Five Rare Vintage Rolex Watches in Phillips’ May Auction of Steel Chronographs

On May 15 at Geneva’s Hotel La Réserve, Phillips auction house, in association with Bacs & Russo, will host “Start, Stop, Reset,” an auction devoted to important stainless steel chronograph watches, including some highly coveted vintage models from Rolex. Here are the top five Rolex watch highlights, as per Phillips’ Head of Watches for America, Paul Boutros.

Lot 31: Rolex Ref. 6263 “Tropical Oyster Sotto”

Perhaps the most important “Paul Newman” Daytonas ever offered at auction, this steel chronograph dating to 1969 — with a tachymeter bezel, 1/5-second-divisions track printed in red, and “tropical” Paul Newman dial layout (characterized by, among other elements, the combination of hashmarks with tiny squares in the chrono subdials— is one of only two such examples of this reference known to be in existence. The Italian nickname “Oyster Sotto” (“Oyster Underneath”) refers to the rare configuration of the word “Oyster” placed under the word “Cosmograph” at the 12 o’clock position. This is among the very first Rolex Daytona watches with Paul Newman dials to be placed in an Oyster case, with screw-down pushers offering greater water resistance over the previous models’ “pump” pushers. The watch has a 37.5-mm diameter case and a stainless steel Oyster bracelet with deployant clasp, and contains a manual-wind Valjoux 727 movement. Another important selling point is its unique dial color, which has aged from its original black to a uniform and attractive chocolate brown. Estimate: $770,900 – $1,541,800.

Rolex Ref. 6263 Oyster Sotto

Lot 34: Rolex Ref. 6263, “Tropical Panda”

Another highly collectible example of the same reference, also circa 1969, this watch features a Paul Newman dial in the so-called “Panda” style (off-white dial with black chronograph subdials and outer chapter ring) and like the Oyster Sotto above, offers an intriguing example of aged color on the dial: the 1/5-seconds scale on the outer edge has evolved into an exceptionally uniform, and unique, shade of caramel orange. Collectors of Rolex Paul Newmans refer to this model as a “Mark II.” Like the Oyster Sotto, it has a 37.5-mm steel case and steel bracelet and is outfitted with a Valjoux 727 caliber. Estimate: $308,400 – $616,400.

Rolex Ref. 6263 Tropical Panda

Lot 36: Rolex Ref. 3346 Zerographe

With its wildly unconventional style compared to Rolex models of today, the Zerographe is largely a mystery even to Rolex aficionados and scholars, as there is no official information on the model available from Rolex or even any period advertising to provide detail on it. What is known about this extraordinarily rare timepiece, however, is that it was the first Rolex chronograph in an Oyster case. This piece, issued in 1937, is the first to be fitted with the in-house Caliber 10 1/2″, a manually-wound movement with a single-button flyback chronograph function. The Zerographe, which has a 32-mm case and riveted Oyster bracelet, also represents another first for Rolex: a rotating bezel, which would become a mainstay of many Rolex sport watches to follow. Very few of these references have ever surfaced at auction. Estimate: $257,700 – $513,900.

Rolex Ref. 3346 Zerographe

Lot 56: Rolex Ref. 4113 “Split-Seconds”

The watch that graces the cover of Phillips’ catalog for this auction is one of only 12 pieces ever made. Extensive research has show that the example below, bearing case number 051’314, was the second one manufactured in this extremely limited run. The watch, dating to 1942, is even more significant to collectors because none of the 12 pieces were ever offered directly to the public but instead, most likely, presented to racing team owners and drivers that Rolex was sponsoring at the time. It features a a silvered matte dial, rose-gold raised Arabic numerals and baton hour markers, a tachymeter scale and a telemeter scale in blue print. It contains the manual-wind caliber 55 VBR, which powers a split-seconds chronograph function, undoubtedly for use in timing races. The case, at 44 mm in diameter, would have been considered oversized at the time but looks strikingly contemporary today. It is the only one of the auction’s top five Rolexes on a leather strap. Estimate: $822,300 – $1,644,600.

Rolex Ref. 4113 Split-Seconds

Lot 88: Rolex Ref. 6239 “The Doctor”

This Daytona from 1966 — again, one of only a handful known to exist with this type of dial — got its nickname from the blue-printed pulsometer scale along the dial’s outer edge. This numbered scale — which necessitated a redesign of the existing Daytona dial to accommodate it — was intended for use by medical professionals, who would use it in conjunction with the chronograph to determine the exact number per minute of a patient’s heartbeats. On this dial, the hour markers were moved slightly closer to the center while the minutes scale and “T-SWISS” designation were also repositioned. The watch below, with its 36.5-mm case and bracelet with deployant folding clasp, almost certainly started its horological life as a custom-ordered piece for a VIP client. It contains the manual-wind Caliber 722-1. Estimate: $359,700 – $719,500.

Rolex Ref. 6239 Doctor

The “Stop, Start, Reset” auction consists of 88 lots in all. In addition to several more rare and important Rolex watches, it includes a number of notable Patek Philippes as well as historical chronograph models from brands such as Breitling, Breguet, Heuer, Longines, Omega, Universal Genève, Zenith, and others.

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  1. Chupacabra

    Sport watches dominate vintage Rolex collecting, but the really seasoned collectors seek out the early complicated watches, too. This ref. 8171 shows the month and day of the week in French, plus the date around the edge and the moonphase at 6 o clock. That it s stainless steel and in perfect condition makes it truly drool-worthy.

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