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Life in the Fast Lane: Vintage Rolex Daytona Collecting

Paul Altieri

If you’re like me, you get a kick out of seeing a rare vintage Rolex watch ad from the 1960s and fantasizing about what it must’ve been like to pay $195 for a pointed crown guard Submariner or how about $240 for a GMT-Master with a bakelite bezel… Now, I don’t beat myself up about missing the boat on these. Heck, I wasn’t even alive back then.


Rolex Daytona ref. 116500LN
Rolex Daytona ref. 116500LN


My love affair with watches, Rolex in particular, didn’t take shape until the mid ’90s. I ended up buying my first Rolex, a stainless steel Datejust, in 1998. Which brings me to the topic of this article: In April of 1992, only six years before I purchased my first Rolex, Antiquorum Auctioneers held a wristwatch sale that included 131 – mostly vintage – Rolex watches. Of these lots, 56 were Daytonas of all shapes and sizes…

stainless steel cosmograph daytona discolored dials
Stainless Steel Cosmograph Daytona with Discolored Dials

In 1992 I was eleven years old. The furthest thing from my mind was attending a watch auction – in Geneva to boot. I was too busy collecting baseball cards… I only learned about this auction a few years ago, when I found the catalog at a flea market. Recently, I decided to dust it off and imagine what it would’ve been like to be in attendance that weekend in April – to raise a paddle in the Hotel des Bergues and bid on a vintage Rolex…

Judging by the lot descriptions, it’s safe to assume that twenty-four years ago no one was concerned with – or paying a premium for – those small details we enthusiasts go crazy for today. You won’t find a single mention of a dial described as “tropical.” The only distinction among Daytonas is the “so-called ‘Paul Newman'” variation. Many errors can be found printed in the catalog, such as: “Ref. 6239, with steel bezel, produced from 1961 to 1988…” Many of the lot descriptions are just cut-and-pasted, including the estimates. To say this time period was the calm before the storm in watch collecting would be an understatement.

Vintage Rolex Daytona Paul Newman ref. 6239
Vintage Rolex Daytona Paul Newman ref. 6239

Which leads me to share with you the results… I took the liberty of converting the hammer prices, reported in Swiss Francs, into US Dollars according to the exchange rate back in 1992. I also chose to focus solely on the Daytonas – the most-collectible Rolex model today. Make sure you’re sitting down before you read any further – these prices even include the buyer’s premium…

49 Daytonas were sold that weekend. The average price was $7,285.

Of the 49 Daytona lots, 14 were the “so-called ‘Paul Newman'” variety. On average, a “Paul Newman” went for $9,724.

7 stainless steel Daytonas sold for $4,991. None of these were modern – they were all vintage, manual wind.

You might be surprised to know that the Daytona achieving the highest result was not a “Paul Newman,” but rather was a tie between a solid 18ct. yellow gold ref. 6265 and a solid 18ct. yellow gold  ref. 6263 (lots 340 and 342 respectively). Both watches sold for $18,428. The auction total from the sale of all 49 Daytonas was $356,973. For comparison, Christie’s “Lesson One” Daytona auction in November 2013, which featured 50 exceptional Daytona lots to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the model (1963-2013), realized a total of $13,248,167.

To top things off, just last year Paul Newman’s very own Vintage Rolex Daytona was sold for over $17 million. Prices are skyrocketing, and there’s no sign of it slowing down anytime soon.

important watches auction Christies sells a Vintage Rolex Daytona
Christie’s Watch Auction

I’ll leave it up to you to speculate on the factors at play over the last 20+ years that have caused the value (and price) of a Rolex Daytona to skyrocket… Over the next 5, 10, 20+ years, do you think prices for Daytonas will continue to soar, level off, or come back to earth? Will it be a good investment or not? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

Paul Altieri

Ed Estlow is a freelance writer and marketing consultant writing about luxury watches and travel from his home base in suburban Minneapolis, Minnesota. He also writes for Gear Patrol, Worn and Wound, and American Hard Assets magazine.