches (serial, case back number, unit
or dockyard) and until his retirement a few years ago would kindly provide the information where
available to owners of the watch via a signed letter on Rolex headed paper.

Unfortunately since his retirement this service is no longer possible. Rolex no longer confirm the
original delivery information. Whilst watches with the HH papers as they are referred to do not carry a
significant financial premium, collectors like the re-assurance relating to the original issue that it o"ers.
However perfectly correct and collectable examples will continue to surface in the market, sans paper.
That does not mean they should not be acquired and enjoyed. We would just advise and recommend
that you consult with one of a handful of known specialists (ourselves included) who have been
collating the model ref, serial, case back and delivery information for many years and should be able to
re-assure you regarding the batch that your watch belongs to and any specific nuances you should
expect to find.

We are always interested to hear from collectors or original owners who have a vintage Rolex, Omega or
Blancpain watch which was issued by the military or used during military service.

Please do not hesitate to contact us should you wish to discuss selling your watch via sales@vintage-
db.com or +44 7977 469 568
This entry was posted in Articles, Vintage Rolex and tagged 5513/5517, 5517, double ref, issued, military, milsub, rolex,
submariner, UKSF, vintage rolex.

The Rolex ‘Khanjar’ & ‘Qaboos’ Sea-Dweller Dating your Rolex Watch

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Ray Fox says:


It is so sad that since Mr.Hudson has retired, this service is no longer available. I would have
thought that providing this information for collectors and researchers was vital in retaining
excellent customer relations.
i am afraid that Rolex are now so large, that personal service is fast becoming a “lost art”.
Long live vintage watches and gentlemen like Mr.Hudson.

2ND APRIL 2018 AT 4:52 PM REPLY