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 7 minutes

The Top 5 Most Desirable Vintage Rolex Models

By Jorg Weppelink
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Rolex is hot property. If you weren’t already aware of that, you must have been in another dimension for the past five years. We have seen prices go up for pretty much every Rolex model. There is a lot of focus on modern Rolex watches and their increasing prices, but if you think prices for modern Rolex watches are crazy, wait until you see what has happened to prices for collectible vintage Rolexes.

Some of these models have become incredibly expensive and are, thus, only within reach for the select few. Between March 15 and 29, the auction house Christie’s Dubai will sell four vintage Rolex timepieces for prices estimated between $80,000 and $1.2 million. But why are vintage Rolex timepieces so expensive? Let’s take a look at five of the most desirable vintage Rolex models out there and find out why they are so sought-after among collectors.

1. Rolex Daytona Paul Newman Ref. 6239

When you think of desirable vintage Rolex Daytona models, the first one to pop into mind is probably the colorful Rolex Daytona Paul Newman. You are right, Paul Newman models have been popular with collectors for quite some time now, but what has happened to their prices is pretty ridiculous. I remember back when I was first getting interested in watches in the early 2000s. At the time, you could buy the iconic Rolex Daytona Paul Newman ref. 6239 for roughly $30,000. Nowadays, you’d have to pay at least tenfold before you could even start thinking about buying one.

If you search the Chrono24 Marketplace for a Rolex Daytona ref. 6239, you will quickly find a lot of cheaper versions of the reference listed, but you have to keep in mind that the “Paul Newman” name specifically refers to watches with an “Exotic” dial that are more colorful than the original black or silver dial variants. These Paul Newman dials were considered a commercial failure and Rolex stopped producing them after a few years. As a result, they are quite rare, and with the name Paul Newman attached to the watch, they are some of the most desirable vintage watches out there. The most sought-after is Newman’s own Daytona ref. 6239, which was auctioned off for a whopping $17.8 million. Prices for “normal” Rolex Daytona Paul Newman ref. 6239 watches start at roughly $300,000 and can easily move up to $500,000.

The Rolex Daytona Paul Newman: the most desired vintage watch

2. Rolex Submariner Ref. 5514 “COMEX”

Another iconic series of watches are the Rolex COMEX models. For those who don’t know what COMEX is, it stands for Compagnie maritime d’expertises, aka the name of a French diving company. Rolex and COMEX worked together from 1970 until 1997 to create the best possible diving watches for divers on the COMEX team. In the 27 years the companies worked together, Rolex produced a total of nine COMEX watches, exclusively from the Submariner and Sea-Dweller ranges. The watches are easily recognizable by the COMEX logo on the dials. Another defining feature is the addition of a helium escape valve. This feature is very important for diving professionals, because otherwise the build-up of helium gas at great depths can cause the crystal of watches to pop out. The helium escape valve takes care of this problem by giving the helium a way to exit the watch. Christie’s Dubai has presented the ref. 16800 for auction and estimates prices between $80,000 and 120,000.

The most desirable of all the Rolex COMEX references, however, is probably the Submariner ref. 5514 that was specifically produced for the COMEX team. Rolex also produced COMEX versions of the regular ref. 5513, but since the ref. 5514 was made especially for the French diving team, it is more sought-after by collectors. It is believed that Rolex only produced 154 pieces of the ref. 5514, which makes them very rare and hard to find. If you do manage to find one, however, you will not only own a unique piece of Rolex history, but you will also be able to wear a watch that has probably seen the depths of the ocean, which is what the Submariner was actually created for. That fact alone makes these watches some of the coolest vintage Rolex pieces out there. Expect to see prices between roughly $100,000 and $200,000 for one of these classics.

Rolex Submariner COMEX Ref. 16800. (Est. US$80,000-120,000) © Christie’s

3. Rolex Submariner Ref. 6538 “Big Crown”

The second watch on this list is also linked to a famous actor. The Rolex Submariner ref. 6538 “Big Crown” is the watch that Sean Connery wore in multiple James Bond films. It’s believed that the Rolex Submariner Connery wore in Dr. No, From Russia with Love, and Goldfinger was his own personal watch. In Dr. No and From Russia With Love, Connery wore the watch on a leather strap, while in Goldfinger, he switched to a far too narrow fabric strap that wasn’t the best choice, to be honest. Of course, this is not the only watch that’s connected to James Bond. Read more about famous James Bond watches here.

The Rolex Submariner ref. 6538 was introduced in 1956, along with the Submariner ref. 6536. The main difference between these two watches is the larger crown on the ref. 6538, which gives it a lot more character. Rolex produced two versions of the ref. 6538, both of which are easily recognizable. The first features two lines of text on the lower half of the dial, while the second features four lines of text. The four-line Submariner was actually the first Rolex Submariner to feature a movement with chronometer certification. Another way to tell these two apart is that the two-line version features hash marks from the 0/60 position to 15 on the bezel inlay; these aren’t present on the four-line version. Bond wore the latter version – nothing but the best for 007. Prices for the “Big Crown” Submariner ref. 6538 start around $70,000 and move up quickly to $250,000 for pieces in great condition.

The Rolex Submariner “Big Crown” – nothing but the best for 007

4. Rolex GMT-Master Ref. 6542

We’ll stay on the topic of James Bond for a bit longer with this next watch: the Rolex GMT-Master ref. 6542. This was the first reference of the iconic red and blue GMT-Master. In Goldfinger, Bond-girl Honor Blackman wore the watch in her role as Pussy Galore. It’s great to see the GMT-Master in the film, but seeing it on Blackman’s wrist is even more special. In those days, it wasn’t exactly normal for women to wear watches that size, but the fact that she played Goldfinger’s personal pilot and was an all-around cool character makes it even better. After all, the Rolex GMT-Master was created so pilots could keep track of the time in two time zones at once. The red and blue color scheme was inspired by the famous Pan Am colors.

The Rolex GMT-Master ref. 6542 is one of my personal favorite vintage Rolex models. I particularly love the shades of red and blue that Rolex used for the Bakelite bezel. Seeing those colors in combination with the discolored 24-hour scale is the ultimate patina charm, if you ask me. The Bakelite bezel is one of the most vulnerable parts of the watch, as the material is known to crack easily. This makes it tough to wear a vintage version, but even so, the bezel colors have never been better than on the ref. 6542. Additionally, the design of the Rolex GMT-Master hasn’t changed as much as other iconic Rolex models. The overall design remained the same for many generations of the GMT-Master, but there can only ever be one first. Expect to see prices between roughly $70,000 and $150,000, depending on the condition.

The very first Rolex GMT-Master Pepsi got famous on the wrist of a Bond girl

5. Rolex Daytona Paul Newman Ref. 6264 in Gold

The final watch on this list is another Rolex Daytona Paul Newman. I know, it might sound a bit predictable, but this is not a “normal” Paul Newman model. Anyone who knows anything about vintage hand-wound Daytona models will tell you that refs. 6262 (steel bezel) and 6264 (black acrylic bezel) are probably the rarest and most sought-after Daytona models. Both references were only produced for a very short time – some say only a year – so numbers are limited. It is believed that Rolex only ever produced 1,800 pieces of each reference, the vast majority of which were steel versions.

Roughly 15% of the watches were produced in 18k yellow gold. The yellow gold Rolex Daytona Paul Newman ref. 6264 with its black bezel insert is the absolute winner, in my opinion. Most of the gold versions were fitted with a “Lemon Paul Newman” dial, i.e., yellow with black subdials. This spectacular dial looks absolutely amazing in combination with the gold case and bracelet. The second dial version, however, is even more rare. The John Player Special, or “JPS” dial, has the reverse color scheme, i.e., a black dial with light yellow subdials. It is believed that Rolex only produced a handful of these watches. It goes without saying that these are some of the most, if not the most, desirable vintage Rolex watches out there. You will find these timepieces almost strictly at auctions. Expect to see prices ranging from $1 to $2 million. What you get in return is simply breathtaking, although I can imagine it being a difficult watch to wear given the price.

The Paul Newman Rolex Daytona ref. 6264 in gold

So, there you have it, a list of the five most desirable vintage Rolex models. These are all watches for the select few, seeing that their asking prices easily supersede the $100,000 mark. But they are, after all, some of the most iconic timepieces that were ever created. These models are more than just a watch or a vintage watch; they tell stories of the past and have shaped the watch industry we know today.

About the Author

Jorg Weppelink

Hi, I'm Jorg, and I've been writing articles for Chrono24 since 2016. However, my relationship with Chrono24 goes back a bit longer, as my love for watches began …

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