A Pair of Patent Pendings

It is always exciting to find new watches from original owners & to be able share their stories with clients and collectors. I have been fortunate over the years to have been offered some incredible examples & have had the pleasure of spending many hours in the company of divers who entertained me with tales of there amazing careers.

The following find or more accurately find(s) was something very special.

I was initially contacted in 2010 by a diver we shall refer to as ‘M’, who was looking to sell his vintage Rolex ‘Double Red’ Sea-Dweller. A brief conversation & some blurred images soon identified that it was not just any Double Red, but a Mk 1 Patent Pending. My excitement was only tempered by the fact it was in Australia & the owner was going to be offshore for several months. However we continued to communicate and I took an option on the watch with a plan to meet up for a first hand inspection in the future.

The story then took the first step in what would be a significant twist.

The owner of the watch had a friend, also a diver (and who we shall also refer to as ‘M’) that he had known and worked with since the early 1970s, diver 2 also had a vintage Rolex & wondered if I would be interested in purchasing that one as well.  At this point it all seemed too good to be true, but in the next weeks some images of the second watch arrived and to my surprise we had a second Mk 1 Patent Pending Sea-Dweller. While the stories of both watches were similar, and consistent with those that i had heard in the past from divers who had been issued the Pat Pending watches, diver 2 advised that he retained written documentation of the original issue from Rolex. At this point I was completely sold, the only obstacle was that the first watch was in Australia, the second watch in Singapore, and I was in Europe, so we agreed we would all meet in Singapore for the inspection & to conclude the deal.

On the morning of our flight, disaster struck, diver 1s passport was due to expire in 4 months and the Singapore authorities would not issue a short term permit, everything had to be rearranged. A few tense weeks followed before we were finally ready to meet again, this time there were no problems, the watches were inspected and found to be perfect examples.

The story did not end there.

The general consensus among collectors is that Rolex developed the Helium Gas Escape Valve (HEV) in conjunction with Comex during the late 1960s via testing of the HEV & non HEV model ref.1665 Patent Pending Sea-Dwellers.

During the unravelling of this story it became apparent that whilst both of these divers were the original owners and had worked for Comex  during their careers neither was employed by Comex during the late 1960s/early 1970s when they were issued with their watches.

Memories & dates, especially those from 40 years ago can sometimes get confused &  influenced by things that are read, but in this case the original issue of the watches was supported by documented evidence from Rolex.

The following documentation chronicles the period from when Diver 2 received an offer from Rolex to test the new Rolex Sea-Dweller, the reports relating to the results of his testing & on completion confirmation that he was to retain the watch as a gift. I will leave you to peruse the documentation below, but this is the first time that i have seen the original issue & testing results recorded by Rolex and the Diver in their entirety.

I have highlighted several key statements which I feel are significant, they relate to either the testing results or the confirmation from Rolex that the Patent Pending trials conducted to achieve the HEV Patent approval were not exclusive to Comex. The final letter is dated February 17th 1972 and only then does it appear that the exclusivity agreement with Comex had been reached. Until 1972 the testing had been conducted with all of the major diving companies & the exclusivity agreement until this point could have been made with Divecon or any of the others involved in the trials, not just Comex.

The original proposal from Rolex to loan & test the new 1665. Sea Dweller

Delivery confirmation of the watch from Rolex to ‘M’

Testing results sent from ‘M’ to Rolex

Confirmation of receipt of the testing results from Rolex to ‘M’

Confirmation from Rolex of the exclusivity agreement with another diving company (Comex) – Feb 17th 1972

The story was to take one final twist.

I had advised both divers that the serials of the Mk 1 Patent Pendings fell into very distinct batches, & that I would only be interested, if they both met that criteria & the inner case backs and documentation matched. As i advised earlier both watches were perfect, but there was more.

Although the divers had been friends & colleagues since the early 1970s, the issue & testing of their watches had occurred at different times in different parts of the world. Until we met, not only had they never realised the 2 watches they had worn for the last 40 years were important to watch collectors as prototype dive watches, but by an incredible co-incidence the serial numbers of both watches were consecutive, 464 & 465.

I am therefore pleased to present the Patent Pending Twins and share a selection of the original images which M & M kindly provided along with the original Rolex documentation and a detailed history of their incredible careers as pioneers in an era that was fundamental to the development of deepsea diving & Rolex dive watches.

© Copyright Daniel Bourn www.vintage-db.com

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