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Rolex is no stranger to auction records. The prices they realise leave us breathless but which Rolex watches have earned a place in the history books?
4 Mins

Rolex Watches That Broke Records

Lewis Findley
Lewis Findley

What Makes a Watch Collectable?

The vintage watch market got rocked when Paul Newman’s Rolex Daytona sold for a record $17.75m. The reason why it achieved such a feat lies in three key areas.

These conditions are Condition, Provenance and Rarity. Vintage watch buyers will focus on these areas when looking at a watch.

Why? They tell a story that not many watch owners can boast. They were on the wrist of champions, royalty or even film stars and finally, no one knew it existed.

Rolex watches are lighting auctions up and here’s the story behind 5 of their biggest sales!

5) Rolex Anti-Magnetique Ref: 4113

Image Via - Pinterest

Despite being created in 1942, this Rolex was given an estimate of CHF 800,000 – 1,600,000 after it was consigned to auction.

Surpassing that in spectacular fashion, the anti-magnetique sold for for CHF 2.405m!

With an imposing 44mm dial, rose-gold Arabic numerals and a manually wound movement, this chronograph is extremely rare and is thought to be one of 12 ever produced in the 40s.

However, only 8 have ever been found!

The rarity of this watch was illustrated further when it wasn’t even available to the public. Instead, it was gifted to racing teams and/or drivers. A notable owner was Ettore Bugatti, the founder of Bugatti.

4) Rolex ‘The Legend’ Newman Daytona Ref: 6263

Image Via - Hypebeast

This watch was created in 1969 and sold at auction in 2017 for $4.18m.

At the beginning of the article, you learned that rarity was a key factor a vintage watch buyer would consider.

This watch is one of three examples known to exist. It's distinguished by its 18K yellow gold finish lemon grené dial. 

3) Rolex "Bao Dai" Ref: 6062

Image Via - Hodinkee

It’s not often that an Emperor’s watch comes into an auction. That was the case when the Rolex ‘Bao Dai’ hammered in for over $5m in 2017.

Trivia – The watch was bought for $235,000 in 2002!

When Bao Dai was in Geneva to sign the Geneva Accord in 1954, he wandered into a Rolex Dealer and simply asked for the rarest and most precious Rolex ever made. 

Despite the fact that it’s in yellow gold, has a black dial, only one made, has a few diamonds and contains a triple moon phase, it’s the name which helped the watch sail past its estimate.

Growing up, Bao Dai spent a lot of his childhood in France and only returned to his homeland to rule at the age of 18. 

Bao Dai became the emperor of Vietnam in 1926 but abdicated in 1945. This ended a 13-generation and 143-year rule for the Nguyen dynasty.   

2) White Gold Rolex 'Unicorn' Daytona Ref: 6265 

Image Via - Phillips

Rolex aficionados will know that a Rolex Daytona finished in 18k White Gold and retailing during the '70s is rare.

Why? The choice of metals was stainless steel and yellow gold instead.

It's believed that it was a bespoke order and was sold in Germany in 1971.

This watch was so far off the radar, it was only heard of in 2013 when it was acquired by John Goldberger.

Despite receiving a $3m estimate, the watch eventually sold for $5.9m in 2018 and all proceeds went to the charity, Children Action.

1) Paul Newman's Rolex Daytona

Image Via - Horobox

Apparently, this happened in 12 minutes!

$17.75m was the winning bid in an astounding auction which featured Paul Newman’s very own Rolex Daytona.

What made this watch sentimental was the inscription on the back which said ‘Drive Carefully’. A gift from Newman’s wife, she bought him the watch in 1968 whilst he was filming ‘Winning’.

Newman would wear the watch for 15 years before giving it to his daughter’s then-boyfriend, James Cox.

Trivia - It’s said that the bidding was opened at $1m before a $10m bid came out of nowhere and got people ready to stand on their feet.

As for Newman, he competed in iconic races such as Le Mans in 1979 and the 24 Hours of Daytona where he won his class. 

Final Words

5 watches and five incredible stories.

Condition, Provenance and Rarity continue to be the deciding factors for watch collectors - and it’s created a rule of thumb for determining the investment potential of certain watches.

What was your favourite watch story? Hit the comments and let us know!

The appeal of Rolex is irrefutable and confirms their standing as one of the most popular watchmakers in the world.