Monday, May 15, 2017

Rolex Submariner Prototype Sells for More than $600,000

New World Auction Record Set

Rolex Submariner Prototype 

Sells for More than $600,000

The Geneva spring auctions are on fire, as Christie's Auction House just shattered a record by successfully auctioning this Rolex Submariner prototype [Reference 1680] for more than $632,971. The previously highest auction price for a Submariner came recently from Phillips Auction House in Geneva, in November of 2016, when they sold a Rolex Submariner Reference 6538 for around $560,000.

Rolex design history may not repeat itself

—but is sure does rhyme

Before we get into the details on this watch, I feel obligated to mention an extremely credible source, suggested the watch pictured above was NOT a Prototype per se, but a special order Rolex Submariner, for customers who were willing to pay a substantial premium for an unusually rare Rolex back in the early 1970s. I believe Christies chose to classify this model as a prototype since the three known examples of this Rolex model were not serialized, but only posses a model designation engraving of Rolex Reference 1680.

One of the most interesting things about the 1973 Rolex Submariner pictured above is it looks remarkably similar to the current production Rolex Rolesium Yacht-Master pictured below. It was actually Jose from that noticed the uncanny resemblance between the white gold Rolex Submariner limited edition and the Stainless and Platinum Rolex Yacht-Master—and first brought this brilliant observation to my attention.

Have you ever wondered what the Genesis point was for the engraved bezel on the Rolex Yacht-Master? Where did its design language come from? I believe there is a very high likelihood it came from the white gold Rolex Submariner pictured at the top of this story. This ultra-rare Rolex Submariner model arguably represents the missing-link between the Submariner and the Yacht-Master. In other words, the Yacht-Master began its life as a Submariner variant. The original Yacht-Master is essentially a Submariner model with a different dial and bezel insert, coupled with polished center links on the Oyster Bracelet. As a brilliant friend of mine put it, "The Yacht-Master was the 'lovechild' of the Submariner."

You can learn much more about the Rolex Submariner / Yacht-Master nexus by checking out my story titled, "The Complete History Of The Rolex Yacht-Master."

So let's take a closer look at this extremely rare Rolex Submariner from 1973. This watch is super Funkadelic in an early 1970s kind of way. I can almost hear the Chico and Man theme song playing in the background ;-) This ultra-rare Submariner features a President bracelet with a bark finish on a Submariner body, along wit the High Hat 'jet-plastic' (fancy cool old-school name for plexiglass) crystal, and bizarre two-way spinning bezel which features two sections with knurled out notches.

Christies Lot Essay

A very exciting and important discovery, fresh to the market, this prototype watch, one of only three known examples, is a solid 18K white gold version of the Submariner reference 1680. Furthermore, it has been in the hands of the same private collector for over 30 years.

Including the present watch, only three examples of these extraordinary prototypes are known to exist, one other with blue dial and one with black dial. They represent the only surviving record of a never-realized early 1970s design for a white gold Submariner. The watch’s striking and dramatic good looks further enhance this remarkable piece of Rolex history. 

The Submariner reference 1680 was launched in the late 1960s, it was the first Submariner model to have a version cased in precious metal and the first to have a date function. However, the model was only ever made in either stainless steel or yellow gold, no examples are known in white gold except the three prototype watches. In fact the Submariner was not officially produced in white gold until the launch of the reference 116619 in 2014.

[Note From Jake: I believe there is an typo at the end of the last sentence above. I believe Christie's must have meant '2008', not '2014', as the first white gold Rolex Submariner (Reference 116619) was introduced at BaselWorld in 2008—NOT in 2014.]

As a prototype, the present watch is not engraved with a serial number between the lugs at 6 o’clock, only the reference number between the lugs at 12 o’clock. It is therefore impossible to date precisely, however, several details in the construction and design would point to a date of somewhere around 1973. 

The rich blue Submariner dial is the so-called “nipple” dial due to the shape of the circular luminous indexes. It is a “feet first” designated dial introduced after about 1971, the earlier type was designated “meters first”. 

The case, in common with most gold reference 1680 Submariners of the period was made by Genex S.A., who specialized in making Oyster cases, most famously for the reference 6062, their maker’s mark of a number 12 in a key is engraved on the inside of the caseback. 

Apart from the white gold Oyster case itself, what makes this watch particularly striking is the style of the bezel. Bidirectional rotating, it is milled or serrated only in two areas of the edge, the insert itself, cast and finely machined, is very reminiscent of the “thunderbird” bezels of the 1950s. 

The watch is fitted to a white gold President bracelet with concealed deployant clasp, the endlinks numbered 54, dating from about 1973 it is a classic 1970s bracelet with central bark-effect links.

Although this incredibly eye-catching watch is designated as reference 1680, it is obvious that had a white gold model been developed from the prototype its appearance would have been markedly different to the reference 1680 as we know it.

It can only be speculated as to why the model never went into production, perhaps rising costs and an uncertain market during the economic turbulence and oil crisis of the early 1970s made Rolex exercise caution and as time passed the moment had gone.

The present watch gives collectors the opportunity to obtain a quite extraordinary and important part of the Rolex story.

A Few More Things

It may seem obvious at this point, but Rolex introduced the Submariner Reference 1680 in 1968, and up until that time all Submariner models had been made out of stainless steel. This changed with the introduction of the Rolex Submariner [Reference 1680], which., for the first time was offered in a yellow gold variant. The yellow gold Rolex Submariner [Reference 1680] had another unique feature, as it was the very first Rolex model ever made that featured a Rolex Oyster bracelet with solid end links, which are commonly referred to in their acronym form as SEL. Today, all Rolex Oyster models that have metal bracelets come standard with solid end links, but it was not until last decade this became a standard feature.

The Reference 1680, as just mentioned was offered in both stainless steel and yellow gold, and was the first Submariner model to offer a date complication. Rolex surprised the world when from out of nowhere, in 2008 they introduced first white gold Submariner model [Reference 116619] at BaselWorld in Switzerland. One of the unique features of the White Gold Submariner is that it has a blue dial and matching blue ceramic bezel insert.

I put together the illustration below that shows the 1973 Rolex Submariner white gold prototype, next to the white gold Submariner that was introduced and went into production in 2008. I also included the stainless steel and platinum Yacht-Master with the blue dial. Rolex introduced the Yacht-Master in 1992 with a unique dial made out of platinum, which gave the watch an albino look, I was never really that fond of. The Yacht-Master was the first all-new Rolex model Rolex came out with after the Daytona, and it took them 28 years from the introduction of the Daytona to come out with an all new model!?!! In 2012 Rolex quietly discontinued the platinum dial Yacht-Master, and update the stainless steel and platinum model with a cobalt blue sunburst dial, as seen on the far right in the photo below.

As we see in the photo below, the three watches look very similar, thus, this is definitely a design family affair. One of the details that really stands out on the original 1973 Submariner pictured below on the left, are the 'Nipple Indices'. I really like the way the upside down triangle marker at 12 O'clock looks on the prototype Submariner. This was a standard feature only on the yellow gold Submariner [Reference 1680]. In other words, only the yellow gold version of the Submariner Reference 1680 had the Nipple Indices, as the stainless steel Submariner model maintained the classic printed lume maxi markers. 

The Nipple Indices had lumed markers that were surrounded in matching gold, and they were applied instead, as apposed to having the lume being painted on the dial. The applied markers gave the watch a more precise, elegant look. In later Rolex Professional models, this feature would be incorporated. For instance, the GMT-MASTER and Submariner in stainless steel would later incorporate the applied white gold markers, but they would be very flat, instead of being dimensional like the nipple indices. We see the modern version of the applied white gold lumed markers on the production white gold Submariner as well as on the stainless steel and platinum Yacht-Master pictured above. The main difference being the later design made the markers much flatter, and less dimensional while increasing the overall size of the markers, while significantly increasing the lume plot size, thus significantly decreasing the the white gold surround. 

As a designer, it strikes me that if Rolex were to make a 'Maxi Nipple Marker', it would probably look really good. In other words, if Rolex made Maxi Markers with the added 3-dimensionality of the Nipple Markers, it would probably look really cool. I must also point out that in the early 1980s, Rolex made a Submariner model that had smaller markers and it looked terrible. As a matter of fact, moved away from the Maxi Markers, and made the markers on all the professional models smaller and it looked awful. The 50th Anniversary GMT-Master was the first watch to bring back the Maxi Markers in 2007. The difference was this time, the Maxi Markers had white gold surrounds, which looked great. The photo above of the current white gold Submariner and Yacht-Master also have these larger Maxi Marker, which are much more aquatic and 'Rolexy' looking. Basically, the smaller markers on the Nipple Indices/Markers look feminine and anemic, like Kate Moss in the early 1990s. The Maxi Markers look much more masculine and aquatic. Particularly the round markers, as they look like bubbles.

Just for frame of reference I am including the photo below which shows the first yellow gold Rolex Submariner model, which was introduced in 1968. Notice it has a metallic sunburst cobalt blue dial, with matching aluminum bezel insert anodized with matching blue. The cobalt blue sunburst dial is the same as the one in the white gold Rolex Submariner prototype from 1973, with the exception the writing and minute track are pad printed in a yellow gold color, and the markers feature yellow gold surrounds, as apposed to white gold. I am a HUGE fan of the cobalt blue sunburst dials. They look so rich and colorful, and they remind me of King Tuts Lapis Blue and Gold mask. 


Speaking of the Rolex Submariner and Nipple indices, it is worth noting one of the greatest aquatic themed movies was the epic 1977 movie, named THE  DEEP, which featured the gorgeous Jacqueline Bissett, who is pictured below while she was filming. The DEEP was written by Peter Benchley, who also wrote Jaws.

Jacqueline Bissett scuba diving braless in a very wet tee-shirt in The DEEP movie caused quite a sensation in 1977, as seen in 'The DEEP' Poster below.

The DEEP is one of my favorite movie that features and actor wearing a Rolex, in this case, Nick Nolte. The DEEP kind of reminds me of the original King Kong movie from 1933, in the sense that when you watch it, you are transported in a time machine to another time and place, in a different world.

In the video below you get a pretty good high-def look at Nick Nolte's Submariner.

Peter Benchley wrote Jaws and The DEEP, and he is featured below in the two Rolex Submariner ads from 1975. Peter Benchley was a good friend of Rolex U.S.A. Executive, T. Walker Lloyd.

Rolex Thunderbird Bezel

I kept looking at the interesting highly engraved bezel on the white gold Submariner, and I kept thinking I had seen it somewhere before?

It turns out (no pun intended) l had seen the bezel before. It was taken from the original Rolex Thunderbird from 1959, which is seen below in yellow gold! The original Thunderbird Rolex has a fascinating history I wrote a story about back in 2008.

O.K. I realize I am seriously daisy-chaining again, but hey—that's what I do on Jake's Rolex World, so here we go...Let's have a little fun!!!

The White Gold Rolex Submariner/Thunderbird with Bark Finished Rolex President bracelet, high-hat crystal and blue sunburst Submariner Nipple indices dial reminds me of the Johnny Cash song, which you can listen to below. Listen carefully to the words, which are fascinatingly interesting. Hey, it was the 1970s!!!

Ironically, Johnny Cash wore a yellow gold Rolex President as seen in the picture below.