The Realities Of The Rolex Deep Sea Special No. 1 At Christie’s Geneva – Vintage Panerai and other iconic timepieces under the loupe at Perezcope

For their ‘Rare Watches’ public sale on November 8, 2021 in Geneva, Christie’s was entrusted with the sale of an distinctive piece of Rolex historical past – a brilliant elusive Rolex Deep Sea Special – however not simply any – the precise Numero Uno, “the very first prototype” which in keeping with the public sale home’s personal phrases was hooked up to the skin of the legendary bathyscaphe Trieste when it descended to a file depth of three,150 meters on September 30, 1953. Given its historic significance, the specialists at Christie’s set the estimate between 2,000,000 and 4,000,000 Swiss Francs however insiders reckon the proprietor is aiming for a a lot increased determine, maybe even double the excessive estimate.

Sounds like a severe collector’s piece… however is it true what the public sale home claims – assisted by the same old mainstream watch media suspects? Is Christie’s Deep Sea Special No. 1 actually the watch that made the file dive in 1953? NOT in keeping with Rolex, that’s for certain! A better take a look at the publicly accessible information on these obscure experimental items revealed the watch is a later mannequin which, in keeping with individuals aware of it, most likely by no means dipped a lug within the ocean. The watch is alleged to have survided nice depths however how will it maintain up in a forensic deep dive underneath the Perezcope? Continue studying to get the total historic image…

…or go straight for the primary course.

What is a Rolex Deep Sea Special?

The Rolex Deep Sea Special (DSS) was an experimental Oyster mannequin with distinct bubble crystal created to resist ocean ground pressures equal to a number of tons per sq. inch. Three completely different fashions have been remodeled the span of ten years. On January 23, 1960, the ultimate iteration reached the deepest level on the planet hooked up to the skin of a particular submersible generally known as bathyscaphe Trieste.

Rolex Deep Sea Special commemorative piece no. 33 (Photo: Hodinkee)

As of at present, three items mentioned to have participated in precise deep dives are recognized. In addition, Rolex produced not less than 47 commemorative items after 1960 which have been introduced to museums and high retailers across the globe. In 2010, Rolex supplied the next timeline.

Excerpt from the fiftieth anniversary Rolex pamphlet to commemorate the Mariana Trench dive from January 23, 1960

Download: Celebrating 50 years of underwater heritage (Rolex, JPG)

The Bathyscaphe ‘Trieste’

Between 1946 and 1948, Swiss scientist and explorer Auguste Piccard, well-known for his Nineteen Thirties file altitude flights in a helium-filled balloon, developed a “diving balloon” named FNRS-2 able to withstanding pressures equal to 13,000 ft/4,000 m of depth. The “abyssal submarine” consisted of a float full of lighter-than-water gasoline for buoyancy and a strain sphere for a crew of two.

Illustration of Auguste Piccard’s FNRS-2 “diving baloon” revealed in December 1947

Named after the Belgian ‘Fonds National de la Recherche Scientifique’ which funded the venture, FNRS-2 was the primary prototype of a ‘bathyscaphe’ (historic greek for deep-boat). The idea dated again to 1938 however the outbreak of World War 2 considerably delayed Piccard’s plan. In October 1948, after a primary unmanned check dive off Dakar, West Africa, the float was badly broken on the floor on account of a tough sea. FNRS-2 was not the seaworthiest of vessels. In 1950, the broken prototype was taken over by French Navy. Rebaptised FNRS-3, the French rebuilt the submersible with ‘scientific advise’ from Piccard, however sad along with his subordinate position, the Swiss inventor withdrew from the venture when native industrialists from Trieste, Italy, supplied him the prospect – as physicist-engineer in chief – to construct his personal bathyscaphe.

It was on this pioneering surroundings that Rolex determined to go a step additional and cement the Oyster as the last word dive watch. While the depth ranking of the upcoming Rolex Submariner fashions would restrict the watches to the continental shelf (<660 ft/200 m), a brand new experimental Oyster was to exhibit Rolex’s functionality to go means past and stand up to common ocean depths (~12,100 ft/3,688 m) or much more. To attain these depths, the Swiss firm naturally teamed up with the well-known Swiss explorer.

The cigar-shaped float of Piccard’s new bathyscaphe was inbuilt Trieste, Italy, therefore the title chosen for the vessel. The strain cabin was made at Terni, about 100 km north of Rome. Consisting of two hemispheres made from cast metal on one of many world’s largest metal presses, the cabin might theoretically stand up to depths of 9 to 10 miles beneath the ocean.

Auguste Piccard supervising the forging of the strain sphere at Terni, Italy

The bathyscaphe Trieste was launched on August 1, 1953 into the Mediterranean Sea at Castellammare close to Naples the place the ultimate meeting had taken place. After a collection of preliminary shallow dives, the Trieste was prepared for its first actual problem. On August 26, 1953, Auguste Piccard and his son Jacques took the bathyscaphe down to three,543 ft/1,080 m off the coast of Capri. One month later, the Trieste was towed by tug boat close to the island of Ponza the place it descended to a a lot deeper a part of the Mediterranean Sea. After touching the ocean ground, the devices aboard measured a depth of 10,334 ft/3,150 m – greater than tripple the unique depth file set by William Beebe in his metal cable-borne ‘Bathysphere’ on August 15, 1934 (3,028 ft/923 m).

Launch of the bathyscaphe Trieste in August 1953 in Castellammare, Italy

By the way in which, see these darkish strains on the float? They mark the completely different gasoline compartments. In case of a leak, it will be instantly seen which part was broken.

According to Rolex, a “particular Oyster” watch was strapped to the skin of the bathyscaphe throughout these dives.

“1953 – In tandem with dives carried out by the Trieste, a second model of the Deep Sea Special – much more stable and sturdy than the primary – is strapped to the skin of the bathyscaphe and efficiently examined at 1,080 metres. It is submerged to three,150 metres later the identical 12 months. When not being examined, the watch is saved in a specifically made picket field, with an instruction sheet detailing the right way to wind and set the watch tacked to the within of the lid.

1956 – The similar prototype lastly reaches a depth of three,700 metres throughout a brand new dive of the Trieste.”

In Auguste Piccard’s guide Earth, Sky and Sea revealed in April 1956 there isn’t a mentioning of a selected Rolex watch however on the finish of the guide, Professor Piccard expressed his gratitude to a collection of entities, amongst them “Rolex S.A. (Geneva)”.

In 2010, Rolex celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of their file dive to the deepest level within the ocean in tandem with the bathyscaphe Trieste. The firm acknowledged the primary experimental Oyster meant to withstand nice depths was created in 1950 and efficiently examined by “professional divers”. In 1953, Rolex developed a “extra stable and sturdy” model which withstood the file depth of three,150 m/10,330 ft hooked up to the skin of Piccard’s bathyscaphe. In 1960, “utilizing the information gained from making the primary two fashions”, a 3rd mannequin, “created to resist probably the most excessive situations”, reached ‘Challenger Deep’, the deepest level within the ocean at 35,797 ft/10,911 m.

The bathyscaphe Trieste after the profitable Mariana Trench dive, January 23, 1960

It turns into clear Rolex created three completely different fashions of the Deep Sea Special over the course of time.

DSS No. 1 Surfaces in 2005

The quirky Deep Sea Special No. 1 entered the collector’s market via a Christie’s public sale in November 2005. This was not the primary time the public sale home had seen such an unconventional piece.

Top auctioneer Aurel Bacs with the Rolex ‘Deep Sea Special No. 1’, 2005

Five years earlier, in June 2000, Christie’s had auctioned an virtually similar piece – the Deep Sea Special No. 5. The fundamental distinction between the 2 is a significantly decrease bubble crystal on No. 1.

Auction hyperlink: Rolex Deep Sea Special No. 5 (Christie’s, June 2000)

Auction hyperlink: Rolex Deep Sea Special No. 1 (Christie’s, Novemenber 2005)

Current public sale hyperlink: Rolex Deep Sea Special No. 1 (Christie’s, November 2021)

The Deep Sea Special No. 1 was consigned to Christie’s by an aged girl whose deceased husband was in a roundabout way associated to Rolex and had been gifted the roly-poly watch by Rolex founder Hans Wilsdorf. Nowhere in Christie’s description it was acknowledged that the Deep Sea Special No. 1 was the precise watch that made it all the way down to 10,330 ft/3,150 m in late 1953. It was solely mentioned the watch participated in certainly one of Piccard’s diving trials within the Mediterranean Sea:

According to its proprietor, the current watch participated at certainly one of Picccard’s diving trials with the bathyscaph “Trieste” within the Mediterranean Sea.

Years later, individuals made false assumptions based mostly on inadequate analysis and thus it grew to become accepted that the Deep Sea Special No. 1 was the file watch from 1953. Besides that includes the No. 1 on the caseback, the decrease crystal lead individuals to imagine, it was designed to resist much less strain than the Deep Sea Special No. 3 that reached the underside of the Mariana Trench in 1960.

Rolex DSS No. 1 vs. Rolex DSS No. 3

Speaking of crystal, see how badly dented the sting of the crystal of the DSS No. 1 is? Keep this at the back of your thoughts for later.

Dented crystal of the Deep Sea Special N.o 1 (Photo: Christie’s)

The instances of the DSS No. 1 and the DSS No. 3 are similar in form and measurement. Both have the exact same crown building with the additional ring. The tall crystal of the DSS No. 3 causes a clumsy magnification and visible distortion of the dial whereas the dial of the DSS No. 1 exhibits virtually no indicators of distortion.

In July 1954, ‘The National Geographic Magazine’ revealed a giant story on the conquest of Mount Everest. Additionally, there was additionally a narrative by Jacques Cousteau in regards to the French bathyscaphe FNRS-3 which had simply obliterated Piccard’s depth file on February 15, 1954 when it descended to 13,287 ft/4,050 m off Dakar, West Africa. Rolex took the chance to put certainly one of their most iconic advertisements which celebrated the truth that Mount Everest and the ocean ground hade been conquered in the exact same 12 months – 1953 – and that Rolex had been current at each occasions.

Rolex advert “From the highest of the phrase to the underside of the ocean” (Photo:

In this advert, Rolex introduced the “particular Oyster” which set the file on September 30, 1953. To make it appear like an everyday Rolex Submariner, which had simply been launched to the market, the promoting company manipulated the photograph by including a rotating bezel from a Rolex Turn-O-Graph and a smaller, extra industrial crown.

Detail of the particular Oyster that dove to 10,350 ft on September 30, 1953 (Photo: Ad Patina)

Let’s convey this watch to life by including a little bit of color and see the way it compares to the DSS No. 1. A great level of reference to place them into relation is the scale of the bracelet. Clearly, the watch from the 1954 advert is significantly smaller than the DSS No. 1 (38 mm vs. 43 mm). Note additionally the dial which seems way more distorted underneath the glass. This is tremendous profound because it suggests the watch from the 1954 Rolex advert had a taller crystal than the DSS No. 1.

Another notable distinction are the palms. The watch on the left had so-called ‘sword’ palms whereas the DSS No. 1 has ‘pencil’ palms. Interestingly, all exhibition items made after 1960 have ‘sword’ palms. One specific element actually screams ‘1953’ – the lollipop-style seconds hand which will also be discovered on the earliest Rolex Submariner and Turn-O-Graph fashions that have been launched within the second half of 1953. There is little question, the watch from the 1954 National Geographic advert options pure 1953 design language.

Rolex Turn-O-Graph with ‘lollipop’ seconds hand, commercial from 1954

The exact same watch, though in unedited situation with out the 60-minute bezel and smaller crown, was revealed in a 1954 article that described the developement of ‘bathyscaphe’ watches. It is unknown the place this text was revealed however the detailed data supplied in it might solely come from Rolex.

Article from 1954 on the event of the ‘bathyscaphe’ watches (Photo: RolexPassionReport)

The above article provides numerous perception, a few of which will probably be mentioned later. At this level, the vital factor to concentrate on is the watch on the botton captionioned:

“This is the particular Rolex that stood as much as a strain of 8,820 kilos per sq. inch.”

8,820 kilos per sq. inch is equal to 600 atm/cm2 which is sort of double the depth reached on September 30, 1953.

In 1959, Rolex launched a brochure to current their manufacturing unit and the steps concerned within the manufacturing of Rolex watches. One of the pages is of particular curiosity because it exhibits an operator engaged on an enormous water resistance testing machine and subsequent to him on the working bench, an empty ‘bathyscaphe’ watch case. On the right-hand facet of the web page, Rolex depicted but once more the exact same watch and referred to it because the file watch from 1953.

Excerpt from a 1959 Rolex brochure

Rolex acknowledged:

“On the best is the well-known Rolex OYSTER which was fitted to the skin of Professor Piccard’s bathyscaphe which dived to a file depth of 10,335 ft, the place strain is sort of two tons per sq. inch.”

Let’s commpare this watch to the DSS No. 1.

So right here we now have Rolex exhibiting us the watch that went all the way down to 10,330 ft/ 3,150 m in 1953, not as soon as however 3 times over the course of 5 years (1954 – 1959) and it’s undoubtedly not the DSS No. 1.

The subsequent photograph, taken between August 1953 and August 1957 at Castellammare, Italy, exhibits Jacques Piccard holding a ‘bathyscaphe’ watch in his palms. It was all the time assumed this was the DSS No. 1, regardless of trying very small.

Jacques Piccard at Castellammare, Italy holding a Rolex ‘bathyscaphe’ watch, 1953 – 1957 (Photo: Rolex)

Jacques Piccard was a really tall man (6.5 ft/1.98 cm). Could or not it’s that the watch seems small due to his measurement? Not actually, as the next comparability demonstrates. Placed subsequent to a photograph of Don Walsh from 2012 wherein the previous Navy man was holding his personal commemorative Rolex Deep Sea Special (ø 43 mm), it turns into evident the watch in Jacques Piccard’s palms is significantly smaller, and undoubtedly not the DSS No. 1.

Size comparability Don Walsh vs. Jacques Piccard

There are extra attention-grabbing particulars to speak about. For occasion the motion.

Cal. 1000 Movement

The article on the event of the Rolex Deep Sea Special from 1954 acknowledged the file watch had a ten ½ ligne motion. That is a small-sized motion (ca. 23,7 mm) and suggests it was a guide winding caliber.

The watch, a wrist watch with a ten ½ ligne motion, withstood extraordinarily excessive strain through the two and 1 / 4 hours that the bathyscaphe was beneath the floor.

The following passage from the identical article is additional indication that it was certainly a guide motion.

“The within the case-back was deeply pitted with marks of the screws and pinions of the motion the place they’d been pressured in opposition to the case.”

From a logical perspective, if the motion had a rotor and an automated bridge, the screws and pinions couldn’t have touched the within of the caseback. In addition, of their communication from 2010, Rolex mentioned the 1953 file watch was saved in a particular picket field, with an instruction sheet detailing the right way to wind and set the watch.

The subsequent image exhibits what a Rolex 10 ½ ligne caliber from 1953 appears like. Note that the watch itself has a diameter of 34 mm.

Rolex 10 ½ ligne caliber from 1953

The DSS No. 1 then again is powered by a self-winding motion (automated). Marked 1000 on the automated bridge, the caliber is definitely based mostly on Cal. 1030 (marked 1030 on the primary plate) however seems to be a lesser model with 21 in lieu of 25 jewels. The diameter of Cal. 1030 was not measured in linge however in millimeters, 28.5 mm. The similar caliber 1000 will also be present in Rolex Oysterdate Perpetual Ref. 6518 fashions with case numbers from 1955.

Movement of the Deep Sea Special No. 1 with American ‘ROW’ import code (Photo: Kamal Choraria, 2005)

The most attention-grabbing element of this motion is the ‘ROW’ stamp on the steadiness cock. “ROW’ was Rolex’s very personal import code for the United States. Since 1930, all ‘adjusted’ actions imported to the U.S. from Switzerland grew to become topic to tarifs which led to lots of smuggling. In 1936, it was determined that each one actions coming into the U.S. from Switzerland needed to be completely marked with a three-letter code that recognized the importer. Unadjusted motion have been exempted from this rule. In 1953, the Piccards have been the one ones conducting any such deep dives which happened solely within the Mediterranean Sea, distant from the States. In addition, not a single a part of the Trieste got here from the U.S. An American import code in 1953 makes completely no sense!

But that is the place it will get attention-grabbing. In Spring 1955, Jacques Piccard went to London to lecture on the Royal Society of Arts. There he met Dr. Robert Dietz, an oceanographer working for the United States Navy’s Office of Naval Research (ONR) who expressed nice curiosity within the bathyscaphe. After personally inspecting the Trieste at Castellammare a number of weeks later, Dietz started selling the submersible in U.S. Navy circles. In February 1957, the ONR supplied to fund a collection of dives off Naples, Italy to judge the craft. A gaggle of American oceanographers and underwater sound specialists travelled to Castellammare in summer season 1957, ultimately recommending the submersible be acquired by the United States authorities. It was throughout these checks that Dr. Robert Dietz first talked a couple of potential assault on ‘Challenger Deep’, the deepest melancholy on the planet. In January 1958, the U.S. Navy acquired the Trieste for USD 200,000 and after an extended journey aboard the USS Antares, the bathyscaphe arrived at her new base, the Navy Electronics Laboratory (NEL) at San Diego on August 23, 1958.

The bathyscaphe was then reconditioned with an even bigger and heavier strain sphere made by Fried. Krupp in Germany which required the float to be bigger as nicely. It was on this configuration that Jacques Piccard and U.S. Navy Lieutenant Don Walsh reached the underside of the Mariana Trench on January 23, 1960.

Reconditioned bathyscaphe Trieste with new strain sphere by Fried. Krupp and bigger float, 1959

In their fiftieth anniversary pamphlet of the 1960 Mariana Trench dive, Rolex wrote:

“1960 – Using the information gained from making the primary two fashions, the third Deep Sea Special is created to resist probably the most excessive situations. This is the watch that, when strapped to the bathyscaphe Trieste, is discovered to be in good working order after reaching the Challenger Deep portion of the Mariana Trench, 10,918 metres beneath the floor of the ocean.”

For their assault on ‘Challenger Deep’, Rolex created a 3rd iteration. As I perceive it, they produced a totally new mannequin and never only a taller crystal! Since the DSS No. 1 has the very same case because the DSS No. 3 from the Smithonian, it’s virtually actually a watch created after the arrival of the Trieste to the U.S. in August 1958. In this context, the ‘ROW’ code on the steadiness cock out of the blue begins making sense.

So what’s the Deep Sea Special No. 1 ultimately? It just isn’t the 1953 file watch, that’s for certain. The watch belongs, along with the DSS No. 3 from the Smithonian and the DSS No. 5, to the final Deep Sea Special batch made after 1958 for the assault on ‘Challenger Deep’. But the place Nr. 3 exhibits clear indicators of wear and tear and tear – even oxidation – one thing that may be anticipated from a watch that spent numerous hours in deep ocean water, No. 1 is in tremendous pristine situation. But see for your self.

The query is, why is the watch in such nice situation apart from the beforehand talked about crushed up crystal?

Dented Crystal

The flat dents on the crystal edge are very attention-grabbing. How did this occur?

DSS No. 1 crystal dents

The factor is, it’s bodily virtually unattainable to unintentionally dent the crystal there. This is finest defined with the next illustration. The fringe of the crystal is mainly in a blind spot that can not be hit by a flat object besides when you purposely need to. But look what occurs when the crystal is tall. The edge is totally uncovered to such damages.

What to make of this? Well, it could possibly be a sign that the crystal of the DSS No. 1 was tall at one level. Perhaps the peak was decreased to make the watch extra wearable. To conclude, let’s take one other take a look at the comparability ‘actual 1953 watch’ versus DSS No. 1.

The reality the actual 1953 file watch had a taller crystal, as evidenced by the dial distortion, speaks volumes in my view.


When I did analysis for my Rolex Sea-Dweller timeline again in 2017, I got here throughout the 1954 National Geographic advert and truly tried to digitally reconstruct that watch. I bear in mind exhibiting the outcomes to a choose group of classic watch specialists however I used to be immediatelly laughed at. That is only a prehistoric rendering, some mentioned. No it’s not, it’s a retouched photograph of a watch that I’m fairly, fairly certain resides on the Rolex archives in Geneva. Anyway, the final consensus was that the DSS No. 1 was the one and solely file watch from 1953. They appeared to know what they have been speaking about so I went with the accepted narrative. I ought to have caught to my weapons.

On one other notice, it’s a actual disgrace that public sale homes and a lot of the mainstream watch media don’t analysis their topics with the identical precision the Swiss watch business does their merchandise. One specific incident is sort of attention-grabbing. Hodinkee wrote in a current article {that a} whole of 35 commemorative Deep Sea Special items have been made. A easy Google search would have revealed that not less than 47 have been made. Furthermore, the Hodinkees visited Beyer in Zurich who occurs to personal No. 36, a chunk which was prominently featured in ‘Talking Watches’. So how did the quantity 35 come about? Well, RobbReport revealed the identical nonsense a number of days earlier. It actually seems as if these “journalists” simply copy from one another.

Thank you to your curiosity!

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