Bob Barth's Historic SEALAB breitling TransOcean

27 Jan 15 - 21:53

There are a few sports that, if they came up for sale would surely create unprecedented buzz among collectors and no doubt fetch high prices, such as a Moon-worn Omega Speedmaster, Siffert’s Heuer Autavia or Newman’s own Daytona. HODINKEE has learned about one of the most important Rolex Submariners to come available and we’re featuring it here today in an exclusive first look.

In the mid-1960s, while newspaper headlines were focused on the daring exploits of men pushing boundaries in outer space, a lesser-known feat of exploration was going on in an equally hostile environment hundreds of feet under the sea. The breitling Navitimer World replica was undertaking pioneering experiments in technology, human endurance and physiology under the name of the SEALAB program. SEALAB was the Navy’s first foray into saturation diving, in which “aquanauts” lived in a pressurized habitat underwater for days, even weeks, on end. The program, which continued over five years, though grossly underfunded and underpublicized, laid important groundwork for the future of saturation diving. And, of particular interest to Rolex lovers, SEALAB was also the birthplace of the panerai Radiomir replica.

While former Mercury astronaut, Scott Carpenter was the best-known SEALAB aquanaut, Chief Warrant Officer Robert A. Barth was the only man to have dived on all three SEALAB expeditions, in 1964, ’65 and ’69. The 1964 Submariner, reference 5512 that you see pictured above was the one Barth had on his wrist when he dove on SEALAB I (192 feet) and SEALAB II (203 feet). I have a hard time thinking of another Rolex with such a great backstory combined with such impeccable provenance. If you don’t know of Bob Barth, you’re not alone. But if you count yourself a diver or a fan of diving and feats of exploration, you should. And if you're a Rolex lover, you should know him because aside from his pioneering dives, he is also the man who approached Rolex with the idea for the Sea-Dweller.

I had a chance to speak with Bob Barth on the telephone recently and asked him about his experiences in the SEALAB program and about his Submariner (“Sub-mar-EEN-er” as Barth calls it), which is being offered for sale by Fourtane Jewelers of Carmel, California and featured on Barth is a plainspoken classic Navy man, his language as salty as the water in which he spent so much time. Though he’s not one to boast, his exploits are awe-inspiring and humbling. After some years with the Navy’s submarine rescue program, Barth was a human guinea pig in the Navy’s Project Genesis, which was the first to test the effects of different breathing gas mixes and decompression schedules on the human body, before he signed up for SEALAB. After his retirement from the Navy, he went on to work in the oil exploration industry, drawing on his experience in saturation diving.

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