Rolex bubble shows no sign of bursting


Will the second hand Rolex bubble burst in 2022?

Not likely, if the results from one of the first major auctions this year are an indicator of what’s to come.

Bonhams in London attempts to make its Knightsbridge Watches and Wristwatches Sale an egalitarian affair with watches from across the centuries included, but mostly modern vintage pieces that an average enthusiast or collector can afford.


That theory was put under strain when a bidding way broke out over a 1975 Rolex Submariner, owned from new by a former member of the Royal Navy, which eventually sold for £200,250/$268,000, three times its estimate.

It was the highest value for a single lot achieved by Bonhams Knightsbridge Watches department.

The auction was the most successful in history for Bonhams Knightsbridge, with a 96% sell-through rate and more than 1000 registered bidders.

The rare Rolex military issue wristwatch, ref: 5513/5517, was one of a limited batch commissioned by the British Ministry of Defence in the 1970s, with enhanced specifications including thicker, sword-shaped hands for enhanced legibility.

The timepiece was offered by its original owner who had a 27-year career in the Royal Navy, during which period he was the recipient of the Royal Humane Society award in 1975 and the Queens Commendation for Brave Conduct in 1981.

There were 23 Rolex watches in the auction, all of which sold and they dominated the top ten most valuable lots in the sale.

A Rolex Submariner, Ref: 5512, Circa 1962, sold for £21,500/$28,810.

An early example of the reference, recognised by its lack of date feature and glossy black dial with gilt text and featuring pointed crown guards, this watch was offered by the family of the original owner.

Another military man, the owner purchased the Rolex new when on active service in the Far East with the Fleet Air Arm, including in the Indonesian Confrontation of the 60s in Sarawak and the jungles of North Borneo.

During active service the watch was covered by a special green translucent cover to protect the glass from sunlight and weather and since the 1970s had been safely stored away in a drawer.

Rolex ref.5508 (for illustration, not the actual watch sold).

Rolex Submariner Ref: 5508, circa 1962, sold for £21,500/$28,810.

The third Submariner in the top 10, was an example of the 5508 reference, distinguished by its lack of crown guards, which was one of the last ‘James Bond’ Submariners.

Rolex Day-Date, ref. 18038/18000, circa 1978, sold for £19,000/$25,460.

Offered by its original and sole owner, this watch featured the emblem of Saudi Arabia, engraved by Garrard, in commemoration of the vendor’s time working on an oil rig there, taking inspiration from the Saudi Arabian one Riyal note.

Penny Andrews, head of Bonhams Knightsbridge Watches, said: “We are thrilled with the sale, achieving a hat trick of our highest hammer, highest number of registrants and our highest value for a single lot at Knightsbridge. This is a fantastic start to the year!”

The next sale for Bonhams Knightsbridge Watches will take place on 17 May, for which the department is currently inviting consignments. Contact watches@bonhams.com.


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  1. The 5513/5517 is a little strange, because in late 2018 I don’t believe that it had ANY bezel at all. Has it been replaced by Rolex’s Heritage Service department – and if so, how does one classify and describe such a bezel correctly?


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