I bought my Rolex Submariner in 1967 when I was in Hong Kong on R&R from Vietnam – it cost HK$507 at the time.
Forty-five years later, in 2012, I wanted a new camera and sold it for HK$37,000, about US$4,750. Different eras and different dollar rates, of course, and while it may seem like an astonishing increase, it could have been double that or more if it weren’t for Rolex themselves.
I moved to Hong Kong in 1985, and sometime in the next year or two, I took in to the Rolex Service Centre here for maintenance. Along with the routine work, they asked if I’d like a new face on it. Seemed like a good idea – I would be able to read it in the dark again and it would look better, right?
Well, yes, you can see the hands in the dark, but only for a few years until the luminosity wears out and you’re back where you started. But more importantly, if you change the original typeface, you destroy much of the value of the watch. So thanks, Rolex – you made an opportunistic sale that cost me a great deal of money in the end, and I know you know better.
I’ll put myself in a better mood by telling you a happy story about the watch. In 1970, I returned to the University of Missouri to attend summer school. To save money, I was living out in the country on 12 acres of rolling, grassy land in a condemned taxicab office that some desert rat – also known as my landlord – had purchased from the town and hauled out to his property. The rent was $28 a month.
The property had two deep ponds that had big frogs and two-pound bass in them, so whenever I was low on grocery money, I would catch them for food. Missouri summers are hot, so one day I blew up an air mattress and floated out to the center of the pond nearest my home. After broiling in the sun for a while, I decided it was time for a cooling dip, so I rolled off the mattress and into the water.
Unfortunately, I had removed the original bracelet and was using a stainless-steel clasp. As I rolled off the mattress, one side of the bracelet caught on the mattress, which stripped the watch right off my wrist in one smooth motion.
The pond was roughly circular, with reeds along the bank, so I immediately sighted 90 degrees off to my right and fixed a reed in mind, then looked straight ahead and memorized another reed. Then I swam ashore, grabbed two cans and used them as markers in place of the reeds. And then I called home and asked that my mask, snorkel and fins be mailed to me.
A couple of weeks later, they arrived and once again I was on my raft, paddling out to the middle of the pond. When I got there, I put on the mask and snorkel, aligned myself on my two markers, exhaled and dropped straight down so I would land on the bottom feet first – who knew what sort of awful undergrowth, washing machines and bodies there were down there in the dark, and I didn’t feel like running into them face first.
As I dropped, the light in the pond disappeared within a few feet and I was sightless. I guessed I’d gone down about 15 feet when my feet hit bottom. It was hard-packed mud and couldn’t have been better for the search I was going to carry out. As I stood for a moment on the bottom, ready to push off to the light and air above, and decided to test the bottom with my hand.
I reached down near my right heel and my hand touched a twig – the only thing on what I imagined was a smooth, hard surface. I stood upright again, flexed slightly, wondered if it really was a twig, reached down again and picked up my watch, lying face down with the bracelet sticking up.
Before I wore it again, I put the original bracelet back on.
For what it’s worth, the original price was about a month’s pay for a Marine in Vietnam, so it wasn’t as cheap as it looked. And did you notice the instruction on the lower-left Rolex card: “Use box for cigarettes after removing this card and watch support.”
I took the photo with a Canon G9 and macro lens.