As of late, quite a stir has been developing in the world of vintage Rolex, where now not just one but two examples of the historic Deep Sea Special have recently surfaced and are soon to be sold at auction. Rarely seen outside of museums, reference books, and Rolex’s own promotional materials, this experimental prototype is recognized for having afforded Rolex invaluable insights when developing water resistance technologies in the early 1950s.
Existing initially as a prototype, and later as a limited production piece in commemoration of notable dives, the Deep Sea Special enjoys unparalleled renown for its rarity and significance to the Rolex brand. Designed to achieve extreme depths, the first prototype of the watch is noted for having made the trip down to 3,150 meters, strapped to the outside of Auguste Piccard’s Bathyscaphe Trieste.
The first prototype guided the design of subsequent Deep Sea Special prototypes to follow. With expectations for the timepiece set staggeringly high, Rolex provided the third executed prototype to Jacques Piccard and Don Walsh, who submerged 10,916 meters deep into the Mariana Trench in 1960. This third prototype is now in the collection of the Smithsonian Institute in Washington D.C., demonstrating the museum tier significance of these pioneering dive watches of the 20th century.
Naturally, the aforementioned events and the lessons learned in water resistance would later influence the designs of all Submariner and Sea Dweller references in the years to come. This makes the Deep Sea Special one of the single most influential early Rolex watches, and surely one of the most rare. As it is understood, the watchmaker produced a total of seven prototypes between 1953 and 1960, and later produced 35 commemorative pieces in honour of Jacques Piccard and Don Walsh’s 1960 record setting descent into the Mariana Trench. Needless to say, the numbers surely speak for themselves.
The first example to be soon be hitting the block is at Phillips, and is not one of the initial prototypes, but instead one of the 35 examples Rolex produced in commemoration of Jacques Piccard and Don Walsh’s 1960 record setting descent into the Mariana Trench. This is clearly visible upon inspection of its caseback, which features the date of the descent engraved, along with the depth achieved.
The second comes from Christie’s, and is of particular interest being the very first prototype example produced by Rolex. This is the very example credited with being submerged to 3,150 meters in 1953, making it not only of significance to the Rolex brand’s future, but the history of diving and intrepid oceanography itself. This makes it perhaps more compelling than the example on offer at Phillips, though both are undeniably of the highest caliber of collecting.
Christie’s has yet to announce the estimate with which this massively important timepiece will be offered. Phillips on the other has announced theirs, which is set at CHF 1.2M – 2.4M (approximately $1.3M – $2.6M USD). What these two examples will ultimately command is anyone’s guess, but their results are sure to be indicative of the market for ultra high end vintage Rolex’s overall strength.