The Rolex Explorer, circa 1953, sold at a New York auction house last month for US$126,000. (Jonathan Mossop)

A Vancouver Island senior is six figures richer after parting with a rare Rolex wristwatch that was once instrumental in his brief but successful career as an octopus wrestler.

The Rolex Explorer, circa 1953, sold at a New York auction house last month for US$126,000 ($158,000 Canadian).

The man who sold it is Bill Hook, 89, of Qualicum Beach, B.C.

After dropping out of high school at 15, Hook became one of the first scuba divers in British Columbia.

He would later wear the Rolex while competing in spearfishing and octopus-wrestling competitions in Victoria and Seattle.

A January 1966 issue of Vue magazine featuring Bill Hook and his octopus-wrestling adventures in Victoria, B.C.

When it comes to catching and wrestling a giant Pacific octopus, accurate timing and team co-ordination is everything.

"You go out and dive down and look at the rocks and if you could see some crab shells out in front, you had an octopus den," Hook told CTV News on Monday.

"When it came out, the one who found it gets first chance at catching it. Then when you catch it, you can get your arms around it and it will have its arms around you, and you swim to the surface,” he explained. "They did that in Victoria for years. It’s politically incorrect today. But people don’t realize we have the largest octopus in the world here."

The watch was a gift from Hook’s first wife, who bought it for him in Switzerland.

Appropriate to its name, the Explorer timepiece accompanied Hook on several adventures through Europe, Australia and Africa, including to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro.


Bill Hook (right) and his brother Allan after a spearfishing competition.

In 1980, Hook’s wife "walked out" on him and the watch became a crucial accessory in his dating life. "I mostly wore it out tomcatting," he says.

Forty years later, with his "tomcatting" days behind him, Hook told a friend about the Rolex Explorer over coffee.

"He nearly jumped out of his chair," Hook recalled.

The friend told the owner of a Victoria watch shop about Hook’s timepiece.

"It’s a very rare Rolex Explorer from right at the beginning of when they made them," said Jonathan Mossop, owner of Meticulous Watches.

Rolex released the Explorer watch shortly after climbers Tenzing Norgay and Sir Edmund Hillary achieved global renown for summiting Mount Everest, sparking sudden interest in high-performance sports watches.

"Rolex was taking advantage of that interest in the market for explorers," Mossop said. "And since Bill was the original owner of this watch, that gives the watch legitimacy to collectors."

Mossop facilitated the sale at Phillips auction house in New York, which described the watch as "truly breathtaking" and one of the finest Explorers ever to come on the market.

While the identity of the buyer is kept confidential, Mossop said it was bought by a man in the United States.

Hook said he plans to pass along the money he earned in the sale to his daughter’s family.