A true horological rarity is up for sale as a sibling of the first Rolex Submariner watch worn in the 007 thriller films is being auctioned by Sotheby's. The "James Bond" Rolex Submariner Reference 6538 is not only the same model as that first worn by actor Sean Connery in Dr No, it's also a much sought after collectible in its own right.

The 1962 feature Dr No set a number of cinematic milestones. It introduced Ian Fleming's fictional superspy James Bond to movie-going audiences, sparked one of the longest running and most successful film franchise in history, set the template for all future Bond outings, and catapulted Sean Connery from playing heavies and comedic soldiers in B pictures to international stardom.

But in wristwatch circles it was the film that cemented the relationship between Bond and the Rolex Submariner. Fleming himself wore a Rolex Explorer Reference 1016 and in the second Bond novel he gave 007 a non-existent "Rolex Oyster Perpetual" to wear, so it was only natural when the first film Bond appeared, he should sport a Rolex.

However, it almost didn't happen. On the first day of filming in Jamaica the director Terence Young realized that the prop department had forgotten to give Connery a watch. What happened next is a bit unclear. Either Young gave Connery his own Rolex Submariner with a black leather strap, producer Albert "Cubby" Broccoli gave his, or a Royal Navy diver who was part of the film crew was the source. The most unlikely story is that Connery just happened to have the right watch on him at the time.

Whichever account is true, the rest, as they say, is history with Bond wearing the Rolex Submariner, Ref. 6538 in Dr No, From Russia with Love, Goldfinger, and Thunderball. What happened to the original watch remains a mystery to this day.

But for watch aficionados, there is much more to the James Bond Submariner. Rolex introduced the Submariner in 1954 and the diver watch underwent a rapid evolution of features and details before it became the timepiece we know today.

The 6538 was introduced in 1955 and only remained in production until 1959. It was the first to use the 25-jewel 1030 automatic caliber and was slightly thinner than previous versions, The 37-mm stainless steel oyster case had beveled lugs, but no guards for the oversized crown that gave it its alternative nickname of the "Big Crown" Submariner.

One interesting point about the Submariner 6538 up for auction is that it's a later watch dating from about 1958 and is one of the "four-line" variants. That is, the four lines of markings instead of the previous two on the dial show that it's one of the first submariners to be COSC-certified as a chronometer, and it has "Submariner" marked out in red – another collectible feature.

This, along with its original "Red Triangle" bezel insert would already make it a very rare collector piece, except this one also has a "Tropical" dial, where imperfections in the original manufacture has caused the dial to develop a much sought after golden brown patina over the past sixty years.

The James Bond Submariner is being auctioned by Sotheby's in cooperation with Bob's Watches as part of the Watches Online: The Driver's Collection auction, which runs until 9:00 am PDT, August 20. The closing price is estimated to reach US$180,000 to $280,000.

Source: Sotheby's

View gallery - 4 images