There seems to be an unstoppable snowball of Rolex and Patek Philippe world record auction result occurring and it’s an exciting time for collectors with an eye on the auction markets.
In the past year we’ve enjoyed several record breakers at the major auction houses including Christies, Sotheby’s and Phillips, and trends seem to lean towards uniqueness as a favourite theme among the big buyers. There appears to be no limit to what one will pay for a piece of which there is no duplicate.
There have been three particularly interesting Rolex results in the past two weeks that need recognising during this apparent peak in hammer prices. All world records in their category, and the details may explain why.
In order of their cost, we start with the cheapest among these beasts. This was the most expensive Rolex Submariner ever sold, and took place at Christie’s in Geneva on the 15th May for CHF 631,500.00 (€577,170.00). This extremely rare 18k white gold automatic Submariner has several noteworthy features: It’s a reference 1680 manufactured in 1973 but with an bizarre bezel sporting knurled edging in only two places (between 3-5 o’clock and 9-11 o’clock) and not all the way around the bezel as we are used to. This particular model also has no serial number – could this be a prototype or a privately assigned piece? The bracelet has barked center links and a “nipple” blue dial. Quite a visual stature, but almost no resemblance at all to the usual Submariner hype.
The next worth noting was a yellow gold Rolex Paul Newman Daytona sold at Phillips at the Geneva Watch Auction: Five 13th / 14th May 2017. This not only was the most expensive Paul Newman Daytona to ever be sold at auction, but also now claims the title of second most expensive Rolex ever sold, full stop. (Behind the Bao Dai, of the same auction, noted next…). This Paul Newman, like many that create immensely competitive collecting and bidding, was a reference 6263 and a fine example at that. A melon-yellow dial is a true rarity in such a piece, matching the case so well, but its overall condition is immaculate too. Affectionately donned “The Legend”, this piece will not struggle to keep its title. The estimate was CHF 800,000 – 1,200,000, and this now even more legendary watch went under the hammer for CHF 3,722,000.00 (€3,401,610.00).
The last of this trio is also the show stopper of that fateful May auction week in Geneva: The “Bao Dai” Rolex. Once again, Phillips have managed to attract the most hungry and knowledgeable Rolex collectors into one room to war over probably the rarest and most coveted Rolex now in the public eye. The watch is a Rolex reference 6062 in yellow gold, from 1952. The name comes famously from one of its previous owners – the last Emperor of Vietnam. This incredibly rare example of an automatic triple calendar moon-phase is set into a dare-I-say regular yellow gold Datejust case. The black dial is immaculately dark, but glimmers playfully with its diamond hour markers. There was no set estimate for this piece, but it sold for a whopping CHF 5,066,000.00 (€4,629,920.00) at the Geneva Watch Auction: Five, at Phillips on the weekend of the 13th/14th May 2017.
The last two Rolex pieces mentioned both destroyed previous records, held by a Rolex Split Second Chronograph sold by Phillips almost exactly a year ago for CHF 2.5m.
Are these prices skyrocketing due to the competitive nature of today’s collector, or do these buyers know something we don’t? We can at least be certain that buyer’s are either becoming more courageous, or better informed. It’s probably the latter.
Jacob Tomkins, 2017
(Images from Christies and Phillips)