The Rolex “MilSub” Submariner Ref. 5517

The world of vintage cheap Rolex watches has developed its own unofficial language over the years, with certain words or phrases being coined to describe various, usually highly desirable, pieces among collectors. Throwing around names like “Blueberry” or “Double Red” at a meet up is generally enough to see every eye in the room light up. But perhaps above all others, and especially for those enamored of the most famous dive watch of all time, is the term “MilSub.”
A compound of the words “Military” and “Submariner,” it describes any of the four different references that were modified to meet the requirements of the British Armed Forces, going back as far as 1957. That was the year the Ministry of Defense (MOD) came knocking on Rolex’s door, looking for a timepiece reliable and sturdy enough to become standard-issue for the Royal Navy’s relatively new division of underwater combatants. They were furnished with about 50 off-the-shelf examples of the reference 6538, more commonly known as one of the “Big Crown” Submariner references, or alternatively, the “Bond Sub” for its time on Connery’s arm Replica Rolex Watches Uk Forum during Dr. No.

After extensive field testing, the MOD brought the watches back, asking for just some minor adjustments. Firstly, a redesign of the bezel to make it easier for divers to grip while wearing gloves. buy Rolex watches increased the diameter of the bezel so that it hung over the sides of the case, and changed the coin-style edging to the serrated design we know today. They also constructed it from nickel silver instead of plated brass to make it less susceptible to corrosion and cracking under impact. The other main revision was to swap the standard spring bars with soldered bars between the lugs to hold the NATO strap. The changes were so slight they did not even warrant an entirely new reference number; the customized military watch was christened the A/6538.

The first MilSub served with distinction until 1967, when the Royal Navy switched allegiances and opted instead for Omega’s reworked Seamaster 300. However, the limitations of its Naiad winding crown at shallow depths brought the MOD back to cheap Rolex watches just four years later in 1971.


By 1971, the Submariner had graduated to a more modern iteration with the ref. 5512 (COSC-certified) and ref. 5513 (non-chronometer). Between 1971 and 1979, British Special Forces would take delivery of around 1,200 pieces, split across three references based on the 5513. Practically identical, they all incorporated the design changes first seen on the A/6538, along with a couple of further tweaks.

The bezel, now made of stainless steel, included hash marks on its aluminum insert that continued round for the full 60-minutes rather than just the first 15, as on the commercially available Submariner. The handset was switched on most from the trademark “Mercedes-style” to a pair of large “sword” or “gladiator” hands, and a seconds hand with an arrow-shaped tip. Additionally, unlike virtually every civilian Rolex, the case backs were engraved – those destined for the Special Boat Service (SBS) designated with “0552” before their individual ID number, their counterparts for the SAS marked with “W10.”

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