A scuba diver is hoping that the rare Army-issue watch he wore while working on the Mary Rose nearly 40 years ago can now help his children – and fund his dream dive-trip to the Great Barrier Reef.
As a Royal Engineers sergeant-major, Mick Burton was one of the dive-team that placed the cradle used to raise the Tudor shipwreck from the bed of the Solent in 1982.
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“We were brought in because the sheer physical labour and engineering skills required at that stage were beyond the archaeological diving team and the volunteer divers who had been helping out,” explained Burton.
“I can only describe it as being like underwater mining. The bed of the Solent is hard chalk and the water was pitch-black; we were 60 or 70 feet down, at times having to hang onto things because the tide was so strong. The work is not only physically demanding but mentally exhausting in those conditions.”
Now he is hoping that the steel Omega Seamaster 300 Edition watch he wore during the operation will raise more than £20,000 at auction. Only a small number of the watches were made for military use, between 1967 and 1970.
Sgt-Major Burton was issued with his watch in 1974 and used it to log some 180 hours of dive-time around the world, including several years in Northern Ireland during the Troubles.
“Your watch is one of your key pieces of equipment when you’re diving,” said Burton. “You’re given a set duration at the start of the dive, for safety as much as anything, and in the bad conditions we experienced in the Solent you’re looking at your watch constantly. Any diver would be lost without it.”
When the Seamaster stopped working in 1983 the Army intended to destroy it, but agreed to allow Burton to keep it if he could get it repaired. It took six years before he found a clockmaker able to do the job while he was stationed in Germany, and he has worn it only for social occasions since then.
“At the start of the year I happened to see an article about a Rolex diving watch that had sold for a lot of money, so I thought I’d Google mine,” explained Burton. “I was stunned when I saw what it could be worth!”
When auction house Woolley & Wallis in Salisbury valued the Omega Seamaster at £20,000-30,000, Burton decided that he could use the money to help his three children and “hopefully go to Australia and dive the Great Barrier Reef, which is something I’ve never done and would love to do ”.
The watch is being sold in the Fine Jewellery auction at Woolley & Wallis on 17 November, along with Burton’s army diver’s logs, including his time spent on the Mary Rose, and a certificate for that work.