DIVING WATCH STORIES
A precautionary tale
I’m not sure if this is of interest to your website readers but if any of them own an original 5517 Rolex Clearance Diver Issue watch they should proceed with extreme caution when submitting such watches to Rolex for service or repair because, in my experience, to trust Rolex with such a watch is to give them a $90K timepiece and be returned a $5K replacement watch.
Like many of us I had elected to pay for my watch upon leaving the service. Several years later I left my watch with my daughter when I was in Pakistan. Just before my return the watch was taken into a Rolex dealer in the US for servicing. When the watch was returned from Rolex the ONLY original part was the back (rear plate) of the watch! Initially I thought little of it, but during a trip to London it was pointed out to me that the switch was devastating to the value of the watch and, because all but the back of the watch had been retained by Rolex, the original had probably been stolen for its value through substitution.
I initially pursued the Rolex dealership believing the Rolex brand itself to be above such activity, but the dealership denied all knowledge. Rolex USA would not release any information whatsoever unless police report was filed, Rolex London said that the original number of the watch could not be traced from the back of the watch. The trail went cold.
Last year I then met with an old CD friend who has become an authority on the Rolex 5517. He explained that if the watch was manufactured before a particular year that the original watch could indeed be identified from an engraving on the inside of the back of the watch. I went to David Duggan, the leading Rolex authority in London, who identified the original watch as 3764806. I then went to Rolex London to see if the original watch had surfaced in the market since its disappearance. They subsequently asked for the replacement watch to be sent to their theft department in Kent.
Rolex UK confirmed that the original watch had been submitted by Rolex USA for overhaul to Rolex Geneva where it had apparently been judged by a technician to be unserviceable and he had allegedly destroyed ALL components of the original watch except the back and replaced them with replacement parts! I was aghast firstly that Rolex would admit/claim the watch had been destroyed and secondly that every single component (except the back) had been retained by the technician/Rolex. I wrote to Rolex saying that it was inconceivable that the entire watch was unserviceable (bezel, face, hands, case) as the watch was in working order when it was submitted, (it just ran slow).
Rolex London then denied all responsibility, Rolex USA still would not give any information unless a theft report was filed (which I subsequently registered) and Rolex Geneva referred the case to Rolex USA because they were the handling company. In other words, in such cases, Rolex has created an almost impenetrable international legal, deniability structure, where one entity simply seems to hide behind the other.
Rolex USA, then wrote to me claiming that all work was authorised on the watch, and this included substitution if they saw fit. They provided a copy of an authorisation signed by a “Debbie Coles”, who is an individual I have never heard of let alone authorised to sign on my behalf.
In my extensive complaints to Rolex I explained what my Clearance Divers watch had meant to me and that it had been with me all of my 20 years service. I did not ask for monetary resolution and, assuming that the reality was my original watch had likely been passed on to a collector and was irrecoverable, I simply requested that one of their trainees be tasked to piece together a watch that was as close to the physical appearance of the original as they could manage and I would return the piecemeal replacement watch they had given me. I realised that an identical watch would not have the inherent value of the original but at least I would be able to view the watch in the design of the original model and the sentimental heirloom value would be restored. Rolex refused, using the “Debbie Coles” signature and the time that it has taken me to finally track what happened to my watch as an excuse to do nothing. I must admit I had genuinely thought the leadership of Rolex would do the honourable action once they had established that the watch had been claimed to have been destroyed (which of course in inconceivable), and that they would have recognised the personal and PR value to putting this travesty right for a veteran. Instead their leadership simply passed the buck, denied wherever possible and did absolutely nothing to right the wrong.
It seems, that unless Rolex can be embarrassed in to taking action then they will do nothing and that my watch or any remnant of its original appearance is lost to this corporate leviathan. My message to fellow veterans or serving members is that I would not want any of them to go through what I have in this regard. Not only has my watch been reduced to 10% of its original monetary value but the watch that had accompanied me to parts of the seabed, that it is likely no other human had touched, is lost to the very corporation that was trusted to service it.
My personal recommendation is that anyone submitting a watch to Rolex should read the small print very carefully and state in additional written instruction that the watch cannot be substituted. Your watch can otherwise be substituted and, in my experience, even with tenacious complaint, the damage that Rolex can do to the actual and sentimental value of your watch will not be be undone.
Howard Leedham MBE
Milsub give away
In 1980 I was serving on the Portsmouth bomb disposal team, one of my roles was team storeman, I had 4 milsubs ( Military issue Rolex submariners ) in one of the drawers for ages, I tried to get some of the other members of my team to wear them, no body was interested because they didnt look cool. You could buy a really cool looking Seiko back then for about £30. I eventually gave them back to the main store in Vernon. I know the whereabouts of just one of them.
For sale Comex Rolex
In 1993 I was a bit skint and tried to sell my Comex Rolex, i only wanted the £500 that I'd paid for it. Noone was really interested, my good friend Mike Young from www.solscreen.com turned it down after consulting main Rolex main agent in Portsmouth, they advised him not to touch it with a bargepole. I offered it to Gavin Morris he tried to chip me down on price, I thought £500 was a fair price, it ended up with Steve Gorton, he knew a good deal when he saw one and was happy to pay me £1000, so I had doubled my money. I now have Steve Gortons Rail dial sea dweller. Ive lost track of Steve , so if anyone knows where he is, tell him to get in touch.
£20 for a Milsub
Shorty Lougher recalls going to the diving stores to sign for his Military issue Rolex submariner. The Head of stores was ex Navy officer Wilbur Dodds, Wilbur gave most of the divers a hard time when drawing equipment, he gave us all the impression that it all belonged to him personally. He made shorty sign 3 times for the watch, once for the watch, once for the strap and once for the bezel and spring.
Shorty also recalls losing a Milsub when serving in Scotland. and had £20 taken from his wages, that was a serious ammount of beer money back
in the 70's
Milsub for a TV
This story was sent to me from Ernie who happened to come across this website.
I came across your diving watch web site a couple of evenings ago and
found it most interesting reading though I do not dive and to be honest
no intention to.
Though I did make me wonder would you be interested in a story to add
to your diving watch stories section.
For some back ground to it all I was working as a service engineer in
the 1970s, and was continually coming into contact with high density
magnetic fields which had a habit of stopping my run of the mill wrist
watches. After the tenth or eleventh watch took up residence in that
big watch graveyard in the sky I decided that I would have to buy a
watch that would cope with the day to day exposure so I purchased a
Rolex 5513 Sub Mariner which has worked without fault for the last
The story begins in the 1980s when I was then running my own business
selling Televisions and Audio equipment. One morning a customer came in
to the Television display area of the shop and started to ask the usual
questions about the sets on display then left. Just before closing time
he came back to see if I would be willing to trade his Rolex Sub
Mariner for a Television. He had spotted I was wearing a submariner
earlier that day and thought I was a Diver and would able to sell his
watch to another club member may be?
He began to tell me that he had been a Navy Diver but his new wife
could not cope with living in married quarters and being so far away
from home and family, so he had bought himself out of the Navy and was
very short of ready money, in some strange way I believed him, he just
looked and sounded right!
I did say I was not in the business of swapping one expensive item for
another and was about to say no to his offer but was stopped by the
sheer look of desperation in his eyes. I continued if he left the watch
with me I would take it to the Rolex agent first thing in the morning
to see what they thought of it. To my utter astonishment he said yes
and left the shop without a receipt for the watch. The Rolex agent was
very negative about the watch saying it could not be fitted with a
steel bracelet because of its fixed bars. The hands where of the rather
ugly sword type rather than the smarter Mercedes pattern though he
could replace them at a price. All in all if it where up to him he
would not bother with the watch at all but as far as I was concerned
there was just enough value in it to make it worth the exchange.
He arrived at lunch time I told him that he could choose any of the
televisions on display. Before he left he asked would it be at all
possible for him to keep the nylon strap because the watch did hold a
lot of memories for him.
After he left I put the watch minus the strap in a workshop draw
thinking he would return to purchase the watch back some time in the
not so distant future. The watch remained in that draw for ten years
and then in another draw for nearly twenty more at home. He never
returned! So this Navy Diver name and whereabouts unknown traded his
Rolex milsub for a Television Set. Though I still cant help thinking
does he have any idea of what that watch is now worth today? The
circumstances of how I came to own the watch seems a little sad now
looking back though I do consider my self very lucky to have been in
the right place at the right time. I have attached a photograph of both
watches the milsubs strap was new just for the photograph and the
watches first outing in nearly thirty years.