Four vintage watches that rocked the June auctions

Despite financial uncertainty surrounding the global pandemic, the vintage watch market is on the rise. David Duggan takes a look at four classic timepieces that recently fetched staggering sums at auction

The global COVID-19 pandemic has put many industries on hold for the time being, but the luxury pre-owned watch market has seen unwavering demand. Why? Well, as our own David Duggan says: “During a time of financial uncertainty, a physical commodity like a watch represents a comparatively dependable investment.” And, with their rarity factor, unrivalled craftsmanship and sense of nostalgia, vintage timepieces are seen as especially sound choices in 2020.

There has certainly been no shortage of interest in these icons of the past, as two auctions in Geneva in June 2020 attest. Four watches in particular hit the headlines when they went under the hammer: three Rolexes at Antiquorum’s Important Modern & Vintage Timepieces June 2020 auction and a record-breaking Patek Philippe sold by Phillips at the Geneva Watch Auction: XI.

Here, One to Watch takes a look at each timepiece and explores what makes them so appealing.

1955 Rolex Oyster Chronograph reference 6034

This beautiful and extremely rare pink gold timepiece with riveted bracelet is in close to mint condition, as evidenced by the crisp, deep hallmarks on the lugs and back of the case. An early example of Rolex’s more sporty versions of the chronograph (as denoted by its reference beginning with a six), it is only the second to feature a screw-down waterproof case back, making it more rugged and durable than its predecessors.

The dial has an attractive light patina, caused by natural oxidisation of the metal over time, but shows no signs of blemishes or damage, unlike many examples from this period. Its rare configuration features luminous dauphine hands and indexes, all still perfectly matching.

Sale details: When it went to auction in June 2020, it doubled its estimate of CHF250,000-350,000, fetching a staggering CHF600,000.

Above: A Rolex Oyster in rose gold is a special timepiece indeed. Illustrative image only.

1979 Rolex Submariner COMEX reference 1680

This is a rare example of Rolex’s partnership with COMEX, a company specialising in technology for underwater exploration at great depths. In the early-1970s Rolex made a deal to supply all COMEX divers with Rolex Submariners and Sea Dwellers free of charge. In return COMEX would report back on the performance of the timepieces. With such expertise behind it, unsurprisingly the Submariner went on to become the diver’s watch of choice.

None of these watches was ever sold to the public, making this particular timepiece especially collectable. Of those that remain, many of the COMEX logo dials were replaced with regular Rolex faces, again adding to this model’s rarity.

This reference 1680 has been kept in pristine condition, having never been used for diving, and came with its original punched warranty  ̶  another unusual feature as most were retained by COMEX and never given to the final owner.

Sale details: With an estimate of CHF150,000-250,000, the reference 1680 went on to fetch CHF524,000.

1969 Rolex ‘Red’ Submariner reference 1680

Introduced in 1966, the ‘Red’ Submariner reference 1680 was the first model to include a date complication with Rolex’s patented magnifying Cyclops lens and has become one of the most sought-after vintage Rolex references. This 1969 model features an attractive ‘tropical dial’, where the patina takes on a rich brown hue, making it particularly desirable (you can find out more about this ageing process in our article on patina), as well as adding to its value.

Above: The iconic submariner has inspired the auction rooms in 2020. Illustrative image only.

The dial is a Mark II, as signified by the metres-first configuration, the open number six, and the elongated ‘f’ in ‘ft’. In excellent condition, the watch came to auction with its correct punched Chronometer attestation and original fitted bracelet dated 1971.

Early versions of the model, like this one, had the ‘Submariner’ label written in red, hence the nickname. Rolex eventually phased out the red writing in 1973, replacing it with white, another reason why this timepiece is particularly prized by collectors.

Sale details: The watch greatly exceeded its estimate at auction of CHF40,000-60,000, eventually fetching CHF103,750.

1948 pink gold Patek Philippe reference 1518

We’ve saved, if not necessarily the best, then certainly the most valuable, for last. This rare Patek Philippe reference 1518 with moonphase complication was previously part of the private collection of legendary Swiss watchmaker and businessman Jean-Claude Biver. It has become something of a record breaker in the horological world. The recent Phillips auction in Geneva attracted a record 1,800 online bidders from 67 countries, but it was the price (more than CHF 3.5 million) that really made this timepiece stand out.


The reference 1518 was the first perpetual calendar chronograph wristwatch ever produced in series when it was introduced in 1941. Only 281 were manufactured before the reference ceased production and the majority of those were cased in yellow gold. Those that were made in pink gold were usually fitted with a silvered dial. Only 13 were crafted in pink gold with a pink dial, making this particular model one of the most exclusive complicated Patek wristwatches a collector can acquire.

Above: The moonphase remains one of Patek Philippe's most desirable and aesthetic features, Illustrative image only.

The watch also features special blued-steel hour and minute hands, apparently a particular request of the original owner who required better legibility, making this watch truly unique. Preserved in excellent condition, this really is a ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ timepiece.

Sale details: With an estimate of CHF1.2-2.4 million, it went on to fetch a record-busting CHF 3,380,000.

During the COVID-19 crisis, David Duggan Watches remains available to advise you on buying or selling your vintage watch. Simply telephone us on 0207 491 1675 or 020 7491 1362 and we will be delighted to help you find your perfect timekeeping investment.