Historically Important 'Bob Barth' US Navy 'SEALAB' Submariner
It is with great pleasure, pride, passion and enthusiasm that we are able to present for sale this Rolex SEALAB Submariner, Ref. 5512. It is a once in a lifetime opportunity to own a timepiece with such momentous historical significance. This is the actual watch that Bob Barth wore during the US Naval SEALAB missions and the watch that ultimately paved the way for the creation of the Rolex Sea-Dweller. The condition is noteworthy, especially when considering the extreme circumstances it has been subjected to. The watch maintains its original bezel insert and has a beautiful patina on a chronometer-rated gilt dial with gold writing. It is accompanied by a letter from Mr. Barth, confirming its history and provenance, as well as a collection of signed photographs, a copy of Mr. Barth's book and other pieces of memorabilia. The inside of the case back is engraved Ref. 5513 and III'64, denoting the year and quarter the watch was released. It bears serial # 1,098,xxx.
Robert Barth is a living, legendary American. He is an explorer, a pioneer and a navy aquanaut who had an extraordinary career spearheading a new era of deep sea exploration in the 1960s. Five years before we were able to put a man on the moon, there was a less-publicized, but equally significant race to study man's ability to sustain life at great depths beneath the sea. This research was conducted by a branch of the US Navy now known as the Naval Experimental Diving Unit.
Bob Barth worked as part of the now famous US Navy Operation "Genesis Project" in 1963, which for the first time studied the effects of saturation diving on humans by containing subjects in a highly pressurized chamber above the sea for two weeks. This segued into the SEALAB experiments. He was the sole diver to participate in all three of the Navy's SEALAB programs, the first of which began in July of 1964. During this initial endeavor, Mr. Barth was one of four divers who lived and worked in a sunken submersible habitat for eleven days at nearly 200 feet below the surface. Decompression from this depth took 55 1/2 hours.
SEALAB II followed in 1965 and SEALAB III in 1969, with each experiment pushing the divers to greater depths within the ocean.
These were times during which unimaginable progress in historical human exploration and related innovation were being made and Rolex recognized this as an ideal opportunity to test its evolving diving watches. Mr. Barth was given this Rolex Submariner, reference #5512, by Rolex to wear during his time on SEALAB. Although the Submariner performed optimally at depths, it experienced problems during decompression. The helium, which is a normal part of the compressed air mixture saturation divers breathe, penetrated the case of the watch and, as it expanded through decompression, caused the crystal to pop off.
Upon completion of his dives for SEALAB and SEALAB II, Mr. Barth worked with Rolex executive T. Walker Lloyd to solve this problem. Their collaboration eventually produced the idea of creating a valve through which the helium could be automatically released, which, with technical assistance from French diving company COMEX, ultimately lead to the development of the Rolex Sea-Dweller. Although Rolex later gave Barth a prototype Sea-Dweller to wear for SEALAB III, he wore this Submariner on all three SEALAB missions, choosing instead to give the Sea-Dweller to his son, a commercial diver.
In 2009, Mr. Barth was the recipient of the prestigious Lowell Thomas award by the Explorer's Club for "an exceptional life of exploration under the oceans of the world"