This Rolex Submariner isn’t what it seems…

Let me start by saying, this Rolex Submariner isn’t what it seems, and it might challenge some people’s sensibilities.


Well, before I get to that, let’s fill you in on the backstory of this watch.

We know this is a Rolex Submariner 5513 from early 1967, as can be proved by its 155xxxx case number. However, its early history is unknown; but prior to its last owner’s tenure, it was sent away for a full service at Rolex. This would have been in the early 80s when originality was less important than it is today.

Needless to say, Rolex, “did a full service” on the watch, which included replacing the dial and hands with Service parts, which made the watch look wonderful and new but, at the same time ripped out its soul in the process.

The watch was then sold to a watch dealer in London, where it sat until its present owner bought it. This being none other than David Cooke, the renowned Harlequins Captain who went on to become Captain of England’s Rugby Team in the early 1980s.

David has gone on to amass a superb collection of Comex Diving Equipment, including several Comex Rolex Submariners. His interest in diving and Comex came about because one of his best friend’s father ran their Far East diving operations. I wish I had a best friend like that! Oh, and David also has a world-class collection of early DOXA T-Sub’s too.

However, this was his first Rolex, his first reward to himself personally, and he saw an opportunity to create his ideal Rolex, and it is at this point, that sensibilities might be tested!

Most arguments have three sides; “this side of the fence”, “that side of the fence” and those who manage to “sit on the fence”. Then there are arguments that it is almost impossible to sit on the fence about.  Those polarising arguments, where it seems impossible to have a foot in both camps. You know the type of thing; something like…,

“Should you make a watch look like something it isn’t?”.

Where do your sensibilities lie?  Are you of the mind that it’s ok, what a wonderful opportunity; or do you think it’s an abhorrent idea, why create a Frankenwatch?

Remember, I am asking this question through the lens, that is, 2021.

Like many polarising hot topics, attitudes have changed over time.  Today, I think most would agree, “originality” is King and changing anything cosmetic can wipe £’000’s from the overall value of the watch.  I say “cosmetic”, as perversely watch collectors understand internal parts will have been changed during the watch’s lifetime; and isn’t something to stress about.

But, if you wind your looking glass back to the late 80s, the world was a very different place.

The future was looking Rosy and for many people, “opportunity” was knocking.

The symbol of the decade was the “Yuppie”: a baby boomer with a college education, a well-paying job and expensive taste. During the “Splash the Cash” 80s, there were the “Must Haves” on everybody’s shopping list, a Porsche 911 (preferably a Red Turbo), “Big Hair”, a “Power Suit” (with unfeasibly large shoulder pads), and a Rolex (preferably a new one bought directly from your local AD).

Just as an aside, do you remember when you could walk into a Rolex Authorised Dealer and walk out with the watch of your choice; rather than a vacuous promise of something being available in the future, that never seems to appear?  Anyway, I digress, but a topic for the future perhaps?

In the 80s, originality was rarely, if ever, thought about.  Indeed, yuppies, being self-centred and materialistic would think nothing of “upgrading” their Rolex (assuming they couldn’t buy a new one!) with new coloured Dials, Hands and Bezels and God-forbid, Diamond additions.

Cars were the same, Ruf, AMG, Lynx, Stosek, Zeemax, and Koenig bodied cars parked as close as they could outside the cities deliciously new and sophisticated “Miami-Vice” styled Cocktail bars looking for (and I know that in 2021 it is not politically correct to say this!) a new sparkly seat-cover for the passenger seat.

To steal a phrase from Del-Boy, “The world was your Lobster”!

Now, I am not saying David’s motivation was excess; far from it.

He decided to make something more, to make a Silk Purse from a Sow’s Ear, as it were. After all, Rolex had already done the dirty deed and replaced vital parts unnecessarily, so the watch was a shadow of its former self. And remember, his decision was taken against a backdrop of and acceptability of change, rather than today’s strict fashion for originality.

David has always had high regard for history and was captivated by an advert he had seen when he was studying to become a Chartered Surveyor. It depicted a sea and salt splashed adventurer wearing a 5513 with an Explorer 3-6-9 dial.

He wanted his Rolex 5513 to look like this, but it had to be done properly and be sympathetic to the age of the watch too.  Whatever, it had to look old and in keeping, not stand out like a sore thumb.

Again, let me remind you, we are talking about the mid to late 80s. Today’s burgeoning network of watch-smiths and restorers didn’t exist, it was still a cottage industry. And, to make the task even more of a challenge, the INTERNET had only just been invented and the watch industry hadn’t caught on to the fact, just yet!

So, David set about researching who might be able to create a vintage-looking dial by using the traditional way of doing these things – donkey work!  He asked friends and colleagues for any recommendations, read Watch related magazines, and searched the fledgling inter-web thingy too.

Eventually, he found and was recommended to speak to, a chap called Nic Green, better known then as “Heuer Boy”, an early adopter of the internet. Nic’s passion was, and I am sure still is, early Heuer watches.  He is also a “Master” at Heuer restorations and understood what David was trying to achieve, and what’s more, was up for the challenge!

An old dial was selected, stripped back, and re-painted to mimic the dial of the 5513 that was available between 1962 and 1963, just 5 years before this watches manufacture!  There are obvious “tells” that ensure this is seen as a Homage. The dial is matt rather than polished, the numerals are slightly fatter, and the printing on the dial is Gold rather than Gilt with no underline present. Finally, the lume was aged, including a little “puffing” to replicate water ingress, but again, not to a point of deception.

A set of original Rolex hands were Lumed and aged to match and inserted into the 1967 case.

It has to be said, the case (if it has been polished in the past), along with the bezel, match the dial perfectly and in my opinion, looks miles better than if the replacement dial were left in place.  I just love the way the left-hand side of the case is more rounded on the lugs than those on the right.  Something that can only happen by a shirt sleeve or jacket cuff rubbing against it over many many years.

The original bracelet had parted company from the watch-head before David purchasing the watch. No matter, they look great on a NATO and what better NATO strap than a “James Bond” NATO!

So, where do your sensibilities lie, which side of the fence do you stand?  Are you of the mind that it’s ok, what a wonderful watch!  Or do you think, why create a Frankenwatch?

We will be selling this watch and will be asking a retail price of £12995.00, which is approximately 10% of an original 1962 “3-6-9” dialled Rolex 5513!

Are we Saints or Sinners? Your thoughts?

I find it fascinating how different markets react to the above dilemma of “recreation”.  My impression is that the Vintage Watch World generally frowns on such things these days, though not necessarily in the past.   The Classic Car World has travelled in the opposite direction, from “Kit-Car” putdowns to a respected multi-million-pound industry today.

David has proved this point himself as, after 14 years of playing rugby for Harlequins and England, he followed up on his equally fervent childhood love of racing cars and took up Historic Car Racing in 1997. A sport and hobby which quickly became a passion, which leads to him building several “Recreations” and ultimately to his current Ferrari Cegga and Alfa Romeo 8C that he built with the Twyman Brothers and races with great success!

Have I persuaded you from your original position on “recreation” as an idea or concept?  Let me know your thoughts!

Finally, here is an interview with David where he talks about, primarily his involvement in Historic Racing, but also talks about his life history too; fascinating…

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