The one-of-a-kind Rolex Deep Sea Special prototype for perfecting the Rolex diving watch goes under the hammer at the Christie’s Rare Watches Auction in Geneva on November 8, 2021.
As I write, it’s a week short of 68 years since the historical dive that saw the watch travel 3,150m down into the Mediterranean on September 30, 1953.
Auguste Piccard, the Swiss physicist-inventor-explorer, was famous for his balloon flights in the stratosphere. However, he wanted to test the physical principles, particularly pressurisation, in the deep. He and his son, Jacques, developed a submarine for unprecedented gambit and teamed up with Rolex for the occasion. How did they do it? They attached the watch to the hull of his bathyscaphe Trieste and down they went! The Rolex Oyster Perpetual Submariner was introduced to the public at the Basel Watch Fair in 1954.
The Rolex Deep Sea Special N°1, now up for auction, is in perfect working condition. It served as the proving ground for the Rolex Deep Sea Special N°3. This piece reached 10,908m with the Trieste in the Mariana Trench on January 23, 1960. It is on display at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC.
The rarest of rare Rolexes
Not one of the watches that could, but the only one that did.
“This watch is the ultimate incarnation of the Oyster case design which defined the Rolex watches and the brand,” says Rémi Guillemin, Head of Watches, Christie’s Geneva.
Seven prototypes were built between 1953 and 1960. Three have been identified to date.
- The Deep Sea Special N°1 with a ‘low glass’ (made from Plexiglas).
- The Deep Sea Special N°3 with a ‘high glass’ (a taller, thicker crystal, also Plexiglas, developed from the N°1 experience).
- Deep Sea Special N°5, another ‘high-glass’ version, possibly used for further extreme testing until 1960. This piece was offered at auction by Christie’s in 2000.