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Rolex Deep Sea Special No.1 heads to auction

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Not one, but two Rolex Deep Sea Special watches are hitting the market at the Geneva auctions of Christie’s and Phillips this season.

The very first Deep Sea Special prototypes were created in the early 1950s to test how deep a dive watch could go.

Christie’s hopes it has the ultimate grail edition of Rolex Deep Sea Special, watch No.1, which was attached to the hull of Auguste Piccard’s bathyscaphe Trieste for the inaugural deep-sea trial to a depth of 3,150 meters in the Mediterranean on 30 September 1953.

The watch then served as the proving ground for the Rolex Deep Sea Special N°3 that would reach 10,908 meters in the Mariana Trench with the Trieste on 23 January 1960 and is today on display at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC.

Christie’s has not disclosed a pre-sale estimate for the watch, with a spokesperson merely saying “It’s going to be crazy!” when WATCHPRO asked for a price.

Phillips has a marginally more common example that was produced after 1960 in honor of the Rolex Deep Sea Special N°3 in a limited quantity reserved for distinguished science, technology and watch museums, along with the most trusted, longstanding retailers and high profile partners and executives who contributed to the development of the model.

Phillips is offering this Deep Sea Special No.3 at its Geneva Watch XIV auction this fall.

The watch with Phillips, number 35 in the series, has a pre-sale estimate of CHF 1,200,000 to CHF 2,400,000.

Rolex Deep Sea Special No.1

If that is the price for a tribute to No.3, the mind boggles at what the original No.1 Deep Sea Special will sell for.

Deep Sea Special Number 1.

“For a holy grail watch such as this prototype Deep Sea Special Number 1 to become available is a dream come true in so many ways and for so many watch lovers, Rolex fans and connoisseurs around the world. This watch is the ultimate incarnation of the Oyster case design which from then on defined the Rolex watches and the brand,” says Rémi Guillemin, Head of Watches, Christie’s Geneva.

Deep Sea Special Number 1

The Christie’s Rare Watches Auction takes place on November 8 November at the Hotel Four Seasons Les Bergues in Geneva.

History of the Rolex Deep Sea Special

Conquering the world’s ocean depths became an obsession in the post-war era.

Having made it to the  highest peak when Sir Edmund Hillary stood atop Mount Everest for the first time in 1953, adventurers and equipment makers turned their attention to the deepest seas.

Auguste Piccard with Trieste.

At the time, Swiss physicist-inventor-explorer Auguste Piccard, already famous for his balloon flights in the stratosphere, was already deep in thought and action in that direction, too.

Using the physical principles of his stratospheric balloon, particularly with regard to pressurization, Auguste and his son Jacques developed a submarine for an unprecedented gambit: a ‘reverse Everest’ to reach the deepest trough at the bottom of the ocean.

The whole world watched when the strange-looking bathyscaphe Trieste – from the Greek for ‘deep’ (bathos) and ‘ship’ (scaphos), and the Italian for the shipbuilding city and economic region by the Adriatic Sea which provided the financing – was launched in 1953 on the 16th of August with a Rolex Deep Sea Special along for the journey into the depths.

Horologists believe that seven prototype Deep Sea Special watches were built by Rolex between 1953 and 1960, but only three have so far been identified: the Deep Sea Special N°1 with a ‘low glass’ (made from Plexiglas) that accompanied Trieste on its first deep-sea trial down to 3,150 meters (10,245 feet) off the island of Ponza in 1953; the Deep Sea Special N°3 with a ‘high glass’ (a taller and thicker crystal, also of Plexiglas, one of the invaluable learnings from N°1) that made the trip down to the bottom of the Mariana Trench (10,916 meters, 35,814 feet) in 1960 and is today out of reach but on display, together with the Trieste, at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington DC; and Deep Sea Special N°5, also a ‘high glass’ version, which presumably served as a proving ground for further extreme testing in the period leading up to 1960, and was offered at auction by Christie’s in 2000.

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