Why a Dirty, Decrepit Rolex Submariner Just Broke an Auction Record

James Bond wore one, for starters

June 19, 2018 9:00 am

A wristwatch should tell two things: time, and a great story.

And while it’s certainly seen better days on the cosmetic front, the most expensive Rolex Submariner ever sold at auction doesn’t disappoint on the essentials.

The Submariner in question — a 1956 ref. 6538 — changed hands last week at Christie’s Exceptional Watch Auction for an astonishing $1,068,500. Doubly astonishing when you take a closer look at its condition: scratched sapphire lens, an undersized NATO band and, most glaringly, no bezel. It was apparently removed by the owner years ago.

So why the seven-figure price tag?

Well, the dial and cal. 1030 automatic movement are in excellent working order, for starters. But beyond that, this is, as you might’ve guessed, a watch with a very special pedigree.

The ref. 6538 became the first Rolex to ever appear on James Bond’s wrist when Sean Connery wore one in Dr. No in 1962. It would go on to become known as the James Bond Submariner (that’s pronounced sub-mariner, not submarine-r), and the few remaining editions in circulation do not crop up on auction floors very often.

But this is no ordinary 6538 (though one of those sold last year in Geneva for around $600k — then a Submariner record), thanks to the fact that it boasts the exceedingly rare “Explorer” dial, which features Arabic numerals at 3, 6 and 9 o’clock. Throw in an even rarer meters-first depth rating of 200/660 printed in red, rather than the traditional white, and what you’re left with is a veritable unicorn of horological history.

And unicorns, as any good zookeeper will tell you, do not come cheap.

To read the whole story — including the years it spent on its only owner’s wrist as he worked on radio towers above the Arctic Circle — check out the full listing at Christie’s.

Image via Christie’s

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