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ROLEX. AN EXCEPTIONALLY HISTORICALLY IMPORTANT STAINLESS STEEL AUTOMATIC EXPERIMENTAL WRISTWATCH WITH SWEEP CENTRE SECONDS ESPECIALLY CONSTRUCTED FOR DEPTH PRESSURE TESTING PURPOSES, WITH A STAINLESS STEEL AND GOLD ROLEX BRACELET
ROLEX. AN EXCEPTIONALLY HISTORICALLY IMPORTANT STAINLESS STEEL AUTOMATIC EXPERIMENTAL WRISTWATCH WITH SWEEP CENTRE SECONDS ESPECIALLY CONSTRUCTED FOR DEPTH PRESSURE TESTING PURPOSES, WITH A STAINLESS STEEL AND GOLD ROLEX BRACELET
ROLEX. AN EXCEPTIONALLY HISTORICALLY IMPORTANT STAINLESS STEEL AUTOMATIC EXPERIMENTAL WRISTWATCH WITH SWEEP CENTRE SECONDS ESPECIALLY CONSTRUCTED FOR DEPTH PRESSURE TESTING PURPOSES, WITH A STAINLESS STEEL AND GOLD ROLEX BRACELET
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ROLEX. AN EXCEPTIONALLY HISTORICALLY IMPORTANT STAINLESS STEEL AUTOMATIC EXPERIMENTAL WRISTWATCH WITH SWEEP CENTRE SECONDS ESPECIALLY CONSTRUCTED FOR DEPTH PRESSURE TESTING PURPOSES, WITH A STAINLESS STEEL AND GOLD ROLEX BRACELET
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This lot is subject to standard Swiss VAT rules an… Read more ROLEXTHE EXPERIMENTAL DEEP SEA SPECIAL N°1
ROLEX. AN EXCEPTIONALLY HISTORICALLY IMPORTANT STAINLESS STEEL AUTOMATIC EXPERIMENTAL WRISTWATCH WITH SWEEP CENTRE SECONDS ESPECIALLY CONSTRUCTED FOR DEPTH PRESSURE TESTING PURPOSES, WITH A STAINLESS STEEL AND GOLD ROLEX BRACELET

SIGNED ROLEX, DEEP SEA SPECIAL NO. 1, MOVEMENT NO. 419251, CIRCA 1953

Details
ROLEX. AN EXCEPTIONALLY HISTORICALLY IMPORTANT STAINLESS STEEL AUTOMATIC EXPERIMENTAL WRISTWATCH WITH SWEEP CENTRE SECONDS ESPECIALLY CONSTRUCTED FOR DEPTH PRESSURE TESTING PURPOSES, WITH A STAINLESS STEEL AND GOLD ROLEX BRACELET
SIGNED ROLEX, DEEP SEA SPECIAL NO. 1, MOVEMENT NO. 419251, CIRCA 1953
Movement: Cal. 1000, automatic
Dial: Black with luminous dot
Case: Massive stainless steel case with deep domed crystal, special screw down winding crown, heavy gauge screw back engraved ‘Rolex Oyster Deep Sea Special No. 1’, 43 mm. diam.
With: Stainless steel and gold sprung and riveted Rolex Oyster bracelet with deployant clasp dated 4/53, the large gilt metal terminals secured by steel pins, Study by Eric Tortella, 2021
Remark: No.1 of 7 experimetal pieces

Provenance
Understood to be the watch fixed to the outside of professor Jacques Piccard’s
bathyscaphe ‘Trieste’ in September - October 1953

Perhaps the same watch which reached a depth of 3,700 meters during a further dive of the ‘Trieste’ in 1956

According to a previous owner, this Deep Sea Special was given directly by Hans Wilsdorf to her husband

Thence by descent until sold: Christie’s Geneva, 14 November 2005, lot 346, ‘The Property of a Swiss Lady’

An important private collection
Special notice

This lot is subject to standard Swiss VAT rules and 7.7% VAT will be charged on the ‘hammer’ and the ‘buyer’s premium’
Sale room notice
Please note the following lots require a High Value Paddle for bidding; 33 and 88, Should you wish to bid on these lots please contact Client Services; infoswitzerland@christies.com

Brought to you by

Remi Guillemin
Remi Guillemin Head of Department, Geneva

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Lot Essay

Consigned by one of the most respected and important collectors of Rolex diver’s watches, it is with great excitement that Christie’s now presents the sensational Rolex Deep Sea Special N°. 1. A key building block in the history of the Rolex brand, it is hard to imagine a more enticing prospect for collectors.

To describe Rolex’s Deep Sea Special N°. 1 as historically highly important is perhaps an understatement. This single watch, especially constructed as an experimental piece for testing under the unimaginable external pressures of the deepest oceans, it is one of the most significant Rolex watches ever made, historic not only in the development of all Rolex’s tool watches from their very beginnings but also in the wider context of human exploration at its most extreme limits.

This extraordinary watch can be considered as the most important Rolex diver’s watch to remain in private hands and without doubt one of the most desirable Rolex watches in the world.


Deep Sea Special - 7 experimental pieces made between
1953 1960

Only seven experimental Deep Sea Special watches, of which the present watch is the very first, were constructed for pressure testing purposes between 1953 and 1960. These seven pieces were each individually numbered with a large engraved numeral between 1 and 7 on the back of the case are not to be confused with the ‘pastiche’ Deep Sea Special watches manufactured solely for exhibition and display purposes after 1960 which bear numbers from No. 9 upwards and depth inscriptions engraved on the back.
Since the early 1920s, Rolex had worked on the development of waterproof watches, the famous Oyster models. In order to put their watches on a trial to which no other watch had ever been, they contacted Professor Piccard to see if he would test Rolex watches during his diving experiments. On February 29, 1952, the Rolex company submitted their design for the first experimental Deep Sea Special to the Swiss oceanographer professor Jacques Piccard. Piccard accepted to take a Rolex watch on his dive expeditions and Rolex engineers then developed the watch fitted with a special case and a domed crystal in order to hold up to extreme pressure. Its resistance was successfully tested at the ETH in Zurich and on 30 September 1953, the Trieste and the watch fixed to its outside made their first dive to a record depth of 3150 meters. During this dive in the Tyrrhenian Sea off the island of Ponza, both Auguste and Jacques Piccard were on board of the bathyscape. On 8 October Rolex received Piccard’s memorable telegram confirming the success of the experiment with the words “Your watch perfectly resisted to 3150 meters”.

In fact two Deep Sea Special watches were made to take part in the first testing program, N°. 1 - the present watch, and watch N°. 2 (whereabouts unknown). A contemporary document of 1954 describes the two watches and the testing to which both these first Deep Sea Specials were subjected in unison. It was described thus: “Two special cases were made, turned by hand with meticulous care. Normal wristwatch movements were inserted and the glass prepared and fitted; the winding crown was cut to a new design and applied. Rolex technicians were loaned a high pressure chamber by a friendly manufacturer, and their handiwork was tested. After a short trial, both watches filled with water. New methods were tried and in a second trial the watches were subjected to a pressure of 400 atmospheres (6000 lb per square inch). After a few hours one watch filled with water. The other, although withstanding the pressure for a longer period, slowly caved in”. Another two abortive tests followed in which one watch was found to have distorted under the pressure. It emerged that the greatest problem to overcome was the strengthening and sealing of the watches’ glass. The crown and staff were also further adapted and finally success when in the final test the watches were found to be completely dry despite being subjected to a pressure of 600 atmospheres.

It has never been certain which of the two first Deep Sea Special watches, number 1 or number 2 was the watch that was attached to the ‘Trieste’ in 1953. The handover of the watch was recounted in 1954: “Shortly before the ‘Trieste’ was due to start diving operations, a member of the Rolex staff handed one of the two well-tried watches to Professor Piccard at Castellmare in Italy”. However, it is very likely that this was watch N°.1 because we know from the testing description that one of the watches was distorted during the earlier testing and therefore it would be unlikely that that watch would have been chosen for the crucial expedition dive.


The Deep Sea Special Watches

N° 1 – made for testing purposes in 1953 and understood to be the watch fixed to the ‘Trieste’ during September and October 1953 – the present watch

2 – made for testing purposes in 1953 – whereabouts unknown

3 – fixed to the ‘Trieste’ during the world-record dive to 3150 meters in the Marianas Trench in 1960 – Given by Rolex to the Smithsonian Institute, Washington D.C.

N° 4 – whereabouts unknown

5 – sold Christie’s London, 21 June 2000, lot 760 – private collection

N° 6 – whereabouts unknown

7 – whereabouts unknown


The Purpose of the Deep Sea Special
The present watch made a direct and incalculable contribution to the development and success of the Rolex Submariner model which officially debuted at Baselworld in 1954. Of course the Submariner was being developed at exactly the same time as the Deep Sea Special was being tested and this was the whole point of the Deep Sea Special. The success of the DSS during its epic voyages with Professor Piccard on the ‘Trieste’ and the huge attendant publicity, ensured that Rolex customers knew very well that the same standards of workmanship that had created a watch that had survived the most extreme pressures on earth were replicated in the Submariner. More publicity followed in 1960 when Deep Sea Special N° 3 survived a world-record dive on the outside of the ‘Trieste’ down to a depth of over 2 miles.
The Rolex Company had a significant role in the development of the waterproof wristwatch: indeed the name Rolex ‘Oyster’, often mentioned in advertising, showed that the company gave major importance to the water resistance of its watches. In the early 1950s, Rolex were in the final stages of developing a diving wristwatch. But how to demonstrate its waterproofness? First of all by running submerged watches. While descending into the sea, the watch is subjected to a pressure which becomes quickly significant; the pressure of a 10 m water column is equal to 1 atm, roughly 1 kg / cm2. The watch (Deep Sea Special N° 3) attached to the bathyscaphe was subjected to a pressure of 1150 atm in the Mariana Trench. This test was therefore very strict, perhaps “unnecessarily strict” because no human being could withstand such pressure. However, since the seal was created with the means used in the current manufacture of Rolex watches, the diving test was a confirmation of their effectiveness. By taking advantage of the bathyscaphe dives, the promoter of the waterproof watch wanted to confirm his faith in the tools of closure for waterproof watch cases, at the same time hoping to achieve an exceptional exploit. This gesture was for the glory of the Rolex factory but also it had scientific importance in demonstrating the possibility of sealing a watch that could withstand the severest of conditions.


Study of Rolex Deep Sea Special N° 1

THE DIAL
The dial was especially made for this watch and for the diving attempt, it is especially thick and all the materials used were laid out in a way to ease the time reading in any condition. The dial base (in a brass alloy) is thickly black painted with a graining to avoid any reflection and allow the best contrast with the markers and the hours/seconds scale. The surface is still original and does not display much aging, probably due to the quite “safe” case closing it perfectly from the water but also from any air contact. The gilt metal hands were especially made for this watch in such a way to allow a most of its central surface to be filled with the luminescent material, so were all hour markers geometrical shapes.

THE CASE
The case was made in two parts, in the most simple way, to avoid any unnecessary problems with waterproofing. A special steel alloy was tested at this occasion, so successfully that from that date on, any deep-sea would use this determinate steel. Today, all steel watches made by the company use a steel named ‘OysterSteel’, derived from the 904L and very close to that special alloy tested already in 1953. The main part of the case is just a massive piece of solid steel that was machined to obtain the outer shapes and ready to get the inside part of it prepared to hold the movement. On one side the oversized ‘bubble’ special glass, on the other side the thick screw down case-back made with the Oyster case know-how.
On the sides, is a one large hole in which the winding crown tube was welded, using a special alloy, made in such a way to prevent any water ingress under the highest pressures. There are also a small and simple pin holes for the bracelet, going through the lugs. Note the lack of rotating or any external bezel. The interior of the case-back does not show any inscriptions, the instructions given by Rolex were to keep all the parts of the watch (including the case-back) without any unnecessary machined action on the materials, to avoid any pressure collateral cracks or other negative effects. Only the case-back outside was marked, to avoid any weakness in the case resistance to the pressure, and this engraving was quite light, including the Rolex crown logo, and ‘ROLEX OYSTER No1 DeepSea SPECIAL’

THE MOVEMENT
The calibre 1030 (on a 1000 base) used on this watch, by its serial number (marked 4192951), was produced in 1952.
It was most probably modified and improved for the event, and the main bridge bears the rare ‘21 FINE RUBIES’ inscription, to which seven more should be added for the automatic module. It is marked ‘ROW’, the Rolex export identification on the movement requested by law, showing that this was intended to be exported (more specifically to the U.S.), and matches the export mark punched inside one of the case lugs. It is marked 1000 on the main bridge and 1030 on its base plate, under the balance wheel. The rotor is properly marked Oyster Perpetual and the movement main part is marked Officially Certified Chronometer.

THE OYSTER BRACELET
What was named by collectors the ‘Oyster links bracelet’ has been seen since the late 1930s, usually made by Gay Frères for Rolex. For the Deep Sea Special an early kind of Oyster bracelet is used, quite interesting because of its age, this is stamped 4/53 for the fourth quarter of 1953, the year that the first submariner came out. The two-tone choice for the bracelet metal, with gilt central links and lug hoods is probably for purely aesthetic reasons, to match the gilt inscriptions on the dial and the gilt ROLEX crown logo, but also because of the hoods special shape, probably easier to work on gold, as water resistant as steel at that point.

JACQUES PICCARD
Jacques Piccard (1922–2008) was a Swiss oceanographer and engineer, known for having developed underwater submarines for studying ocean currents. In the Challenger Deep, he and Lt. Don Walsh of the United States Navy were the first people to explore the deepest known part of the world’s ocean, and the deepest known location on the surface of Earth’s crust, the Mariana Trench, located in the western North Pacific Ocean.

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