The crown serving the Crown
We can all agree that the James Bond Submariner is the most famous vintage Rolex Sub worn by a government agent. However, let’s remember that as cool as he is, 007 is a fictional character. And sometimes, fact is more interesting than fiction. For instance, the Rolex Military Submariners that were created for, and issued to, real government personnel serving in the Royal British Navy.
A Milsub To Notice
In the late 1950s, Rolex took the Bond Submariner 6538 and modified it to meet the specs of the Ministry of Defense (MOD) and the watch was given the reference A/6538. Fast forward to a little over a decade later to the beginning of the 1970s, and the Rolex Military Submariner 5513 was born. Again, the MOD requested that the standard Rolex Submariner 5513 be customized to become the Navy’s ultimate tool watch.
The dial of the MilSub 5513 is the source of some of the differences between the military standard issue watch and the regular Submariner 5113. First, on the black dial, there’s the large letter “T” within a circle – indicating levels of tritium – sitting atop the waterproof depth (660 ft – 200 m) and “SUBMARINER” label. Also on the dial of the 5513, are the over-sized sword style hands that are similar in aesthetics to the OMEGA Seamaster that were also used by the Royal Navy divers a few years earlier. Unfortunately, the hands of the Military Submariners tend to be a common component that is replaced over the years since they are susceptible to damage from oxidization and peeling.
Also distinctive to the Rolex Military Submariner is that it was always presented on a NATO strap, rather than steel, for optimal toughness. So the 40mm Oyster case had to be altered to include spring bars to accommodate the NATO strap, and that means a MilSub can never be equipped with a metal bracelet. Furthermore, the rotatable diver’s bezel includes the complete markings of the 60 minutes, instead of the traditional 15 minutes graduations found on conventional Submariners. It is worth noting that there were some MilSub 5513 models that were outfitted with Mercedes style hands and 15-minute marked bezels.
The engravings on the caseback of these Royal Navy Submariners make direct reference to its military background with MOD part numbers, issue numbers and year produced. The Military Submariner 5513 was later followed up with the ref. 5517.
Because the Rolex Submariner was, and still is, the ultimate diving tool watch, it comes as no surprise that the Navy would look to the brand to equip them with much-needed diving instruments to complete their missions. It’s estimated that only around 1,200 Rolex Milsubs 5513 and 5517 were produced between 1971 and 1979 and very few remain today in their original condition. This rarity, coupled with its provenance, makes it a Rolex collector’s dream.