Rolex Speedking ref 6420

Reviving a broken Rolex with some tender care and another broken Rolex.

So about a year ago, I sniped a Rolex Speedking ref 6020 on Catawiki. Now, compared to classics like the Submariner, Explorer or even the Oyster Perpetual, the Speedking is a bit of a forgotten model. It was named after the “King of Speed” Sir Malcolm Campbell, a Rolex fan and breaker of speed records. On 4 September 1935, he set a land speed record of over 300 miles per hour – while wearing his Rolex watch.

But the Speedking’s more well-known claim-to-fame is that it was the ‘POW watch’. During the second World War, Rolex offered all British prisoners of war in Germany the ability to purchase a Rolex which would be delivered to their POW camp but could be paid for after the war was done. This was intended as a morale boost, and the affordable Speedking was without a doubt the most popular option.

Its diminutive size has kept the Speedking from becoming a recognizable classic the way its more famous brothers are – with a 30mm case diameter the little handwinder would be a woman’s watch in this day and age. But I’m not that big a guy and on my tiny wrists, I figured this would be a decent fit. This particular model, as you can see, looked more than a bit beat up but I really couldn’t ignore it for the price.

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It turned out, in fact, to be a somewhat rare piece: this model has the Super Oyster crown, which was Rolex’s new innovation in the ’50s that used gaskets to keep the crown waterproof and would make the traditional screw-down crown unnecessary.

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Sadly this was not quite as successful as they had expected, and when more than a few Super Oyster crowns failed in the 2-3 years they were in production they returned to the tried and tested screw-down models. So not too many Rolex watches with Super Oyster crowns are still around in the wild because few were produced and even fewer have survived.

I took this piece to my favorite watchmaker, who inspected it and concluded my Super Oyster crown had failed at some point too and the damaged state of the watch dial was clearly due to water getting in. But the movement was still in good shape and didn’t need too much attention to get back into working order.

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After a service and a quick clean-up and I was on my way. The dial might still be rusty and the hands appeared to be later service replacements, but I had my first Rolex!

Of course, that’s when it got complicated.

While scouring eBay, I discovered a Speedking advertised for parts that had a broken crystal, broken tube, missing crown, snapped mainspring, … actually, it was utter trash but it had the prettiest dial and hands I’d seen on a Speedking. An Explorer-like 3-6-9 dial, faceted arrow-shaped hour markers, alpha hands, blued seconds hand. So sweet. I figured I could do a quick buy, swap out the dial and hands for the ones on my serviced Speedking, and sell the remaining parts.

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So now the one thing I learned from this experience: if you’re not very well-versed in the reference watches you’re working on, don’t assume parts fit just because they look like they might. My first Speedking was a ref 6020. The second Speedking was a ref 6420. They look identical in all pictures. Guess what? The inner dimensions of the case differ. Fractions of millimeters, but enough to make it impossible to swap parts between the two watches.

So that was frustrating as hell. I had a Speedking ref 6020, which did not look great but worked, and a Speedking ref 6420, which could potentially look great but did not work, and no way to combine the two. So in the end, I asked my watchmaker to fix up the ref 6420 as well. Considering the state of the watch, this took a few months as sourcing all the necessary parts took quite some time. And let’s be honest here – when you add up the costs of the ref 6020, the ref 6420, the replacement parts and the hours for service and repair… This was not a financially sound plan.

But just look at it.

I mean, it’s far from a pristine watch. The 3-6-9 numerals have patina, the dial has radium burn and a few scratches – most notably around the 11 marker. And at 30mm, this is tiny. But still… it’s really one helluva pretty watch.

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