Rare Comex Sea Dweller Makes a Splash at Bonhams Fine Watches Sale

A fine and rare Rolex Sea Dweller, produced exclusively for the world-famous French engineering and deep-sea diving company COMEX, will be one of a selection of divers watches and other tool watches offered at the Bonhams Fine Watches and Wristwatches Sale in New Bond Street, London on 9 December.

The circa 1979 stainless steel automatic calendar bracelet watch, Ref: 1665, one of only 300 produced, is offered by the family of its late owner, a former Royal Navy diver and instructor who was acquainted with Jacques Cousteau, the French naval officer and Scuba diving pioneer. It has an estimate of £30,000 – 40,000.

The deep-sea diver joined the Royal Navy at the age of 16, becoming a diver in 1955, as part of the bomb and mine disposal unit and was attached to the elite SBS unit (Special Boat Service), the Naval equivalent to the SAS, which last month made the headlines for storming a ship off the coast of the Isle of Wight.

Prototype COMEX Diving helmet, offered separately for private sale

After 25 years of service, he moved to the COMEX (Compagnie Maritime d'Expertise) operation in Aberdeen as head of training, instructing trainee divers on how to survive saturation diving in the North Sea's extremely hazardous environment. As a COMEX specialist diver, he was given the special-issue Rolex, marked with COMEX on the dial and numbered on the case back '2186' No.619****.

Rolex was commissioned by COMEX in 1971 to create watches that could withstand extreme conditions, including pressurised chambers, and survive decompression periods.

The result was the Sea Dweller, a superlative chronometer with capability to depths of 600 metres. Issued solely to COMEX employees - although a public version has since been produced - each watch is engraved with the serial number and COMEX's own issue number.

Jonathan Darracott, Bonhams Global Head of Watches, said: "This is a fine example of one of the most sought-after 'tool' watches, which were actually put to work by their owners, providing valuable support in vocations when there was not the technology available today."

The watch is accompanied by its box and the diver's COMEX kit, including diver's knife with brass scabbard. Also offered as a private sale is an impressive Prototype COMEX Diving helmet.

Circa 1956 Rolex Submariner 6538, estimate £50,000 – 90,000

Other examples of Rolex divers' watches offered in the Fine Watches Sale, the finale to Bonhams global watch auctions in 2020, include a circa 1956 Submariner 6538, the best known of the series, not only for its defining features of an oversize (8mm) crown, lack of protective crown guards and gilt dial and hands, but also as the adopted watch of the cinematic James Bond, as played by the late Sean Connery. Estimate £50,000 – 90,000.

Patek Philippe Ref: 1463, Manufactured in 1943, estimate £70,000 – 90,000

However, Rolex does not have the monopoly on underwater timepieces in the sale which also presents the first water-resistant chronograph by Patek Philippe. The 1943 example of the 1463, one of the most sought-after vintage references, is a fine and rare 18k gold manual wind chronograph wristwatch with a distinctive water-resistant case by Taubert & Fils, featuring a hexagonal raised section to aid firm closing of the two-piece case. Estimate £70,000 - 90,000.

circa 1955 Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Rotomatic, estimate £10,000 – 15,000

A military-inspired divers watch from an earlier era will also be on parade at the sale, a circa 1955 Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Rotomatic. The stainless-steel manual wind bracelet watch was originally a special commission for particular use as a military diver's watch. Its name refers to its capability at the depth of fifty fathoms (91.44 metres) which as the time was a great challenge. Estimate £10,000 – 15,000.

Of course, tool watches are not just the preserve of divers but have provided support to aviators and racing drivers, offering functions such as a stopwatch or the provision of multiple time zones.

Among the most celebrated chronographs or stopwatches are Rolex Cosmograph Daytonas. The most coveted variants are the 6265 and 6263 references produced from 1970 to 1987, also known as 'Paul Newman' after the Hollywood actor who wore a 6239 as a fictional racing driver in the film Winning and later competing in real-life motor races, such as the Le Mans 24 Hours.

Rolex Cosmograph Daytona 'Paul Newman', Ref: 6262/6265, Circa 1972, estimate £150,000 – 200,000

A quartet of these are offered, including the top lot, a circa 1972 stainless steel example, ref 6262/6265, estimate £150,000 – 200,000 and a circa 1969 ref 6239 with a black alligator strap, estimate £100,000 – 150,000.

One watch that was arguably put to the greatest test was the 'Moon Watch', the Omega Speedmaster Professional Ref: 145.022-69, which was NASA-certified following rigorous testing to accompany the Apollo 11 astronauts and was worn by both Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on their historic and successful moonwalk on 21 July 1969.

Omega Speedmaster Professional Ref: 145.022-69 Limited Edition No.832, Circa 1969, estimate £40,000 – 60,000

Subsequently known as the 'Moon watch', a limited run of 1,014 timepieces were produced. The first two were offered to President Nixon and Vice President Agnew, (then housed in the Omega Museum when politely declined); numbers 3 to 32 and 1,000 – 1,014 were gifted to astronauts and NASA-affiliates, with the remainder offered for sale to the public.

Limited edition number No.832 of the run produced to commemorate that 'giant leap for mankind', a rare limited edition 18k gold manual wind chronograph bracelet watch, is offered with an estimate of £40,000 – 60,000.

The Fine Watches Sale will offer a total of 75 watches representing the most exclusive names in horology. Further Highlights include:

2013 Hublot 'Big Bang' Reference: 301.W, estimate £25,000 – 35,000

2013 Hublot 'Big Bang' Reference: 301.W. An 18k rose gold, titanium, tantal and diamond set automatic calendar chronograph wristwatch, estimate £25,000 – 35,000. The Big Bang is the flagship model of the modern Swiss watchmaker, first unveiled in 2005 to much acclaim.

2001 F. P. Journe Octa Réserve de Marche, No. 072-01A, estimate £18,000 – 20,000

2001 F. P. Journe Octa Réserve de Marche, No. 072-01A. A very fine limited edition 18k rose gold automatic calendar wristwatch with 120 hours power reserve capability and day/night indication. The Octa Réserve de Marche is the premier model in the series, which was only offered to favoured clientele of this exclusive Swiss watchmaker. Estimate £18,000 – 20,000.

The Bonhams Fine Watches Sale
Subject to local COVID-19 restrictions, the 9 December sale will be a traditional live auction with an auctioneer at the rostrum and a limited number of clients permitted in the saleroom in New Bond Street, respecting all social distancing guidelines. The sale will be broadcast worldwide via Bonhams.com, accepting remote online, telephone and absentee bids.

Pre-sale viewings will be by appointment only between 6 and 9 December:

Sunday 6 December 11.00 – 15.00 GMT
Monday 7 December 09.00 – 16.30 GMT
Tuesday 8 December 09.00 – 16.30 GMT
Wednesday 9 December 09.00 – 12.00 GMT

Contact [email protected] to register.


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