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Historic Rolex Watches On The Block

Sam Hines, International Head of Watches at auction house Phillips, talks us through the star lots of the upcoming "Rolex Milestones: 38 Legendary Watches That Shaped History" sale.

Rolex Daytona Paul Newman

On 28 November, Phillips is hosting its "Rolex Milestones: 38 Legendary Watches That Shaped History" sale in Hong Kong. Before those remarkable timepieces are put on the block, Sam Hines – Phillips' International Head of Watches – talks us through some of the most interesting lots...

Daytona Paul Newman

Dates from: Circa 1969

Metal: Stainless steel

Model number: Reference 6263

Sam’s take: “The top lot of the auction is this Rolex Daytona, known as the Paul Newman. Paul Newman himself wore one in Le Mans [the actor first completed that 24-hour race in 1979] and wore it in various movies. When the dial was in production in the late 1960s and early 1970s it wasn’t very popular, and therefore Rolex didn’t make very many. The Daytona has been in production for over 50 years and has really evolved with the brand. It started in 1963 because, prior to that, both Rolex and Omega were competing to sponsor astronauts. When the sponsorship was awarded to Omega, Rolex chose to sponsor the Daytona races. This model is known as the Oyster sotto, or “down”, as on the dial we have the signature “Oyster” written underneath “Cosmograph”. There are only about 12 known examples with this dial configuration, and Phillips sold a similar one in Geneva last season to an Asian collector for 2 million Swiss francs (about HK$15.6 million).

Auction estimate: HK$4.8 million to HK$9.6 million

Rolex square wristwatch with a cloisonné enamel dial

Square wristwatch with a cloisonné enamel dial

Dates from: Circa 1953

Metal: Yellow gold

Model number: Reference 4645

Sam’s take: “This is the second most important watch in the sale. Between the 1940s and 1960s the cloisonné technique really became very popular – an artist would create, design and make these dials for the leading brands of the time. Cloisonné refers to gold wires that are placed on a metal dial; the wires form a shape for the base of the painting. The different sections are then filled with coloured enamel paste, and the dial is fired in a kiln. This takes a very skilled artist, who would make dials for the likes of Rolex, Omega and Patek Philippe. But cloisonné dials were not really a commercial success, so there aren’t very many of them. This one is unique because it’s fitted in a square case and has been preserved in museum condition. There’s no restoration; there are no chips; there are no condition issues at all. And you’ve got a heavy gold bracelet – it’s a real statement piece.

Auction estimate: HK$4 million to HK$8 million

Rolex Prince

Prince

Dates from: Circa 1937

Metal: 9k yellow gold

Model number: Reference 1541

Sam’s thoughts: “In terms of value this is one of the lesser watches in the sale, but it’s from the 1930s and is really like a time capsule. The dial is untouched, the case is unpolished, and you can see all these original factory facets. On the caseback you’ve got the crown and the case number; I think it’s even the original strap. It’s just a great example of a classic Rolex. The Prince has a nickname, ‘the doctor’s watch’, because many patients would give their doctor a watch as a gift in the ‘30s and ‘40s, thanking them for surgery or whatever. So Rolex, being very smart, marketed the watch in that way, so that people would buy the watch for their doctor.”

Auction estimate: HK$160,000 to HK$320,000.

Rolex Khanjar Sea Dweller

Khanjar Sea Dweller

Dates from: Circa 1972

Metal: Stainless steel

Model number: Reference 1665

Sam’s take: “This is a sports Rolex, it’s a Sea Dweller and it’s known as the Khanjar because it has Omani khanjar swords stamped on the dial. The Sultan of Oman would give Rolex watches as gifts to dignitaries, statespeople and employees. In order for Rolex to make room to fit the stamp on the dial, the configuration was changed. We believe there are about 80 of these in existence, and that the Sultan of Oman gave them as gifts to SAS troops involved in some kind of conflict, though we’re still learning about exactly what it was. The condition of this watch is quite incredible. A lot of these watches, because they were given as gifts, were prized and treasured by the people receiving them, and that’s why typically the condition is better than other models.”

Auction estimate: HK$1.6 million to HK$3.2 million

Rolex Platinum Day-Date

Platinum Day-Date

Dates from: Circa 1977

Metal: Platinum

Model number: Reference 1831

Sam’s take: “What’s unusual about this one is the case design. There were seven watches made in this style, and this is number one in that series. Four pieces are known – the other three are all in private collections. We believe that the seven watches were made for the Shah of Iran and that he gave them as gifts. What makes it special is the weight – 300 grams of platinum. And the Day-Date model is probably one of Rolex’s biggest successes. It’s been made for over 50 years: over a million pieces in various styles, designs and case metals. So we had to have a very unusual and unique Day-Date in the sale.”

Auction estimate: HK$1.2 million to HK$2.4 million.

Rolex moon-phase, triple-calendar Oyster

Moon-phase, triple-calendar Oyster

Dates from: Circa 1952

Metal: Yellow gold

Model number: Reference 6062

Sam’s take: “Rolex made two moon-phase, triple-calendar watches. This one, reference 6062, is an Oyster, meaning the case closes tight like an oyster, making it water-resistant. The overall quality of this watch is untouched. The dial is original; with a lot of the moon-phase Rolexes that you come across today, the dial has been refinished. That’s because during the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s, when the owner sent their watch to Rolex for servicing, they wanted it to come back looking new. Rolex would repaint it and everything. But now collectors reject watches like that. Many consider this to be the best example of a gold 6062 with star numerals: you will not see another 6062 in gold in this condition.”

Auction estimate: HK$2.4 million to HK$4.8 million