Tropical 1959 Rolex Submariner (Ref. 6536-1) "Small Crown" W/ Box, Papers, & Military Provenance

For us, the most intoxicating ingredient in the cocktail of attraction to vintage watches is the stories these purpose-built tools can tell, and there’s nothing quite as exciting as coming across a rare reference that’s lived a remarkable life before finding its way into our care. There’s a tangible magic in knowing that a vintage watch has served someone well and was an integral part of their kit that we’d argue is much more interesting than a pristine example which lived out its years in a sock drawer. In the case of this incredible example of a 1959 Rolex Submariner “Small Crown” ref. 6536-1, a bona fide military provenance with a case back engraving to prove it delivers a lovely example of what is considered a “grail” watch by many collectors into the stratosphere.

This wonderfully honest example of the venerable “Small Crown” Submariner was purchased brand new in 1959 at a Naval post exchange in Guantanamo Bay. The watch’s former owner was a career Navy man by the name of Thaddeus Harper Pruett, who we believe retired from the service in 1980 with the rank of Lieutenant Commander. While Pruett’s specific exploits and service records remain a mystery to us, it was not uncommon for sailors to purchase dive watches at post exchanges – Ltdr. Pruett simply had the good taste to go for what was considered the absolute top of the heap in 1959. The watch bears a case back inscription with Pruett’s name, “Gtmo. Naval Base” and the year it was purchased. It’s fair to assume this incredibly cool Submariner lived out its life on Pruett’s wrist and saw plenty of action in and out of the water over the course of a career as long as his, however part of the fun of having only a case back inscription to work from is the what-ifs that exist in this Submariner’s story. What battles did this watch bear witness to? How many times did its case peek out from beneath the cuff of Pruett’s dress uniform at a promotion ceremony? Was the man a dive specialist? At any rate, the watch is in absolutely fantastic condition.

Rolex 5508 Submariner Ad

The Rolex Submariner Reference 6536-1 is an icon and a legend. The 6536-1 Submariner is the purest representation of the diver's tool watch period. Nicknamed by the watch collector aficionado community the "Small Crown" the reference 6536-1 and its successor model, the Rolex 5508, are easily distinguishable from other "no crown-guard" Submariner references due to 6mm screw-down crown which is much smaller than those outfitted to following models, including the "James Bond" versions made famous by Sean Connery who played James Bond in the 1960s.

Stock # RLXSM65361RT-3
Brand Rolex
Style Submariner
Model 6536-1
Serial 39XXXX
Size Men's
Material Stainless Steel
Dial Glossy Gilt Chapter Ring "Tropical"
Millimeters 38
Strap Rolex "U.S.A." C+T Oyster-Rivet Bracelet



The gorgeous no crown guard Submariner case from 1959 retains very thick lugs that retain the original case chamfers and finishing. The rare "long 5" red triangle bezel insert is original to the watch and remains in exceptional, lightly worn condition with the original radium-filled pearl remaining partially intact. The original domed acrylic crystal shows light signs of use and significant crazing throughout. The Rolex “U.S.A” C+I Oyster-Rivet bracelet was sourced on the watch and is stamped ’76, the bracelet retains 11 links that show moderate stretch from use. The case back features an engraving that reads "T.H. Pruett, GTMO. NAVAL BASE, 1959". 


The glossy chapter ring gilt dial and gilt hands are in superb original condition, tastefully aged to enhance the watch overall. The dial retains its glossy finish and has achieved a lovely tropical brown patina, seen most prominently in the upper right quadrant of the dial. The dial does exhibit some very minor spidering in the lacquer when inspected under magnification, though it is difficult to see with the naked eye and also very common to see in gilt dials in this era. The original radium lume in the dial and hands match overall and show a handsome golden coloration with absolutely no degradation when inspected under U.V. light and magnification.


The watch comes complete with its original inner box and original serialized Rolex guarantee papers.