The Rolex Deep Sea Special – First DSS Prototypes made between 1953 and the final Deepest Dive of Piccard and Walsh in 1960

We all know about the exceptional story of the extraordinair Rolex Deep Sea Special, Jacques Piccard &  Lt. Don Walsh, Trieste, Challenger Deep, Deepest Dive in 1960 and the latest James Cameron dive to deepest place on earth with a new Rolex DeepSea Challenger attached to his submariner. Today I want to explain the difference between the early, prototype Rolex DeepSea Special Geneva started to develop from 1953 and the later after 1960 by Rolex made a fully engraved Display Version of the DeepSea Special for marketing use by producing a much larger batch and sending it out to their worldwide offices to impress their clients. The till their first mayor test on November 30, 1953 a Rolex DSS was attached to the exterior of the Trieste depth craft submariner, which reached a world-record depth of 3150 meters which is 10.245 feet or 2 miles down. This was achieved off the coast of Ponza Island. After surfacing the watch was carefully inspected and was intact and functioning properly. Find below the official Rolex information from their experiences during testing..

In above text we read that Rolex testet ONLY 2 x Proto DSS of which one of the two got handed over to Jacques Piccard for his 1953 deep 3150 meter dive. But until now we known of 3 x original Prototype Rolex DeepSea Specials that are fully intact and survived the extreme tests by Rolex and made between 1953 and 1960 when Piccard & Walsh hit Challenger Deep. Comparing the movement numbers of the exclusive caliber 1000 of both auctioned DSS by Christie’s we see they a gap of 92 numbers between No 1 & No 5. Rumor says Rolex had developed 7 examples of the Proto DSS in total. The question is how many remained in working condition & does Rolex Geneva have one of these?? Here are the 3 known pure DSS’s.

1 – The white dialed DSS ( from Smithsonian Museum, Washington DC ) given directly by Rolex Geneva.

2  The black dialed DSS with number 01 engraved, caliber 1000 – mov. no. 419.251 sold by Christie’s in 2005 for CHF 322,400,-

3 The black dialed DSS with number 05 engraved, caliber 1000 -mov. no. 419.343 sold by Christie’s in 2000 for $ 113,853

No 1: The Smithsonian Rolex DeepSeaSpecial with unique white dial… Note the different Crown Design then we see with the DSS No 1 as this White DSS doesn’t have the extra bigger ring between crown and case, which could point out that it’s made before Rolex found all the leaks during testing and adjusted the crown design to withstand the enormous pressure. Also not the different Rolex crown design printed on it’s dial, the fingers of the crown are thinner, the mouth is more open, it’s less perfect then we see with the DSS No 1.

Strangely we see the crown design being adjusted to the final design in following picture of Smithsonian Museum, apparently Rolex changed it AFTER they found out where the leaks where to get the perfect construction.

For comparison, the unique White Submariner ref 6205 from mid 1953 / early 1954 of my great friend Eric Ku ..

And a rare version in white of the a early  Rolex Explorer..

No 2: The black dialed DSS with number 01 engraved on it’s case back. NOTE: the extra bigger size ring between the crown and it’s case, the final construction. The deployant clasp is dated 4/53. Originally given by Hans Wilsdorf and finally sold by the widow at Christie’s. Maybe it’s me but WHY would Mr. Wilsdorf alias Rolex give away such a important watch!?

No 3 The black dialed DSS with number 05 engraved on the back, same crown design & bigger ring between case and crown but more patina on the dial

After the successful deepest dive in 1960, we see the Rolex DSS Display Models, specially designed by Rolex ( sometimes having no movement, or were later added ) to market this remarkable achievement. Below we see Lt. Don Walsh and james Cameron together. Walsh is holding the all steel Rolex Display version and Cameron the new 51mm ‘for experimental use only’ DeepSea Challenger. NOTE: SO Rolex does NOT have or show the REAL DSS, the early prototype as we see above but LATER Display model! Strange, at least to me!!

We see in next picture the Rolex DSS Display with UNDERLINE from the Rolex website. We Rolex Collectors know that the Underline was from 1963-1964, so NOT even 1960 as when the deepest dive was.. Different case design, different crown design ( one unscrews the big crown, then a smaller crown becomes visible to set the time )

Apparently, it’s the Rolex DSS that is in the London Science Museum (in the Time Measurement gallery) Here a picture made in the museum, also underline. So now we can come to the conclusion that Rolex Geneva has NO Deep Sea Special in their own vaults as why would they at first use a much later version, a DSS – Display instead of a DSS – Proto and secondly by using the London Underline version for they worldwide marketing, it tells me they don’t have one their own, IMHO and that is REALLY strange to believe !?!

Same Underline DSS on tour at a german Rolex dealer having a exhibition:

Rolex Ad…

Piccard Exhibition at Museum Du Leman, testing the different material and domed glasses..


The Underline Rolex DSS-Display No. 20 …

Here the Rolex DSS No. 31 sold for $ 438.000,= at Christies HK in 2009.

with later Rolex caliber

Inspiration of the DSS case design compared to the Panerai – Rolex ref 6152/1

Number 32 of the Rolex DSS having a caliber 1570 sold at Antiquorum in 2003 for  124,500 CHF

Number 35 of the Rolex DSS-Display with movement No. 641867 did NOT sell at AQ in 2002

But No 35 got again offered at German auction Crott & Schmelzer, NOTE “She was given by Rolex to the present owner at the beginning of the seventies” !!

Here the Rolex DSS from the Beyer Museum in Zurich, next to the, by Hans Wilsdorf personally given, Rolex of Sir Edmund Hillary he wore during Mt. Everest ascent.

Interesting it is to see this version has a T SWISS T dial, with other words, a Rolex dial made AFTER 1965! That means that Rolex was still producing these DSS-Displays long after the 1960 historical dive.

Sideview of the Display DSS, note the less high domed glass it has compared to the early Prototypes at the beginning of this RPR article.

The Piccard Deep Sea Special, given by Bertrand Piccard at the Museum du Leman in Nyon near Geneva.

We see it’s NOT having the special ring between case and crown, making it a early Display model

Original Sir Edmund Hillary Rolex Bosescks Calcutta & Piccard DeepSea Special – Display model

Long before Rolex gave us back the name DeepSea on a Rolex watch with their 2008 über Seadweller model, they already made another DeepSea model in mid 50-ies we see here:

James Cameron with the Deep Sea Challenger. I believe the new DeepSea Story is not yet over, Rolex will come up with something I feel! ;-)




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