Helicopter Pilot Captain P’s Rolex Submariner Date

In February 2014, Miltons in Liverpool city centre were delighted to purchase this lovely Rolex Submariner with box, papers – and an interesting background :

This model is part of the long line of Rolex Submariners which have now been offered in some form or other for some seventy years.

The Submariner had been launched in 1954 to support the growing interest in underwater adventure, appearing in a number of quickly-revised forms until settling as the classic 5513, which did not have a date display.

From the 1970s these models and others like them / adapted from them were issued to both military and civilian users, the best in their fields. For example, the UK MOD issued Royal Navy Clearance Divers and Army helicopter pilots with modified 5513s like this one in the Miltons safes :

…while in the civilian world, the leading commercial diving company Comex S.A. issued some of their divers with less obviously modified 5513s like this one in our collection (which has a specially marked case-back and features a small helium escape valve on the case-side) :

The first owner of our watch, a British Army helicopter pilot, would most likely have been familiar with Rolex Submariners being worn by the best of the best and indeed may have seen them on other pilots’ wrists, or been issued with one himself at times. What watch, then, might he buy for himself?

A Rolex Submariner was an obvious option, but a different variant appealed to our man. From around 1970, Rolex had produced a Submariner with the DATE displayed in the 3 o’clock position. The earliest examples seem to have case numbers around 2099xxx and case-backs bearing 1969 production markings, as illustrated in this 1970s cue-card supplied to Rolex main agents :

For some years these 1680 Submariner Dates featured the word “SUBMARINER” in red on on the dial, but by  the time Captain P. bought his watch the dial was produced with only white text on the dial – and what an outstanding example this is !

The unique case number of the watch suggests manufacture around 1979…

…which, as often, precedes the actual sale of the piece a year or more later.

In fact, this is one of the last 1680s produced. The next-generation Submariner Date 16800 with synthetic sapphire glass and 3035 calibre movement can be found with case numbers only marginally higher, from 63xxxxx ff.

It is correct for a watch sold in Singapore at this time to have the model reference punched in the papers, where we would later expect the “territory” or country code to be punched :

The Rolex territory code for Singapore can still be found on the papers in this embossed mark :

The watch is correctly fitted with a Rolex “Triplock” crown that was now established in the range :

When first released, this was a feature celebrated by the inclusion of a special swing-tag (these images are of a tag supplied with an earlier watch and correctly NOT supplied with our watch) :

The bezel insert was commonly scratched and marked in wear, but at least in these models was a fairly cheap “consumable” that Rolex main agents could supply and fit for very little money. This watch now has such a service part, with thin markings and a “pip” with some modern luminous material like Luminova :

It is not surprising that a model like this with such a long production life should be found with very slightly different dials through the years. The earlier, red text “SUBMARINER” dials are usually categorised into six, broadly chronological versions (three showing the depth in meters first, 200m=660ft, and then three with feet first, 660ft=200m. The later, all-white text dials (always with feet shown first) also appear in a few different versions, but their is a less obvious pattern to when they were used. We write about them in a separate photo essay ( click here to read it ), but it is one of the more opaque areas of collector research at this time.

We classify Captain P’s watch as having a MARK TWO white dial. Note how the vertical stroke of the “L” in “ROLEX” falls to the LEFT of the middle of the Rolex coronet above it :

See also the “open 6s” of the depth rating, where the circle forming the bottom of both figure 6s is not quite complete :

The “SUBMARINER” text is also marginally wider than is found on the Mark One dial.

At the foot of the dial, the text alluding to tritium content has the letter “I” of “SWISS” more to the left of the 31m marker than a Mark One does. Small differences, but this is the world of vintage Rolex dial classification !

The case-back is clearly and correctly marked with the 1680 model number…

…but what is that other, hand-scratched number above it?

Well, this is a code applied by a Rolex UK watchmaker and reads LON 5/02/828375. This indicates a job they started in May 2002 with the service number 828375 and is entirely consistent with the numbered Rolex UK service slip they provided upon completion a month later.

The movement will typically be serviced each time a watch returns to Rolex. Please note that this image was taken before we sent it to Rolex-accredited Stephen Hale Watch Restoration for servicing in 2023 :

It is the correct 1575 calibre, fitted as usual with a bridge marked just “1570” as was common to various versions.

Below we can see the movement’s unique number, D856389 (the D denoting this as a movement with Date complication).

Clearly a watch that Captain P. wore regularly, at some point it has been fitted with a new Oyster Fliplock 93150 clasp (or perhaps complete bracelet, with 501 B end-links), the PJ11 code indicating November 2008 manufacture :

Rolex originally supplied a slimmer glass with more gently curving profile, but this watch has been serviced to 2023 spec. and has the correct glass that Rolex currently demand is fitted to a 1680 returned to them :

Consider how the once-luminous tritium on the dial fails to be excited at all when exposed to a UV lamp :

…but also how the luminous “pip” on the bezel insert, a modern replacement part, is activated and retains some “glow” after the UV light source is removed :

Finally, should we refer to such a watch as a “Submariner Date” or a “Date Submariner?” Either is acceptable, as both descriptions may be found in various examples of Rolex’s own literature.

Miltons in Chester and Liverpool city centre are always looking to buy such interesting Rolex watches. Please contact us if you have piece that you think may be of interest , whether you would simply like to learn more about it or for us to make an offer, without commitment on your part.

© Haywood Milton, July 2023.


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