In the past two years, watch auctions have been setting and shattering numerous records. That’s not only in sales, but also in attendance. 2017’s spring Geneva auction week reported some of the highest numbers of spectators to date. Despite shifts in demand within the watch market, the auction world has continued to balloon.
Rolex auctions in particular have seen unprecedented interest in the past few years, from enthusiasts seated front row for the action to invisible collectors placing anonymous bids over the phone. If you need more evidence of Rolex’s overwhelming popularity, simply look at the records set by Rolex sales at auction in the past two years.
5. Eric Clapton’s “Oyster Albino” Daytona
The fifth most expensive Rolex sold at the Phillips Geneva Watch Auction in May of 2015 for $1.4 million. The extremely rare ref. 6263 “Oyster Albino” Cosmograph Daytona circa 1971 is one of only four known timepieces to garner the “albino” name. But adding to its appeal was the identity of its seller: none other than the legendary guitarist, Eric Clapton.
4. The Paul Newman Oyster Sotto
The fourth most expensive Rolex sold just a year later at Phillips in May 2016. The Paul Newman Oyster Sotto, ref. 6263 circa 1969 just broke the $2 million mark at a final price of $2,053,165. As one of only two known Oyster Sotto models to feature the distinct, rich chocolate brown “tropical” dial, it’s a highly-coveted collector piece.
3. The Rolex ref. 4113
The third most expensive Rolex sold at the same Phillips event in 2016 for $2.4 million, nearly $800,000 over its pre-sale high estimate. The Antimagnetic ref. 4113 circa 1942 was never available for public sale. In fact, Rolex only gifted to an elite group of racing teams and their drivers. Only twelve of the models are known to exist, making it incredibly rare.
2. The Yellow Gold Paul Newman Daytona “Legend”
The second most expensive Rolex sold at auction in May 2017. The yellow gold Oyster Paul Newman Daytona–dubbed “The Legend”–pulled in a whopping $3.7 million on the second day of the Phillips Geneva Watch Auction, making it the most expensive Daytona sold at auction at the time. The watch is one of only three known yellow gold Oyster Paul Newman Daytona models in existence.
1. The Bao Dai
The most expensive Rolex sold at the same auction in May 2017, blowing all previous sales out of the water. The Bao Dai ref. 6062 set a new world record at the staggering price of $5,060,427. The watch belonged to the last emperor of Vietnam, and it’s the only known variation of the model to feature a black dial and diamond indexes.
2017 has already proven to be a record-shattering year for watch auctions, but it’s not over yet. In June, Forbes reported that Phillips found a particularly special watch to debut at its inaugural New York auction in October: Paul Newman’s very own Rolex Daytona ref. 6239 with a personal inscription on the caseback reading, “Drive Carefully Me.” Safe to say we can expect this timepiece to set yet another record at the auction block in the fall.
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on November 30, 2012. We have updated it with more recent information.
Image Credits: Header,1-5; Phillips.