It is amazing to think that it’s nearly been two years since Phillips in association with Bacs & Russo have been auctioning some of the best examples of timepieces the vintage watch market has ever seen. That said, we have become accustomed to seeing thematic auctions alongside the Geneva main event and when there wasn’t one this time around we were left wondering why. We’ve seen the Day-Date Sale, as well as the Only Watch and of course the 88 Epic Steel Chronographs watches sale, aptly named Start-Stop-Reset. Luckily, we were relieved when we found out that this time round, Phillips will instead be hosting a thematic auction in Hong Kong, alongside their Hong Kong Watch Auction: Three. The theme is as follows: 38 Rolex timepieces will be auctioned but not just any old Rolex, 38 of the best examples that represent significant milestones in Rolex’s illustrious past. And there’s more. This sale has been meticulously curated by none other than, John Goldberger, who is an absolute scholar when it comes to watches and most particularly, Rolex. And, there’s more. The catalogue, like the Start-Stop-Rest catalogue, has been masterfully illustrated by Pucci Papaleo.
So, a few weeks ago, when Phillips invited us over to their London offices to look at some of the pieces from the GWA4, we also managed to snap a few pieces we thought were much worth highlighting.
LOT 805: SUBMARINER REF. 6536/6538 ‘RED DEPTH’
In the GWA4, we highlighted a 6538 Submariner, which exhibited the most beautiful chocolate dial and sported four lines of text, indicating it housed a chronometer certified movement. Now, I did say there is often an element of one-upmanship when it comes to Submariners and having one of the rarest pieces usually leads to interesting conversations. This reference 6536 is among the rarest of all early Submariners. We are used to the fact that Rolex makes a mass of watches but when you consider the 6536 was only produced for one year in 1955 and then consider how many watches they were producing at that time, you are left with a very small number of examples.
Being an early example, this piece, like many transitional Rolex, features a double reference. The case back exhibits the number 6536, along with 6538, which has been struck through by Rolex themselves. In terms of originality, this 6536 is as good as it gets, with a case that only further enhances this fact. However, there is one attribute that stands out among all others, as per Mr. Goldberger’s assessment. The very rare detail that thrusts this watch into another level, is the red depth rating. It would seem that only the very early examples have this attribute, as Rolex tested some watches during this period with a red ‘100/300’ designation. Thus far, only 10 with these particular characteristics, have come to market.
LOT 807: MILITARY SUBMARINER REF. 5513/5517
We’ve highlighted many Submariners along the years but one of the most desirable examples that bears the Submariner name: The Rolex Military Submariner, is one that always tops our list. It is perhaps one of the most attractive military watches ever made and if you were unaware, the vast majority of them were supplied to the British MoD (Ministry of Defence), with very few issued to other forces via the British Government. This particular example was indeed issued to the British military in around 1974.
This MilSub features, the double reference 5513/5517, with 5513 engraved between the lugs and 5517 under the lug. The MilSub of course differs from the regular Sub, so it features a matte black dial with applied luminous markers and a circled ‘T’, denoting not only its military significance but also the use of Tritium, which was the international symbol at the time. It sports inlaid luminous military sword shaped hands and a bezel insert fully demarcated to 60 minutes (instead of just 15), which bears some light marks and is inclusive of a pearl. The case is identical in size to a civilian Sub but features fixed lugs and the case back is engraved with military markings. The inside case back of this particular example also displays the serial, which is in accordance for a special-order watch. Additionally, this piece is in exceptional condition, which is hard to come by considering its intended use and rarity.
LOT 810: GMT-MASTER ‘DOUBLE SWISS’ REF. 1675
The reference 1675 GMT-Master really needs no introduction, as many of you may know it was the successor to the no-crown guard 6542. However, this particular example is one of the earliest 1675s, as denoted by a few familiar traits, which we saw just a couple of weeks ago on a certain Daytona from the GWA4. The period in which this GMT was produced are very evident given two details, 1) being the fact it sports and underline just about the 6 o’clock hour marker. This underline signifies the moment Rolex went from using the highly radioactive and extremely harmful radium to the newer and safer tritium material and while this is just a hypothesis, it is highly viable. And 2) it also features a ‘double Swiss’ signature, something only seen on very early examples.
According to Mr. Goldberger, Rolex made very limited number of dials during 1962 and 1963, which co-insides with the 1’004’1xx serial that backs up this whole theory, placing this watch’s production around 1963. Of course being a very early 1675, it features a gilt dial and small arrow GMT hand but on top of this, it also has ‘Cornino’ pointed crown guards, which is in-keeping with these very earlier examples.
LOT 828: OYSTER CHRONOGRAPH REF. 6234 ‘ANTI-MAGNETIC TOBACCO’
Rolex have quite the history with chronographs but what is quite interesting to learn is that this love affair with chronographs didn’t become apparent until around the 1930s and even then, it was in very small quantities. That said, it didn’t stop these early pieces from being some of the most coveted and fascinating pieces Rolex had ever produced. In the GWA4, we highlighted a 6238, which is the direct predecessor to the venerable Cosmograph Daytona, which was in fact the last model to feature a tachymetre scale on the dial. But if you look back just a little further past the ‘Father’ of the Daytonas, you will indeed find the 6234. Launched in 1955, the 6234, which is better known as the ‘Godfather’ of Daytonas, bears an uncanny resemblance to the Daytona.
This 38 Rolex Milestones features two 6234 references but as you can see we’ve highlighted just the one. Why? Well, the other model in this catalogue is no doubt rare and features a white dial. However, like most timepieces produced during this time, this example features the much rarer black lacquer dial. Only a handful are known on the market to be fitted with such a dial but what makes this piece even rarer, is the dial’s ‘tropical’ nature, which has turned it from a deep piano black to a warm, tobacco glow. Just like the 6238 that succeeded this piece it also makes use of a tach-o-meter scale on the dial. Moreover, looking closely you’ll also notice it features a telemetry scale too, which has been printed on the inner track. Looking at the case it’s not hard to see the Daytona lineage as it sports a classic Oyster case, which measures 36mm in diameter that I may add is in excellent condition. The 6234 is powered by the venerable Valjoux 72, which has of course been modified by Rolex.
LOT 835: DAYTONA ‘PAUL NEWMAN’ OYSTER SOTTO’ REF. 6263
It would be hard to think of 38 Rolex milestones and not mention the iconic ‘Paul Newman’ Daytona. Without doubt, the most sought-after Daytona of them all has to be the exotic dial Daytona 6263 ‘Oyster Sotto’ (Oyster Beneath/Under) Cosmograph, simply because of their rarity. It is believed, by Rolex scholars, that less than 20 examples have ever graced the market. But what makes this ‘Oyster Sotto’ standout even more is it condition and originality. It features a well-preserved case as well as original MK1 millerighe pushers, correct bezel and a beautiful MK2 dial which displays just the right amount of aging.
The ‘Oyster Sotto’’ denotes that this is indeed the correct configuration of a reverse panda dial 6263 ‘Paul Newman’ and it is widely believed that this is the only correct configurations, with the printing on the dial written RCO (Rolex Cosmograph Oyster) as opposed to ROC. However, a couple of years ago Christie’s did in fact sell a highly disputed and controversial black dial ROC Paul Newman Daytona 6263 for approx. $480,000. Though, this example is still highly believed to be incorrect by many Rolex scholars till this day.
Moreover, what is interesting to note is that ‘Oyster Sotto’ dials were fitted to the earliest 6263s that incorporated waterproof screw-down pushers. You see, it is known the these dials were originally fitted to 6262s and 6264s, so they only bore the inscription ‘Rolex Cosmograph’. The ‘Oyster’ designation was added later, which is why the type font that doesn’t make use of serifs, differs to the ‘Rolex Cosmograph’ font. What’s more, Phillips in association with Bac and Russo are responsible for setting and record-breaking price of an ‘Oyster Sotto’ at auction, when one famously sold for 1,985,000 Swiss Francs at last years, thematic, Start-Stop-Reset auction.
For more lot information on The Phillips Hong Kong Watch Auction: Three that will take place on the 28th of November at the Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong, visit the official Phillips Watches website to view the entire catalogue.