I first became aware of the South African Navy issued Tudor Submariners and number of years ago. Mike Wood had one for sale and showed it to me when visiting his shop around 2005. There is very little known about these watches and I have spent a year of my life researching them. So, what are some of the facts I’ve uncovered?
The South African Navy have confirmed, via email to a collector friend, that they did issue both Rolex and Tudor Submariners (I have made no effort to look into the fabled ‘Black SA 5513’; this has been researched and discussed many times!). This confirmation is further supported by emails I have from a retired Major who served in the SA Navy. He worked as a combat diver and confirms that he and other divers were issued “black Submariners with the serial numbers stamped into the caseback, as they were controlled items like vehicles and weapons”; two attributes common to the Tudors I have on file as SA Navy issued. We can only guess as to why the Navy chose such watches. One possible suggestion, mooted by a UK collector, centres around a Naval officer Vice-Admiral Lambert Jackson “Woody” Woodburne, who early in his career undertook some training at Toulon in the early 1970’s. Perhaps he saw the Tudor Subs issued to French divers and when back in South Africa suggested the SA utilise the same watches. This is pure speculation though!! The main Navy base in South Africa is in Simonstown and a number of the watches I have on file came from there.
These watches have some similarities with the French issued MN Subs. I am reasonably sure that they were ordered from Rolex in Geneva. All the examples (bar one) I have on file are model reference 7016 and fall into a very small serial range, which fits with research Morgan Jones has done on the MN issued 7016s. The commonly accepted serial range for the 7016s is 620,000 to 780,000. However, we know that there were Military issued MN 7016s that have been seen with serials up in the 820.000 range (in fact I know of at least a dozen MN issued Tudor Subs ref 7016 with serials within the very small batch that the SA Subs fall). These serials are nearly a year later than 94010 introduction and is likely due to either Rolex selling old cases off to DoD customers, or more likely a specific order from the MN, requesting 7016. It would seem that a batch of these very late serial 7016 watches also made their way to South Africa! I have also learned that these watches, like the MN examples, were issued and then reissued to various people over the years. One clearance diver was issued his in as late as the early 1990s.
I now have a number of these watches on file and they all (bar one) are black reference 7016s from the mid 70’s. I am confident that the examples I have are authentic as they have virtually all originally come from SA Divers or SA Navy personnel. The common theme of these watches is the serial number that is engraved across the case back. The engravings on all watches are of a high quality and are reasonably deep, unlike the shallow personal engravings seen on some military watches. As I mentioned earlier, they are from a very small serial batch and so they all have a number of common numerals in the engravings. The font of the engravings is very distinguishable and all my examples on file have the same details in the numbers. I am choosing, however, not to outline this in too much detail; as it is this engraving, like the MNs, that distinguishes these watches from standard civilian issue examples.
I am confident that these watches were issued on Oyster bracelets as, unlike the MNs, all the examples I have on file show varying degrees of end link wear on the backs of the lugs. There are no decommissioning papers as none of these watches were official sold off. I live in hope of a SA Navy watch ledger book……
The above photo is of the case back. I have edited out the full serial and left only the first digit. This is the main distinguishing feature and there are, as I mentioned, some very subtle nuances in the engravings that convince me (and others who have inspected them!) that these watches are genuine military-issue Submariners.
There is one watch however that presents something of a mystery – the watch that was retailed by Mike Wood (via by Jed). This example was originally bought by a collector in South Africa, who has owned four SA Tudor Subs; all bought directly from SA Clearance Divers or Navy personnel. This watch is totally authentic, but interestingly has a serial number 93xxxx dating the watch to 1980 and is a reference 94010. Again, I can only speculate on why this single watch appears. Maybe there was a second much smaller batch (although I have searched high and low for others) or maybe a diver lost his and convinced the Navy or Rolex to issue him another. Maybe we’ll never know!
Photo by Mike Wood