Bonhams Rolex Centenary Sale

Rolex 1908 – 2008

To celebrate the one hundredth anniversary of the founding of Rolex, Bonhams has dedicated a section of its Fine Watches sale to the world famous watchmakers. Over 70 Rolex watches will go under the hammer on 11 June 2008, all of which demonstrate the superb craftsmanship and innovative style that has made the company one of the most recognisable brands in existence today. Throughout its long history Rolex has been linked with many of the world’s most exceptional individuals including explorers, sports figures and artists. The watches in Bonhams sale reveal some of the personal stories attached to these remarkable timepieces as well as upholding Rolex’s long tradition for luxury and excellence.


Two particularly fine sports models with remarkable histories are included in the sale. The first is the Submariner Ref: 5513 stainless steel automatic estimated to fetch £30,000-50,000. This model was issued to divers in the Royal British Navy and this particular timepiece has seen thirty years of active service. The vendor started diving for the Royal Navy in 1968 and has dived off such ships as the H.M.S Zulu, H.M.S Tiger, H.M.S Excellent and the H.M.S Cardiff during the Falklands War. The divers logbook charts the long journey from Gibraltar to the Falklands, with stops and dives at the Ascension Islands. One entry dated 18 May 1982 reads: ” Ascension Island Ship at Anchor, Hull check and attempt to plug split fuel tank, dangerous conditions 20 knot winds, swell causing ship to move up and down, fast exit on the second dive due to sharks”.

The log book also records H.M.S Cardiff’s arrival in the Falklands at Port Stanley Harbour in June 1982, it reads: “Port Stanley Harbour-Falkland Islands, Hull inspection of Captured Argentinian Patrol Craft- H.M.S Tiger Bay”.

The British Royal Navy ordered a series of Rolex watches for use by their specialist divers. These watches have fixed bar lungs and the hands are of sword shape so they are more legible under low light conditions, the dials are also marked with the “Circle T” which is the international symbol for Tritium. The watch to be offered by Bonhams comes with Royal Navy Divers logbooks and photographic records relating to military exercises in the Falklands War.

Also offered is a Sea-Dweller, Comex 2111, a stainless steel automatic centre seconds divers watch made for Comex, estimated at £40,000-60,000. The Sea-Dweller and the Submariner models were all used by the French diving company Comex and were issued to their specialist divers. The vendor of this particular watch started diving in the 1960s and became the project manager for Comex. The watch comes with his personal divers log books as well as a telex from the President of Comex, Henri Delauze, on the vendor’s retirement: “Your career is the best example of what can be achieved with drive, intelligence and dedication and I like to remember that the young diver who started in Great Yarmouth ultimately became the founder of our underwater inspection expertise”.

Another historically important watch is an extremely rare Rolex known as the “Kampfschwimmer” which was used by German military divers during the Second World War. It is not known how many of the watches were delivered to the German Navy, however, this particular model dating to 1940, was discovered by the vendor’s father at the site of a German plane crash in Libya in World War II. It is expected to fetch £18,000-22,000.

One of the highlights of the sale is the Rolex Antimagnetic chronograph Ref: 6036 with triple date. There are very few examples of this watch and as such it is bound to attract much interest from bidders. The exceptional condition of the timepiece, which is estimated to fetch £50,000-70,000, combined with the Guarantee papers, box and polishing cloth make this one of the finest examples of this model to come to auction for a long time.

There is also a particularly elegant lady’s watch included in the sale. The watch is extremely rare as it was specially ordered by the vendor from Rolex. The vendor saw this model when it was showcased by Rolex at an exhibition and fell in love with it. Her husband wanted to buy it for her 50th birthday but unfortunately the watch had already been reserved for the famous Formula 1 driver Sir Jacky Stewart for his wife Helen. Rolex pledged however, to reserve this particular watch for the vendor the next year. Estimated at £10,000-15,000, the octagonal case is set with 20 brilliant cut diamonds, with the fitted bracelet set with octagonal shaped diamonds.

In addition Bonhams is to offer a rare, limited edition book featuring the private watch collection of Hans Wilsdorf. Estimated at £600-800, the book contains a personally inscribed dedication from Hans Wilsdorf; “To Mr Herbert V Janson “En Souvenier” of your visit to Geneva which will, I trust, be the forerunner of many others to follow. Geneva 2 May 1946. Hans Wilsdorf”

Exactly one hundred years ago, the company formally named, “Wilsdorf and Davis” was renamed and registered in Switzerland as Rolex. The German watchmaker Hans Wilsdorf had previously set up business in London with his brother-in-law, Alfred James Davis, specialising in importing Swiss movement dials. Despite their initial success increasing tensions with Germany in the build up to the First World War led the pair to change the name to Rolex. The origin of their trademark name is unclear, one belief is that Wilsdorf decided that “rolex” was the sound a watch made whilst being wound, whilst others claim that it is an amalgamation of the brands Rolls Royce and Timex.

The company is responsible for many of the major innovations in the history of watchmaking including, the first waterproof watch case, the first wristwatch to display the date on the dial and the first wristwatch to show two time zones. In 1927, Mercedes Gleitze became the first British woman to swim the English Channel wearing a Rolex. The introduction of the world’s first Automatic Rotary Winding Mechanism named “Oyster Perpetual” arrived in 1931. Soon after, in 1935, Sir Malcolm Campbell set a world speed record wearing a “Rolex Oyster Perpetual”. In 1953, when Sir Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing climbed Mount Everest, both wore Rolex watches.

Upon the death of Hans Wilsdorf’s wife in 1944, he established the Hans Wisdorf Foundation in which he left all of his shares in Rolex, making sure that an amount of the company’s income would go to charity. The company remains a foundation to this day.

Bonhams Fine Watches and Wristwatches Sale will be held on 11 June 2008 at 101 New Bond Street, London.