Rolex Deep Sea Special – Seriously?

Rolex Deep Sea Special close up face

“The Rolex Deep Sea Special will be auctioned in Geneva on 5 and 7 of November during the Geneva Watch Auction XIV and is presented in a two-tone steel and gold case and bracelet combination in ‘museum quality’ condition,” monochromewatches.com reports. “It is estimated at CHF 1,200,000 – CHF 2,400,000, but it might well hammer for way more.” WTF? . . .

bubble side

This is not the white dial Rolex Deep Sea Special Number 3 that accompanied the Trieste bathyscaphe into the Marina Trench, the deepest known point on Earth, in 1960. It is not the watch that survived to 10,916 meters below the Atlantic Ocean. It’s Number 31 of 35 fully functional Rolex Deep Specials produced.

How in the world is a watch that didn’t dive the Trench worth $2.6m? OK, sure, Rolex Deep Sea Special number three is in the Smithsonian, the model was never sold to the general public, only five examples have hit the open market thus far, and the case is steel and gold. But what possible use is this thing?

Rolex on wrist

It’s not like you can actually wear a Rolex Deep Sea Special. Well not without eliciting plenty of guffaws.

Let’s face it: the Rolex Deep Sea Special is ugly AF. Thicker than War and Peace (thirty-three times thicker than the glass used for a Rolex Submersible of the same period). The RDSS has more in common with a snow globe than a Rolex Submersible.

Unlike an OMEGA Moonwatch, the RDSS served no actual non-PR purpose during the expedition. The custom Rolex was strapped to the outside of the bathyscaphe. (One wonders which watches pilots Jacques Piccard and Don Walsh wore inside the submersible.) And the technology used didn’t lead to any breakthrough in Rolexian water resistance.

Paul Newman Rolex

The only possible reason to own the RDSS: pride of ownership. You know, status: “That’s the guy who paid $2.6m for a Rolex Deep Sea Special!” “Yes the foie gras was fabulous. Would you like to see my watch collection?” Yes, but –

The RDSS is hardly the “ultimate” (i.e. most expensive) collectible Rolex. That honor currently belongs to Paul Newman’s ‘Exotic’ Rolex Daytona 6329, hammered for $17.8m (including fees) at Phillips’ New York gallery in 2017 (above). Which the owner could, theoretically, wear.

Rolex Deep Sea Special bubble

The fawning horological press is short on details about the Rolex Deep Sea Special’s exact specs. Maybe that’s because it was powered by a standard Rolex movement. chisties.com described an example of the watch auctioned in 2009 this way:

RARE AND IMPORTANT STAINLESS STEEL AUTOMATIC CENTRE SECONDS DIVERS WRISTWATCH CAPABLE OF WITHSTANDING PRESSURES OF A TON PER SQUARE CENTIMETER AND WATER RESISTANT UP TO 32,789 FEET/10908 METERS MOVEMENT 41934, CASE 13, CIRCA 1960

Mechanical movement, 25 jewels, black gloss dial, luminous baton, circular and triangular numerals, luminous pencil hands, centre seconds, large two-part case with domed crystal, large screw down crown, hooded lugs, thick screwed case back inscribed 35789 FEET, 31, ROLEX, 23.1.60, 10908 METERS, stainless steel Rolex Oyster bracelet, case, dial and movement signed
Dimensions: 42 x 62 mm.

Rolex Deep Sea Special front

Rolex Deep Sea Special number 31 sold for. . . . wait for it . . . $154k. That’s $190k in today’s money. In case you missed it this is the same watch that’s for sale in November! Much to the seller’s delight, the Rolex craze is now so crazy that the RDSS has appreciated somewhere around (or above) 10X.

[Note: Rolex made an indeterminate number of non-functional RDSS display models, even after Number 3 returned from the briny. Could fakes be afoot?]

As we’ve said many times before, something is worth exactly what someone will pay for it. Period. I wouldn’t pay a plug nickel for this thing, but if a bored billionaire wants to pop it on his watch winder, god bless capitalism. So let’s turn our attention to the aforementioned Rolex craze . . .

Rolex scarcity - empty case 1

Is this five year Rolex boom a bubble? watchpro.com asks. (Bubble. $2.6m RDSS. Heh.) “It is not a bubble, but a structural result of relentless demand for a scarce commodity,” Rob Corder insists. And he’s not wrong. Corder cites Rolex’s unwillingness to increase supply and the rising number of wealthy global citizens seeking Rolexian status. Moreover, he doesn’t see smartwatches as a threat.

Apple earns more from watches than the entire Swiss watch industry, but the Swiss have survived and thrived. Demand is rising at more and more brands. Cartier, Omega and Breitling, for example, are all getting stronger.

Watchmakers China syndrome - president XI

What Corder misses: the possibility that the Chinese market – which accounts for roughly half of all Swiss watch sales – will crater if Chinese commies put the kibosh on wealth and, thus, conspicuous displays of wealth. Which they’re busy doing, under the guise of “common prosperity.” If it gets Party real, yes, the Rolex bubble will burst.

That doesn’t mean Rolex sales and prices will sink like a stone or, for that matter, a bathyscaphe heading for the ocean floor. There’s plenty of demand to soak up supply. But anyone who pays significantly over the odds for a Rolex – any Rolex – may face a financial comeuppance. Should that even matter.

12 comments

  1. That is one weird looking watch. The marketing department at Philippe Patek must have burst out into laughter when Rolex unveiled that watch.

  2. Wait, there was never a time when some guy in a Jules Verne diving suit had this, or one like it, strapped to his wrist? This is truly a masturbatory achievement. There is a fair number of wacky luxury art watches with outlandish dimensions and proportions such that this doesn’t seem as absurd as it should.

  3. A likely reason this watch and very probably other RDSSs will be auctioned is the Omega Planet Ocean Ultra Deep. It seems to have irked Rolex that Omega stole the “deepest” record. As the only way Rolex stays relevant these days is by prices paid for them it could be an attempt by Rolex to “give the bird” to Omega along the lines of Omega have the deepest diving watch ever but Rolex has the most expensive.

  4. Shortly after his Rolex Deep Sea acquisition, the new owner was heard to say, “It wears smaller than it is.”

  5. Whenever a watch is described as “important”, I tune out.
    Not because it’s a cliche, but because it’s a watch. “Serious” collectors have a way of sucking the fun out of things.

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