The Military Submariner
by Ed Delgado
Many watch manufacturers have made watches for the military outfits around the world, but the Rolex watches made specially for the Royal Navy in the 1970's have captivated Rolex collectors. The general consensus is that approximately about 1200 watches were made and unfortunately many did not survive and of those that survive only several hundreds remains in their original configuration.
The Royal Navy had some specific modifications that were requested from Rolex. Lets take a look at some of the details.
While the dial is a regular 5513 dial, the most distinctive modification if the large "T" in a circle above the depth markings at the six o'clock position. This was to indicate the presence of tritium for the markers.
The hands are unique on this model and are often referred to as "sword" hands. The are very similar to the hands from the Omega Seamaster and are often used by some people to replace them but the seasoned collector will be able to tell due to some basic differences in the shape and length. Rolex does not make sword hands any more and their stock in not available. The hands due to their larger surface area and content of tritium often are prone to flaking or oxidation.
The bezel and insert.
The bezel is a standard production but the insert in many watches is a specially manufactured one with minute markings around the whole insert. This is unique for the military subs.
The case is a regular 5513 but the spring bars are fixed with metal bars to fit a NATO strap.
The caseback always has an MOD part number which starts with 0552 or with W10, a triangle with a hat on top and below an issue number and year.
These watches were delivered to the MOD in well know batches and their serials correspond. The dial are similar except for a small bath of dials with larger markers and slightly different coronets. The caseback numbers are quite different depending of the delivery date and must be compared to the another watch in the same delivery as they differences can be quite significant. To complicate the issues even more, some watches were delivered with Mercedes hands while others were delivered with the regular 15 min bezels. So that configuration can be correct depending on what batch it belongs. Also 5517 were made by Rolex as double reference 5513/5517.
These days, there are many convincing fakes around since they are quite expensive watches to acquire. To that point, I would not purchase a mil sub without documentation from Rolex Geneva or Rolex UK and/or significant provenance or with the help of someone that has significant knowledge of Rolex military subs. I know some people will disagree with me on this but there is too much money at stake to be wrong.
For many reasons, caseback information and serial numbers are not available on this site, as I feel its important to protect and respect the original owners as well as to protect the watches from fakers.
As I mentioned earlier, there were several configurations of mil subs that are considered correct and original depending on the age and batch.
- The 5513 milsub was delivered with either sword hands or mercedes hands from new
- The 5513 milsub came with either full 60 minute bezel insert or 15 min bezel insert from new.
-The 5517 milsub was delievered ONLY with sword hands and full 60 minute bezel
The 5513/17 military submariners are very special and highly desirable watches for collectors. As for COMEX watches and in particularly the 5514 they represent and watch that was made specially by Rolex with a specific role in mind. They were also used as tool watches as many of the COMEX watches and have seen very trying times in many different war zones. Some tell incredible stories about heroism of their owners while other tell a more humble story.
The bottom line is that a correct military submariner is a piece of Rolex and Royal Navy history and unlikely to be repeated. The centerpiece of many collectors..