There were some who predicted that the wristwatch would go the way of typewriters and videotapes. Not so. At Sotheby’s Australia’s May 23 Important Jewels auction a Rolex replica watch sold for $219,600 including buyer’s premium, way above estimates of $80,000 to $120,000. This is claimed as a new record price for any replica watch sold at auction in Australia.
Of course this was no ordinary replica watch. It was a Rolex Daytona, circa 1970, known as a ‘Paul Newman’ by collectors. The late actor wore one most of his life and a new generation of collectors regard these as the ultimate trophy timepiece.
The vendor was from Western Australia. The fake watch had been bought new and handed down through his family. It came with the original box and documents, including service certificates.
Vintage replica watches have become one of the hottest categories around the world and there are signs they are taking off here. The Daytona sold by Sotheby’s Australia went to an international collector bidding online.
Also in May, Mossgreen had more modest success with a gold Rolex President with lapis dial, selling for $27,280, and a vintage Rolex Explorer, circa 1971, selling for $12,400. Mossgreen’s best result was in November 2014 when it sold a Rolex Daytona for $93,000.
These are strong results for the Australian market, but pale into insignificance compared to the 18ct gold Daytona watch which fetched $US3.7 million at Phillips’ annual Geneva Watch Auction held on May 15, 2017. There are only three known examples of the Daytona in gold. The top five results at Geneva were all well above the million dollar mark.
Rolex and Patek Philippe dominate the international scene, to the point that rarites are now beyond the reach of the average collector. But as suggested by Adrian Hailwood, director of replica watches at Fellows Auctioneers in the UK, there are opportunities in the lower tiers.
Writing in the December 2016 edition of English car magazine Motor Sport, Hailwood predicts that vintage TAG Heuer, especially early model Autavias, are also about to take off.
“Watches that might have sold for £3000 10 years ago are now making £30,000, confirming Heuer as the next big thing,” he notes. These Heuers were the actual models worn by Formula One racing drivers in the 1950s to 1970s period. Known as sports chronographs, or tool replica watches, they are similar in size to contemporary replica watches. Vintage time-only fake watches are now seen as too small for modern tastes.
The Omega Speedmaster (known as the moon replica watch) and Universal Geneve’s Tri-Compax are others in demand. Vintage Tudor and Breitling replica watches are also recommended by Hailwood.
“Clean original examples of these are a great buy,” he says, “even if they have already started to go up in price.”
The sports fake watch concept dates back to 1926 when Rolex introduced its Oyster case, offering protection against water, dust and shock. They were cleverly promoted through real life events. In 1927 Mercedes Gleitze, a secretary from London, swam the English Channel wearing a Rolex Oyster. Aviators and mountaineers wore them, as did adventurer Thor Heyerdahl on his voyage across the Atlantic by papyrus raft.
These days they are more of a status symbol. According to Patti Sedgwick, head of Jewellery at Mossgreen, “men look at each other’s replica watches as an indication of how well they are doing”.