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Vintage Watch Wednesday: Rolex Milsub 5513 Vintage Submariner

by Michael Weare
12 December, 2012
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About the author

Michael Weare has been a professional writer for 30 years, writing about Japanese technology, German and Italian cars, British tailoring and Swiss watches. Michael manages the editorial content of Click Tempus and will be keeping the magazine fresh and informative with regular features, as well as bringing great writers to the magazine. Email: michael@clicktempus.com

Rolex Milsub 5513

No doubt when the sober Royal Navy procurement officers ordered some 1,200 Rolex Submariners models 5513 and 5517 for their divers and rangers in the mid 70’s, they never in their wildest LSD imaginings could have guessed that one day these exact same no frills watches would be on sale to the general public for over £90,000 – and rapidly rising.

There is nothing remotely flashy about the military Rolex Submariners, nicknamed Milsubs, they are stainless steel with black bezels and black dials. Yet they are grail watches, must have iconic models worshipped by Rolex reverentials the world over.

Rolex Milsub 5513

The differences to look out for between these and civilian Rolex Submariners is the “sword” hands (ref. 5513 was also issued with Mercedes hands). This type of hands has also been used by the Royal Navy on the Omega Seamaster 300.

The bezel is a standard production, but in some cases (always on ref. 5517 and sometimes on ref. 5513) the insert has minute markings around the whole insert.

The case-back has an MOD (Ministry of Defense) part number engraved, which starts with 0552 or with W10, a triangle with a hat on top and below an issue number and year. The milsubs were consigned to the MOD in well known batches and their serial numbers correspond to their issue number.

The caseback numbers are quite different depending on the delivery and the serial number is also engraved inside the caseback.

True Milsubs bear the letter T  on the dial in a circle above the depth markings, to indicate the presence of tritium in the markers. This feature is also shared by other watches issued to the Royal Navy, such as the Omega Seamaster 300.

They were all issued with fixed lugs to be worn on a standard issue grey nylon Nato strap, this was to prevent one of the lugs failing in the course of active duty and the expensive – but nothing like as expensive as it is now – watch sinking without trace.

Now we come to the Milsub 5513 available on ebay. Despite a quite heavily scratched domed plastic lens and a missing ‘pearl’ on the bezel, these flaws do not detract from the ‘buy it now’ asking price of US$175,000. That’s over £108,000 in real money.

Rolex Submariner MILSUB 5517 with standard issue hands

Part of the rationale for the massive price is of course desirability and rarity. Most of the decommisioned Rolexes that were used by the Royal Navy in the 70’s were ‘cleaned up’ for sale to civilians. The case back markings were polished off, and the sword hands replaced with the standard civilian hands famous on all regular Submariners. Apparently, only a few of the original Navy issue sword hand Milsubs exist, and judging by prices on the internet from various dealers, demand is crazy high.

This particular model, dating to 1976, has a higher waterproof rating as it was used as a diver’s watch, but do note that it has not been tested for waterproofing.

If ever there were a case of Rolex fever, this has to be it. Save your money and buy a gorgeous blue or green Submariner in considerably better nick.

 

 Military diver picture courtesy of watchprosite.com

Michael Weare | Website

Michael Weare has been a professional writer for 30 years, writing about Japanese technology, German and Italian cars, British tailoring and Swiss watches. Michael manages the editorial content of Click Tempus and will be keeping the magazine fresh and informative with regular features, as well as bringing great writers to the magazine. Email: michael@clicktempus.com

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