A very exciting and important discovery, fresh to the market, this prototype watch, one of only three known examples, is a solid 18K white gold version of the Submariner reference 1680. Furthermore, it has been in the hands of the same private collector for over 30 years.
Including the present watch, only three examples of these extraordinary prototypes are known to exist, one other with blue dial and one with black dial. They represent the only surviving record of a never-realized early 1970s design for a white gold Submariner.
The watch’s striking and dramatic good looks further enhance this remarkable piece of Rolex history.
The Submariner reference 1680 was launched in the late 1960s, it was the first Submariner model to have a version cased in precious metal and the first to have a date function. However, the model was only ever made in either stainless steel or yellow gold, no examples are known in white gold except the three prototype watches. In fact the Submariner was not officially produced in white gold until the launch of the reference 116619 in 2014.
As a prototype, the present watch is not engraved with a serial number between the lugs at 6 o’clock, only the reference number between the lugs at 12 o’clock. It is therefore impossible to date precisely, however, several details in the construction and design would point to a date of somewhere around 1973.
The rich blue Submariner dial is the so-called “nipple” dial due to the shape of the circular luminous indexes. It is a “feet first” designated dial introduced after about 1971, the earlier type was designated “meters first”.
The case, in common with most gold reference 1680 Submariners of the period was made by Genex S.A., who specialized in making Oyster cases, most famously for the reference 6062, their maker’s mark of a number 12 in a key is engraved on the inside of the caseback.
Apart from the white gold Oyster case itself, what makes this watch particularly striking is the style of the bezel. Bidirectional rotating, it is milled or serrated only in two areas of the edge, the insert itself, cast and finely machined, is very reminiscent of the “thunderbird” bezels of the 1950s.
The watch is fitted to a white gold President bracelet with concealed deployant clasp, the endlinks numbered 54, dating from about 1973 it is a classic 1970s bracelet with central bark-effect links.
Although this incredibly eye-catching watch is designated as reference 1680, it is obvious that had a white gold model been developed from the prototype its appearance would have been markedly different to the reference 1680 as we know it.
It can only be speculated as to why the model never went into production, perhaps rising costs and an uncertain market during the economic turbulence and oil crisis of the early 1970s made Rolex exercise caution and as time passed the moment had gone.
The present watch gives collectors the opportunity to obtain a quite extraordinary and important part of the Rolex story.