Reference 5514 is one of the most intensely desired Submariner references, and for good reason. Realized in a small number of pieces (probably a few hundreds) it is one of the “custom references”: references denoting a watch made for a specific customer, such as reference 5517, made for the British army. Launched in 1972, reference 5514 was instead made for Comex, and marks the beginning of the Sea-dweller legend. This is the very first reference denoting a watch with helium escape valve (HEV) in the band, after the proof of concept of some modified references 5513 made between 1970 and 1972.
The defining characteristic of this reference, beyond the HEV, is the case back engraved Rolex Comex, and with the watch issue number. In addition, most of the dials of reference 5514, with some early exceptions, are signed Comex. It is widely believed that this reference was never available to the public, but only distributed through Comex to their employees.
The present piece, however, does not present neither the engraved case back, nor the Comex signed dial: at first glance it would seem as if the original dial and case back were exchanged, but nothing could be further from the truth. In depth research indicates that an extremely limited number of watches were actually publicly sold by Rolex. These would appear to be part of extremely small batches, with the (so far) ascertained case numbers:
5’228’xxx – 1 watch so far identified
5’230’xxx – 1 watch so far identified
5’293’xxx – 6 watches so far identified, including the present one
5’336’xxx – 4 watches so far identified
These few examples can be considered the proverbial exception that proves the rule regarding 5514 only issued to Comex. Their rarity, importance for the evolution of the Submariner/Seadweller model, and truly “exceptional” classification qualify such pieces as among the most interesting and collectible Submariner watches ever produced.