10 Rolex references to die for
Watch specialist Remi Guillemin selects the vintage Rolexes that have electrified the market in recent years, illustrated with standout examples sold at Christie’s
Sold for CHF 447,000 in 2019
An icon in the world of vintage watches, the Daytona chronograph is a cornerstone of any serious Rolex collection. Introduced in 1969 and made in steel or yellow gold, the 6263 represents the ultimate manual Daytona chronograph, with a multitude of technical improvements as well as a more athletic design than its predecessors.
A canvas for Rolex’s experimentation, the 6263 continues to entice collectors through the sheer variety of examples on offer. A simple Daytona Reference 6263 in stainless steel, for example, can start at around $50,000, while a rare variant in excellent overall condition can easily reach $500,000.
Sold for CHF 125,000 in 2017
Created for saturation divers working at great depths, the Sea-Dweller was built to be reliable, robust and, most importantly, to withstand incredible levels of water pressure. The watch made its debut in 1967, aiming to capitalise on the success of the Submariner — and to correct one of its key shortcomings. When used at extreme depths and for a prolonged period of time, the crystal of the Submariner would often pop out in decompression chambers following a dive.
To remedy this, a helium escape valve was developed on the side of the case. The first production Sea-Dweller, the Reference 1665, was created in different variations, with the most celebrated examples including the Double Red Sea-Dweller and wristwatches made for COMEX (Compagnie Maritime D’Expertises), a professional diving company based in Marseilles.
Sold for CHF 271,500 in 2016
Introduced in 1954, the Submariner has become one of the most recognisable watches on the market. Many Submariner references exist, though few command the prestige of the Reference 6200, of which only 300 examples are thought to have been manufactured. With a large case featuring a rounded case back, the watch was designed for professional divers and manufactured with a large ‘Brevet’ crown, which improved water resistance and gave it a masculine, sporty look.
The dial of the Reference 6200 is of particular interest to collectors, and features the rare Explorer 3, 6, 9 layout, inspired by the 1953 Explorer models (References 6298 and 6150). The 6200 was also the first Submariner model with so-called ‘Mercedes’ hands as opposed to ‘pencil’ hands. The extreme rarity of the 6200 means an example in excellent overall condition can exceed $500,000 at auction.
Sold for CHF 150,000 in 2017
In 1954 Pan Am, the world’s largest airline at the time, commissioned a wristwatch that allowed its pilots to keep track of two time zones simultaneously. Manufactured with a bezel insert marked for 24 hours as well as a second hour hand revolving once every 24 hours, the GMT-Master enabled pilots to keep track of their ‘home’ time zone.
The most coveted reference of the GMT-Master model, the 6542, was developed with a Bakelite bezel with 24-hour graduation. Bakelite was chosen due to its low reflectivity and high readability. Because of the fragile nature of the bezel, however, examples of the reference in excellent condition have become extremely difficult to find, and therefore regularly get to $100,000 at auction.
Sold for CHF 149,000 in 2015
While famed for the durability and reliability of its timepieces, Rolex has also created wristwatches featuring multiple complications. The highly collectible Rolex Oyster triple-calendar chronograph 6236, nicknamed the ‘Jean-Claude Killy’ after the French Olympic skiing legend, is one such watch, and has established itself as a collector’s favourite.
Manufactured in small numbers between 1958 and 1964, the ‘Jean-Claude Killy’ has a three-part Oyster case and is the final version in a series of four (the first three being the 4767, the 5036 and the 6036). Produced in stainless steel, yellow and pink gold, the Reference 6236 remains the last reference combining the triple calendar and chronograph complications made by Rolex, and its rarity ensures it is highly coveted.
Sold for CHF 471,000 in 2019
Produced between 1939 and 1945, the Reference 3525 is one of Rolex’s most sought-after chronographs. Available in pink gold, yellow gold, stainless steel or steel and gold, it was the first Rolex chronograph to be fitted with a water-resistant ‘Oyster’ case with screw-down crown.
The Reference 3525 is also known as the ‘PoW’ watch since it was the model supplied directly by Rolex to captured Allied airmen incarcerated in German camps, including Stalag Luft III, which was made famous by the movie The Great Escape. Among collectors, it is also referred to as ‘Monoblocco’ because the solid steel case including its bezel was made out of one solid piece of metal. The watch was assembled with a variety of dials — the Reference 3525 shown above was previously owned by Andy Warhol.
Sold for $131,250 in 2019
The Rolex Day-Date was unveiled in 1955 and is regarded as one of the company’s most prestigious watches. Available in a multitude of case materials and dials, variations of this serious, formal and aspirational timepiece have been worn by presidents, celebrities and sportsmen. Among the most coveted variations are those with hard-stone dials and brightly-coloured ‘Stella’ dials.
Made in the late 1970s and early 1980s in very small numbers, the ‘Stella’ dials were lacquered with colours that were mixed by hand and then applied layer after layer, meaning no two dial colours were ever the same. The Reference 1803 was launched in 1959 and is today widely considered as the most successful and enduring version of the Day-Date production. Common examples start at below $10,000, while rare versions often fetch significantly more.
Sold for $1,572,500 in 2018
Many collectors and scholars consider the 6062 the most prestigious Rolex model ever made. Introduced in 1950 and produced for approximately 10 years, it is one of only two Rolex models to feature a triple calendar, the other being the Reference 8171 ‘Padellone’. These two models were the only watches ever made in series with moon phases, until the introduction of the Cellini Reference 50535 in 2017.
The difference between the 6062 and the 8171 ‘Padellone’ is that the Reference 6062 was housed in the iconic Rolex ‘Oyster’ case. Examples of the reference in rare case materials or dial variations can fetch huge figures at auction. Those with a ‘Star Dial’, also known as ‘Stelline’, are particularly scarce, with the example shown above — a Reference 6062 in yellow gold, nicknamed the ‘Dark Star’ — becoming the talk of the watch world when it sold at Christie’s in 2018.
Sold for CHF 227,000 in 2016
Developed during the 1950s, the Reference 6541 is also known as the ‘Milgauss’, from the French words mille, which means 1,000, and gauss, the unit of a magnetic field. Designed to meet the demands of scientists and engineers, it was the first watch to introduce the anti-magnetic soft iron container encasing the movement, made after the principles of the Faraday cage.
Testing by CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, demonstrated the Milgauss could resist magnetic forces of up to 1,000 Gauss. Produced in small numbers due to its highly specialised nature, the watch features an unusual seconds hand in the shape of a lightning bolt as well as a rotating bezel and honeycomb pattern dial.
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Sold for CHF 1,107,750 in 2013
The Reference 4113 is a watch that most Rolex collectors can only dream of owning: recent research confirms that only 12 examples of Rolex’s one and only split-seconds chronograph wristwatch were ever produced. All cased in steel and finished in 1942, these 12 watches carry individual case numbers ranging from 051313 to 051324.
The reference was never made available to the pubic or mentioned in Rolex’s advertisements from the period, and only eight out of the 12 timepieces are believed to have survived. The majority of those that have come to market are linked to the famous Giro Automobilistico di Sicilia, which was once the longest closed circuit race in Europe. Following discussions with family members of the original owners, the Reference 4113 is believed to have been designed for car racing and gifted to famous race drivers and team owners during the early 1940s.