The Five Essential Vintage Rolexes

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There is no better blue-chip investment that you can also wear and enjoy on a daily basis than a vintage Rolex. Prices have proven themselves to be immune to the oscillations of other assets that aren't half as pleasurable to own. 

Here Blake Buettner, industry expert and Director of Watches at StockX, live bid/ask luxury marketplace backed by the likes of Mark Wahlberg where collectors can build portfolios of iconic timepieces, chooses the top five classic Rolex picks from Bonhams' beautifully stocked Fine Wristwatches sale in London on June 19:

Daytona 'Paul Newman', Ref. 6239, $150,000–$230,000

"The 6239 Daytona was the first reference to offer the exotic aka Paul Newman dial configuration, and it happens to be the reference that Paul Newman himself wore," Buettner says. "The 6239 is a pre-oyster case Daytona, and along with the pump pushers, that makes it a decidedly softer execution than later references. Being the most common of Paul Newman references, the 6239 doesn’t command the same premiums as later examples. This watch, in particular, suffers from a few notable 'pain' points, such as damaged lume plots, what appears to be corrosion on the stems of the pushers, missing infill of the tachymeter and overall softness of the bezel," hence he expects it will hammer for around $150,000.

Submariner 'MilSub', Ref. 5513, $100,000–$150,000

"The Submariner known as the MilSub is elusive as it is interesting," Buettner says. "Made especially for the British Royal Navy in the ‘70s, there are thought to be less than 1500 examples produced. I love this reference for a few reasons. First, the broad sword hands make it unique to any other Submariner before it or since. Their larger surface area makes them prone to oxidation and damage with age, but their purpose was purely practical. Other details, like the minute demarcations around the entirety of the bezel, the circled 'T' on the dial to denote the use of tritium, and the fixed spring bars, add an unmistakable personality. It’s no surprise that these rare watches command huge premiums over their civilian counterparts, and with clean examples becoming increasingly rare (these were used in active duty, remember), I wouldn’t be surprised to this one achieve the mid to high end of its estimate."

Daytona 'Big Red', Ref. 6263, $64,000–$89,000

"The 6263 is the most mature of the vintage Daytona references," Buettner opines, "with an oyster case, screw down pushers, black acrylic bezel, and updated caliber 727 within. The reference had a long production run lasting over 15 years, meaning they can be had from mid to late ‘80s. This watch falls in the later part of that spectrum, making it a wearable example of the reference. The case and dial look to be prime examples, with age having yet to take its toll. Some light damage to the acrylic bezel insert is the only external concern that catches my eye, but it’s not enough to put it outside of its estimate."

Tiffany Sea-Dweller, Ref. 16660, $38,000–$51,000

"The ref. 16660 Sea-Dweller aka the “triple six” sits at a transitional period, with early examples featuring matte dials and later examples featuring glossy dials. That transition happened around 1984, just as it did in the Submariner family. This is a lovable reference as later examples marry a lot of vintage charm (smaller case size, the use of tritium), with modern amenities like a sapphire crystal and newer 3035 caliber movement. This watch is a later production example with a mk II dial (which fixed the crazing seen on mk I dials, and added back the hyphen between Sea-Dweller), that is also Tiffany signed, signifying its sale through the iconic luxury retailer. An ironic addition to the hardcore sensibilities of the über dive watch, but such examples are rare and I wouldn't be surprised to see this lot achieve a price on the north end of its estimate." 

Double Red Sea-Dweller, Ref. 1665, $23,000–$28,000

"There’s a lot of lore associated with the so-called Double Red Sea-Dweller for its association with commercial diving projects along with government-funded projects like SEALAB," Buettner says. "Finding a DRSD with documented dive provenance is something of a holy grail for Rolex dive watch collectors. This is among the later examples to be fitted with a double red dial, a mk IV in this case, and while the case is in reasonable condition, the dial raises a few red flags to me, most prominently the application of the red lettering. While the serial number does fall within the range of known double red dials, the letters are usually much more evenly applicated and clearly legible. The hands also look to be service units, which isn’t entirely uncommon with watches of this era but may keep the price down a bit."