When it comes to rare watches, the Rolex “Deep Sea Special” ranks high up on the list. It was a timepiece built ahead of its time and it served as the template for future Rolex models.

At the Geneva Watch Auction: XIV held in November 2021, a highly-rare and coveted “Deep Sea Dive” will go under the hammer. It marks a rare occasion for watch collectors to own such a historically significant and unique piece.

The sale, taking place at la Réserve in Geneva on November 5 and 7, will see a historically important, museum quality Rolex “Deep Sea Special” in stainless steel and gold ultra-deep dive wristwatch with centre seconds go under the hammer. The model was made in 1965 and has never before been publicly available for purchase.

“The Deep Sea Special fully deserves the Special in its name, the sheer idea of a watch that can withstand a dive of 10,000 meters (10 km) is simply mind boggling,” explains Alexandre Ghotbi, Head of Watches, Continental Europe, and Middle East. “However, more than the technical aspects and sheer rarity of this piece, it is its historical significance that needs to be highlighted.”

No doubt the timepiece is what helped define what Rolex is today. The technology and the philosophy behind the creation led Rolex to focus on tool watches in general and dive watches in particular.

Without the “Deep Sea Special” there would be no Submariner or Sea Dweller as we know it. The DSS is a watch that was never available for public purchase, and it is assuredly a piece of horological history.

Ground-breaking Model

Rolex “Deep Sea Special”

The “Deep Sea Special” can be likened to a Formula One race car in the world of watchmaking – always pushing the boundaries of what is technically possible to achieve feats that no other watch has ever done before.  Its tests technologies later benefited serially produced models for commercial use.

It is a ground-breaking model that paved the foundation for dive watches that we know and appreciate so well today.  The Rolex “Deep Sea Special” stands at the forefront of deep dive exploration. In 1953, Rolex tested the first prototype by strapping it on to the outside of the Bathyscaphe Trieste Submersible.

The watch was first tested at 1,080 meters, then submerged to 3,150 meters that same year. Having completed initial tests, Rolex embarked on a second mission in 1960 with a second prototype, pre-testing the new model with a high pressure chamber, tweaking and constantly updating details to improve the watch.

This time, the new “Deep Sea Special” was created to withstand the most extreme conditions, having submerged to over 10,000 meters below sea level, having completed its test in the Marina Trench, the deepest known point on Earth, with Jacques Piccard and Don Walsh.

Historically Significant

Following the successful deep dive in 1960, Rolex produced in the subsequent years a commemorative series such as the present watch, numbered 35, in celebration of this incredible achievement and offered to only the most distinguished science, technology and watch museums, along with the most trusted, longstanding retailers and high profile partners and executives who contributed to the development of the model.

Most notably, the “Deep Sea Special” numbered 3, which was strapped to the Bathyscaphe, is currently on display at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington D.C. Other museums include the Beyer Museum, London Science Museum and Piccard Museum Nyon (Switzerland), to name a few.

So rare is this timepiece that it joins the extremely exclusive club, of which 5 of its kind have been sold in the public sphere, with other publicly known examples owned and displayed by storied institutions.

As such, it has been 12 years since the last example has appeared on the market, underscoring its absolute rarity. Considering that the majority of examples are in institutions, there is no telling when another will grace the market.

(Images: Courtesy of Philips)

written by.
Richard Augustin
Former chef turned writer; Richard has tip-toed around the publishing industry for two decades. When not busy chasing deadlines, you can still find him experimenting with recipes in the kitchen.

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