Few Submariner models fascinate Rolex aficionados as much as the "Big Crown" - AKA James Bond -Submariner. A staple of any serious Rolex collection, Big Crowns are as charismatic and attractive as they are rare. Finding a genuine 6538 in today’s market is rare, furthermore finding one that is fresh to market and from the family of the original owner is even more rare. However, what sets this watch apart from almost all others is the impossibly rare so-called "explorer" dial - with Arabic numerals at 3, 6, and 9 - a configuration usually reserved for the Explorer model.- which can truly be called the finding of a lifetime.
On closer inspection, one will also notice that the dial has yet another extremely rare detail. The seldom seen ‘meters first’ depth rating of "200/660," is printed in red, as opposed to the more common white printing, an occurrence which is almost never seen, especially on a dial which is in absolute original condition. For its untouched dial, and unpolished natural case, this "Explorer James Bond" would be the crown jewel in any of the most important sport Rolex collections.
Having surfaced after many years of belonging to one owner, this occasion is nothing short of an unprecedented discovery. Formerly belonging to John Simpson, a Australian Seaman and adventurer, in his son’s own words, the story of how he came to own this fascinating watch is told below;
“My father, John Simpson, started work as a Seaman on Australian Merchant Ships from the mid 1940’s through the early 1950’s during and post Second World War hostilities, traveling the globe stopping in obscure ports from Christmas Island to Vladivostok. During a Seaman’s strike in 1953, he was “paid off” a ship in Vancouver, British Colombia.
His first afternoon on dry land, he walked passed what appeared to be an electrical supply house with a “help wanted” poster in the window. He found the shop manager in the back of the warehouse and asked if the position had already been filled. The man said “no” and asked if John could splice cable. When he said “yes”, the man asked if he could weld, and again John said “yes”. The man then asked, “Have you ever run men?” and John replied “a few” so the man asked “How many?” and John said, “75-100 or so”. The man then said, “how do you feel about the Arctic”, and John replied, “I hadn’t much thought about it.” So the man asked, “How do you feel about Arctic pay?” John said, “I hadn’t much thought about that either, but it doesn’t sound like a bad thing.” The man told him to come back in the morning and they would sort out a job for him.
John soon found himself running crews of men for Canadian Aviation and Electronics assembling and painting large radio towers for the “DEW (Distant Early Warning) Line” above the Arctic Circle for the Canadian and U.S. militaries and helped develop techniques to complete those assemblies in about one third of the scheduled time frame. His relaxed Australian attitude toward challenges and "Can Do" personality made him popular with the men and the management. He was often transported to other radar bases to advise on the construction of various structures.
A few months later on a quick trip back down to Vancouver, John stopped into a watch shop because he had recently broken his current watch in the North. He asked the man if he had a sturdy watch that was also waterproof because he enjoyed waterskiing and skin (scuba) diving when in warmer weather. The man picked out a standard Rolex Submariner from the case and handed it to John to try on. John asked the shopkeeper about the cost who told him it was $100 Canadian Dollars. John said, “That’s a bit rich for my blood mate,” gently handed it back to the shopkeeper and left the store. He looked around the city for the day but was unable to find anything that matched the ruggedness of the Submariner so he reconsidered the purchase. After all, he was being well paid, was still a bachelor at the time and thought he could justify the higher cost as he needed a hearty replacement watch before heading back to work in the Arctic.
At the end of that day John returned to the first watch shop to see if the standard Submariner was still available, tried it on and agreed to purchase it for $100CAD. The shopkeeper asked John if he wanted to see something else before he completed his purchase, so John said, “why not?” The shopkeeper showed him another Submariner with a few subtle differences on the dial from the one he had on his wrist. John said, “I like the numbers and shiny writing on the dial, the red depth is also nice. How much for that one?” The man told him $150CAD so John handed him back the watch and said, “That’s still a bit rich for my blood mate.” The man said, “but it’s a special one. Some British guy ordered it 6 months ago then didn’t come back for it.” John said, “I’ll give you the same for it as the one in my hand.” The man said, “But it’s a special order.” John said, “Yes, but you still have it here in your case. That’s ok mate, I’ll just take the one with the dots on the dial.” The shopkeeper paused for a while, then agreed to sell the special one to John for the price of the standard Submariner because he didn’t know if he would be able to sell it to anyone else.
Happy with his purchase, John wore the watch daily from the date of purchase in 1956 while working in the Arctic for another couple of years. At some point he received a notice from Rolex asking him to return the watch to have the radium removed from the dial, but he had missed the window for a free service while away in the North and never sent the watch back.
He eventually returned to Vancouver and met a nice Dutch girl and the couple were married not long after. They moved back to Australia where John worked as a tradesman for a time, before eventually immigrating to the United States in the early 1960’s. John worked as a Union House Painter from that time on. He removed the bezel from the watch and put it in a drawer in the mid 60’s because he complained to his wife that paint drips would get down in between the bezel and the crystal making it hard to turn and it was easier to clean without the bezel on. He continued wearing his watch without the bezel every day until he retired in the mid 1990’s when he then wore the watch in his retirement activities, fishing, sailing, motorcycling, diving and walking on the beach until his passing in mid 2017 when the watch passed to his son. A friend of John’s son noticed him wearing the watch one day and said, “That looks pretty old, does it still keep time?” John’s son said, “yes.” The friend said, “It looks different from the other ones I’ve seen. You should have it looked at instead of wearing it every day.”