Watch History Being Made in Diss
Watch History Being Made in Diss
By Elizabeth Talbot
A highly significant wristwatch that was featured on BBC television’s Antiques Road Show last year is to be offered for auction at TW Gaze in Diss on 11 May.
The impressive 1963 Rolex Submariner 5513 was bought new in 1964 and remained with the same owner until his recent death. He wore it continuously and it can be seen on his wrist in countless photographs taken over the decades, whether on duty at work or relaxing with his family.
However, not only is this an iconic make and model of watch, but it has participated in a life of selfless and heroic service in the Royal Navy and the Metropolitan Police, where many dangerous and well-documented feats of courage were met with incredible bravery and utmost devotion to duty.
It was bought by Simon F L Barnett in Singapore for £70.00, whilst deployed as an Aircraft Handler and Ship’s Diver aboard the Aircraft Carrier HMS Victorious. A little later he had his young bride’s name “Dawn” engraved on the back. They had met in the Navy in 1959, when he was an Aircraft Handler and Fireman on the Aircraft Carrier HMS Bulwark, seeing service during the Suez Crisis, and she was a Wren. When HMS Victorious returned to Plymouth in July 1965, import duty had to be paid on the watch, totalling eleven pounds and two shillings.
In April 1966, Barnett qualified as a Search & Rescue Diver in the Fleet Air Arm and was deployed on duties from RNAS Culdrose in Cornwall. In August 1966, Barnett was deployed aboard the Aircraft Carrier HMS Hermes as Search & Rescue Diver on 826 Squadron, and Ship’s Diver. In 1967, during an eleven-day period whilst HMS Hermes sailed in the Mediterranean Sea, there were two catastrophic aircraft accidents during which two pilots and an observer were tragically killed. Barnett was heavily involved in all the rescue and retrieval missions on both occasions, at one point having to be rescued himself from the crash site, having nearly drowned in his attempts to free a trapped helicopter pilot from his inverted submerged craft. He was winched from the water covered in aviation fuel, and in a poor condition. However, after just four hours in the sick bay of HMS Hermes, Barnett insisted on being airborne again and returned to the operation searching for wreckage.
Barnett’s actions were recognised when he was awarded a Commander-in-Chief’s Commendation and a Flag Officer’s “Green Endorsement” in his flying log. He also received hand-written letters of thanks, including from Vice-Admiral Sir David Gregory, and Captain Terrence Lewin, who later became the First Sea Lord and Chief of the Defence Staff during the Falklands Conflict.
Barnett went on to qualify as Senior Aircrewman and fulfilled roles at RNAS Culdrose, aboard the Aircraft Carrier HMS Ark Royal and on Heron Flight at RNAS Yeovilton in Somerset. He was also a member of the Fleet Air Arm Field Gun Crew, which competed in the world-famous Royal Navy Command Field Gun Competition at Earls Court in London. After 3,500 hours of flying time for the Royal Navy, Barnett joined The Metropolitan Police and served with them until retirement. The Submariner was on his wrist, every step of the way.
It is very moving to hold the watch whilst studying the images of it plunging into the ocean during a “diver drop”, being winched aboard a rescue helicopter mid-operation or sharing a team photograph on board the flight deck. It is equally striking to see it being worn so unaffectedly by a young father with his children or by a more mature man, comfortable at home – neither image giving any hint that the wearer had so often faced life-threatening dangers.
This Rolex watch has its place in modern Naval history and for appreciators of Rolex watches, this is a truly special piece. It is unique.
Amazingly, the watch has only been serviced twice (in 1980 and 2021) and has never been polished. The original bracelet strap was replaced after damage, possibly during one of the dramatic Naval engagements, but remains with the watch and not only adds to the overall value but bears witness to the whole story. As does the collection of photographs, newspaper cuttings, letters, log-book entries, and records of commendations awarded to Simon Barnett.
The next chapter of the watch’s exciting story is about to be written. The Rolex Submariner is to be offered for auction at TW Gaze, Diss Auction Rooms on May 11, carrying an estimate of £30,000 – 45,000. Find sale catalogue and further details: twgaze.co.uk.