Paul Newman’s personal Rolex Daytona, a gift from his wife Joanne Woodward, recently sold for a staggering $17.8 million, a world record for any wristwatch sold at auction. And a first-generation Omega Speedmaster watch sold for $275,508 late last year. The early Speedmaster from 1958 has the rare “broad arrow” hour hand, and was discovered in an attic in a box, untouched, for decades. Of course, not every timepiece once belonged to a Hollywood icon or was one of the first ever made of its type, but even more down-to-earth vintage Rolex Daytonas and Omega Speedmasters have been on the rise.
Both the Speedmaster and the Daytona have been in production for over 50 years, and countless thousands (including new pieces) are still available for sale. So why are these vintage watches fetching prices at stratospheric levels? It comes down to the allure of one complication: the chronograph. Chronographs give off the aura of the sporting life and symbolize an adventurous spirit, whether the owner is sitting at his desk or racing in his Ferrari. For collectors, early chronographs represent a new watchmaking era of high precision teamed with a ready-for-anything spirit. The Rolex and Omega chronographs have remained relatively unchanged through the ensuing decades. But a closer look reveals subtle differences, hardly discernible to the untrained eye, between the older, rarer watches and the new pieces.
The official name for the Rolex Daytona chronograph is the Cosmograph Daytona. Not satisfied with simply calling the watch a chronograph, Rolex wanted a unique term to set them apart from the crowd. In 1953 the brand registered the name Cosmograph and it has stuck ever since. Soon after the Cosmograph’s introduction in 1963, Daytona was added to the dial above the center subdial to commemorate Rolex’s connection to racing and the legendary Daytona track.
Rolex Daytona Watch | Rolex Daytona Watch | Rolex Daytona Watch
The watch had been selling at a moderate pace until Newman was spotted wearing it on the track and in numerous magazine photos. The Newman Daytona then gained the cult status that endures to this day. Only 2,000-3,000 watches with his specific dial were made. A new Daytona in steel looks extremely similar to Newman’s to the untrained eye and goes for about $12,500. For those in the know, the Newman Daytona is all about the dial design details. Newman’s watch has art deco style numerals, “lollipop” hash markers on the subdials, and a small “step” between the dial and the outer minute track. The watch has the exact same movement, case design and bracelet as the other Daytonas of its time. With these subtle design details, the Newman Daytona sold for more that 1,400 times the price of a new watch. The personal engraving on the back of Newman’s Daytona added astronomically to its rarity, making it truly one of a kind. The watch is seen as a piece of history.
The first Speedmasters were introduced in 1957, and also were intended to be a chronograph for race car drivers. The Speedmaster gained its iconic status in 1969, when it was the first watch to land on the moon. When Buzz Aldrin stepped off the Apollo 11 lunar lander and said the famous words “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” he was wearing a Speedmaster watch. To this day, the Speedmaster is one of a very few watches that are qualified by NASA for flights into space, and the only one that is also certified for “extra-vehicular activity,” or space walking. Considered a must-own by collectors, no matter their budgets, the “Speedy,” as it is known to insiders, is a social media sensation. On Instagram, Tuesday is “Speedy Tuesday” for collectors, who post pictures of their Speedmaster watches weekly on that day. Its cult status prompted Omega to release a limited edition Speedy Tuesday Speedmaster to satisfy obsessed collectors.
Omega Speedmaster Watch | Omega Speedmaster Watch | Omega Speedmaster Watch
All of this is good news for the resale values of Speedmasters and Daytonas. Vintage pieces in good to excellent condition are good investments and can sell for several times their original retail price. It’s a great time to sell a Speedy or Daytona – there’s no evidence that this trend will die down anytime soon. If you’d like to invest in a newer watch, be sure that it is authentic with all original parts and in good condition. Keep the original box and paperwork, which can add 10% or more to the resale price. While a $17.8 million price tag isn’t likely, you can expect a healthy return on investment. In the market to buy? Our team of experts authenticates every watch we sell and provides a detailed condition report with every timepiece.
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