05 Dec What is PreComex? – An Insight into Rolex Submariner 5513 Dial Variations
“PreComex? What exactly constitutes a prefix before the term COMEX?”
Before embarking on this article, I was lost (if you will) in the deep sea of endless knowledge pertaining to Rolex dial variations. Googling “PreComex” did not result in any satisfactory answers I was hoping for. In fact, it was this prevailing lack of PreComex information that a decision was made to fill the void – to dig amongst the available resources present, to bridge the connections, and to provide supporting evidence in which similar dials used on different Submariner models during the 1970s period.
Introduction to Rolex COMEX watches
Rolex Comex watches were manufactured from 1970 all the way to 1997.
An excerpt by Delgado (owner and founder of www.DoubleRedSeaDweller.com)
COMEX is a French diving company founded in 1961 to explore the depths of the oceans.. The NASA of the deep sea..
From 1970 to 1997 COMEX worked closely with Rolex and many of their deep sea divers were issued Rolex SD as a tool to do their work. Rolex used this as a way to test some of their new watches and to resolve some with issues from COMEX such as decompression divers and their watches not being able to withstand depths.. The Helium Escape Valve (HEV) was deleloped and tested on 5513 and 5514 (reference for COMEX only) for COMEX before being commercially available in the original SeaDweller in 1967.
COMEX watches have also been associated with records and experiments such as the max depth of 701 meters or the Hydra experiments and its common to see those watches engraved with specifics about the experiments, etc.
What makes them very collectible is that they were never sold by stores (Authorized Dealers) andonly issued to divers or officials and that they were made in extremely low quantities even after all those years with COMEX. They also have special characteristics and unique COMEX serial numbers and engravings in the casebacks which make them very interesting for collectors.
They played a big part of the development of the watches that we wear today.
Model Numbers, production and date ranges.
(1) 1970-1973 Early Submariners Ref:-5513 with valve. (2) 1972-1978 Submariners Ref:- 5514 with valve, made for Comex only. (3) 1978-1979 Submariner Ref:- 1680, no valve. (4) 1977-1980 Seadweller Ref:-1665 with valve and two versions of the dial. (5) 1980-1984 Seadweller sapphire Ref:-16660 with valve with matt or gloss dial. (6) 1982-1986 Submariner Sapphire Ref:-16800 no valve with matt or gloss dial. (7) 1988-1989 Submariners Ref: 168000 no valve with glossy dial (8) 1986-1997 Submariners Ref:-16610 no valve. (9) 1992-1997 Seadweller Sapphire Ref:-16600 with valve.
“A Tool Watch” : Rolex Comex diving watches are manufactured with MAXI dials, aiding divers with enhanced visibility under water.
MAXI dials are denoted by larger plot indices, usually touching the minute markers, and identified by the FT (after 660) – whereby the lower horizontal of “F” aligns with the horizontal stroke of “T“. (see picture below)
(Photo: Jonathan Wong)
For an indepth understanding into the 5 different types of MAXI dials, please refer to the article “Matte Dials of the late 551x Submariners: A Multitude of Maxis“ by Tomvox of VintageRolexForum.com
PreComex Dials : Correlation to COMEX Dials
Based on my research on PreComex Submariners, below are my observations:
- The term “PreComex” applies to the same COMEX matte dials (without COMEX typography) used on regular production of Submariner ref 5513s. There are speculations that PreComex dials could very well be “leftover dials” from the manufacturing of COMEX Submariners Ref 5513 with Helium (HEV) valve from 1970-1973. (as shown below) , as well COMEX Submariners Ref 5514 produced 1972-1978.
According to bullibeer from Netherlands, the Comex Submariner Ref 5513 (Matte dial with HEV valve) was produced in quantity of 300 pieces. Comex ref 5514 in the range of 700-800 pieces. This translates a ballpark figure 1000-1100 pieces of 5513 + 5514 combined.
- Establishing a direct correlation between Comex and PreComex dials, requires a visual approach. Compare and contrast the above Comex 5513 with the PreComex 5513 below. Are you able to spot the similarities on the “shape of the Crown”, “FT” positioning, and typography (aka font type)?
(Photo: Alan Koh)
Identical Characteristics between PreComex & COMEX dials
1) Rolex Crown Logo: thick and wide at the base, resembling somewhat like a Bart Simpson crown from the gilt era mid-60s 5513 but more defined and refined. The “oval opening” at the base is small.
jedly1 (a veteran vintage rolex collector) describes “the crown has the unmistakable over sized left hand side“
2) FT Letterings (after 660): Lower horizontal stroke of “F” is aligned with horizontal stroke of “T”, same method of identifying MAXI dials.
Note: According to jedly1, “it isn’t a maxi dial but the plots are bigger than all the previous dials…but not as big as maxi“
PreComex Submariners: Year 1977 – 1978
The PreComex 5513s I have came across are usually in the region of 5.1 million serial + or – , which puts these PreComex 5513s in the production years 1977 – 1978. By referencing the last production year of a COMEX 5514 which is 1978, this makes chronological sense in that 1977/8 was when these similar dials were introduced on regular production 5513s.
(Table of Rolex serial numbers by date of manufacture)
jedly1 mentioned, “the dial in question appear at the beginning of about 5 million through to mid 5 million“.
With jedly1’s statement on the serial number range , this further cemented my findings on the manufacturing period of PreComex Submariners to be between 1977-1978.
Here is an example of a PreComex 5513 with box and papers sold by 964RS (a well-known collector with many nice pieces) – http://www.newturfers.com/vb/showthread.php?t=2643
– this PreComex submariner is a 5.1 million serial
– Rolex crown resembles the same crown used on both the Comex 5513 and 5514.
1977 Submariner 5513 PreComex (Serial #: 5152, xxx) from my personal collection.
In conclusion, the term “PreComex” is attributed to the similar dial properties (less maxi plots on a PreComex dial) between Comex 5513 & 5514 produced between 1970 — 1978 & regular 5513s from 1977–1978. How rare are these PreComex submariners — in terms of existential numbers today?
To establish such a database requires the collective efforts of worldwide PreComex 5513 owners , upon which these figures can be analyzed against the ballpark figures of COMEX submariners 5513 & 5514 (from 1970 to 1978). During the period of 2010, I have only came across 3 PreComexes for sale on the VRF marketplace, The Rolex Forums.
Critical distinctions are inevitable in the world of manufacturing, and no less are these differences in the world of Vintage Rolexes. How one vintage timepiece collector decides on what to include or exclude in his or her stable all boils down to a personal fundamental reason: “__________”. There is always that individualistic X-factor that seals transforms that “Want” into a “Need”. Every vintage collector’s latest acquisition could be the appeal of historical providences, or perhaps the notion of rarity, even the COMEX branding.….
“Visual Appeal” of the PreComex/COMEX Crown: The main reason why I love my PreComex Submariner 5513 has to do with the shape of the Rolex crown on the dial. Subconciously, the COMEX factor will definitely come into play. A collector will associate the similar dial characteristics of a COMEX to his PreComex, and that could very well be the sole reason for his purchase. Our complexity in thought & choice processes are beyond psychological theories – which makes this collection journey all the more magikal.
COMEX, Military Submariner, & PreComex
Stefano Mazzariol, a renowned Vintage Rolex collector recently photologged some highly desirable & rare Military Submariners 5513/5517. Visual comparisons done with the COMEX 5513 & 5514, it is evident that the same COMEX & PreComex dial was also used on the Military Submariner 5513/5517. (see Milsub picture below)
A Final Word
Variations on Vintage Rolex sports models, be it dial finishes, markings, logos, typography etc, are one of the primary reasons why avid worldwide collectors share their photographic images online. Collectively, these amassed content will result in new understandings revolving their timepieces. Knowledge is the key to unlocking the optical illusions behind each and every intricate detail.
Human eyes are amazing – these signals from our retina to cortex translates into messages defining our perceptions on a particular subject. Occular science is definitely not my speciality but if we take enough time to observe and re-observe – these refined intricacies will one day become our 6th sense.
Thank you for reading my article. I hope that my insights have left a certain perference on your next acquisition of fine Vintage Rolex dishes.
Don’t forget to check out the blogs and websites of the credited authors – they are the true knowledgable collectors with valuable insights to the world of Vintage Rolexes.
I would like to credit the following Vintage Rolex collectors, for their visual image and content contributions on their websites, have enabled me to pen down this research.
Delgado, founder of http://doubleredseadweller.com
bullibeer, jedly, whiskyguy