This Rolex 'MilSub' sold for $400,000 at the Dubai online auction Image Credit: Anas Thacharpadikkal

The collectability of steel Rolex sports watches with martial provenance — timepieces made for defence forces or police units — continues unabated. The top performing lot at the just-concluded Christie’s Watches Online: Dubai Edit was a Ref. 5513/17 'MilSub' from 1977 made for the British Navy. It sold for a whopping for $400,000 (AED1,454,042) against an estimate of $140,000-240,000.

This Rolex Ref. 5513 'Milsub' sold for $400,000 Image Credit: Anas Thacharpadikkal

The two-week-long online sale that concluded over the weekend totalled $5,592,000 (AED20,327,501) in sales for the auction house. The ‘MilSub’ is short for Military Submariner and is a reference to the steel diver’s watches Rolex made for the British Navy in the 1970’s. These watches are highly coveted because of their military backstories; they starting appearing in the secondary market after being “decommissioned” for sale to the public.

Rolex Submariner_Polipetto
A Submariner "Polipetto" made for the dive unite of the Italian State Police Image Credit: Supplied

A Rolex Sea-Dweller "Polipetto" from 2008 made specifically for the dive unit (Sommozzatori) of the Italian State Police (Polizia di Stato) sold for $118,750 against a pre-sale estimate of $60,000-90,000. The nickname "Polipetto" is a reference to the Octopus emblem of the Sommozzatori on the dial. Further, a Rolex Submariner Ref. 1110LN from 2013 commissioned by Britain’s Special Reconnaissance Force Regiment hammered for $50,000 when its pre-sale estimate was between $20,000-40,000.

If it was not a vintage Rolex Submariner pulling in the big bucks, it was a Patek Philippe perpetual calendar chronograph. A rare Ref. 5271P-011 in platinum with a diamond-set case, a baguette-cut diamond-set at 12 o’clock on the dial and on the platinum deployant clasp sold for $200,000 (AED727,021). A highly-skeletonised yellow gold Patek Philippe pocket watch Ref. 912 bedecked with jewels — 177 diamonds (worth 1.71 carat), 12 rubies (0.15 ct.) and 55 pearls — fetched $118,750 (AED431,669) against a pre-sale estimate of $35,000-50,000.

The Patek Ref. 912 sold for more than twice its estimate Image Credit: Anas Thacharpadikkal

It is worth mentioning here that this was the largest online sale hosted by the auction house. About 160 timepieces were up for grabs during the two-week period. Collectors from the Middle East acquired half of the top 10 lots sold at the auction. This year’s catalogue had an exhaustive collection of watches with connection to Gulf royalty or Middle Eastern governments.

A Rolex Day-Date Ref. 18238 with UAE Armed Forces logo Image Credit: Anas Thacharpadikkal

A yellow gold Rolex Ref. 18238 Day-Date with a dial bearing the logo of the UAE armed forces sold for $21,500, above the pre-sale estimate of $12,000-18,000. A white gold Rolex Ref. 1803 with the Khanjar insignia (the national symbol of Oman) hammered for $81,250 when the pre-sale estimate was $50,000-80,000. According to Christie’s, 45 percent of the registrants at the sale were new to the auction house. In total, the auction saw bidders from 38 countries, across five continents.