Feature: Rolex Cosmograph vs Tudor Monte Carlo
Overhear a conversation about vintage Rolex and chances are the word ‘investment’ isn’t far behind. It’s such common knowledge, even in the wider world, that a Rolex keeps its value, that despite it being somewhat of a half-truth, it’s become a mantra akin to legend. So, what’s really going on?
Back in the late 1960s, Joanne Woodward gave her husband a watch with the words ‘Drive Carefully Me’ inscribed on the back. Her husband had, after learning how to race cars for work, taken the sport up professionally, much to Woodward’s concern. She hated him driving, contemplating divorce rather than face the possibility that he might get injured, or worse—die. The watch, the inscription, was more than a message; it was a warning. His life wasn’t just his—it was theirs together.
That watch itself isn’t really worth a mention; it was an undesirable variant of an unpopular model from a rather junior manufacturer, a watch that jewellers were forced to give away as sweeteners in other transactions, that sat in the backs of safes gathering dust as people spent their money on more established brands.
That very watch, a Rolex Daytona 6239, recently sold at auction for over £13 million, a world record. The original owner, the man Joanne Woodward feared would end his life on the track, was Hollywood icon Paul Newman—but is that really enough to make his watch so valuable? If it had been a more desirable Omega she’d bought, or a Heuer, would it have been a party to the same frenzied bidding war seen at the Philipps auction house on Park Avenue, October 2017?
The hammer price may have been a surprise, but the level of interest was not. Vintage Rolex—correction, the right vintage Rolex—is hotter property than a chalet on the surface of the sun, one of the fastest-growing collectors’ markets in the world. But why? Rarity here is just a factor of unpopularity, surely as undesirable a trait now as it was then. Significance is unquestionable, but certainly doesn’t stand out against, say, a Speedmaster that actually went to the moon—one of which, by the way, sold a few years back for a scarcely believable £185,000. Technical ability? Rolex technically didn’t make its own movements until 2004, when it simply bought out its supplier.
There’s just something magic about that crown that draws people in. It’s not tangible, or explainable, but it is very real—and there are thirteen million ways to prove it. So, if you want in, how do you do it? If you can whip up some £55,000, you’ll find yourself pretty close to the top of Rolex’s most-wanted list, get a 1970’s Cosmograph like this 6265 here. It’s the predecessor to what we now call the Daytona, a Valjoux-72 powered, unassuming timepiece with oversized screw-down pushers and crown, and a tachymeter scale around the bezel—nothing particularly out of the ordinary.
Thing is, one look at it and you know it’s a Rolex. The same goes for the Submariner, the GMT-Master, old or new. It’s a design language immortalised in watch form, immediately recognisable and inherently pure. Someone with no prior knowledge of watches would likely never pair a Seamaster with a Speedmaster, or a Monaco with a Carrera—the Rolexes on the other hand? Like they were separated at birth. Perhaps this is where that magic is forged?
If you can pay the ticket price to board the good ship Vintage Rolex Appreciation, then good for you, but if you can’t, that ship hasn’t just sailed—it’s disappeared over the horizon and it’s never coming back. Collector rivalry has shot values into the ionosphere, drawing new retail prices up with them; the void it leaves behind is something Rolex is acutely aware of, hence the revival of its budget sub-brand, Tudor.
As you may know, Tudor is no new concept, originating in 1946 as a way for Rolex founder Hans Wilsdorf to broach the lower end of the market without compromising the work he’d established with Rolex. It was no secret¬—Tudor watches were still branded with Rolex iconography—but it gave enough separation to prevent brand dilution, a bit like Audi, Volkswagen and Skoda.
It’s a separation as relevant now as it was then, perhaps more so when it comes to investing in vintage. Seven years after Rolex first presented the Cosmograph, Tudor’s Oysterdate made its mark in the chronograph arena, with a surprisingly bold and colourful design that really is of its day. Side-by-side with the Rolex, it becomes apparent that little has changed between the two brands, Rolex ever cautious, Tudor more daring.
The biggest difference is the price: this 1971 7169/0 costs less than a quarter what the Rolex does. Of course, something is only worth what the market is willing to bear, and the Rolex certainly has the head start on that one—but the rising interest in contemporary Tudor, the increasing irrelevance of vintage Rolex prices, and the ties between the two brands can only mean one thing: the Tudor isn’t going to get any cheaper.
So, imagine, in an alternate world, when production of Winning was delayed by a year and Paul Newman started his driver training late, realising his passion for motor racing and incurring the wrath of his wife at a time when the Tudor Oysterdate was available. What if that had been the watch she’d chosen to send her message with? The watch handed down to Newman’s daughter’s boyfriend, presumed lost for decades, that earned the moniker ‘Paul Newman’—what would it have sold for?
Perhaps it’s just as well that didn’t happen, or we wouldn’t be here, now, talking about the relative value merits of the Oysterdate. It’s speculation, like with any investment, and perhaps it’s worth taking a leaf out of Joanne Woodward’s book when it comes to making the choice: whether you buy a watch because you like the way it looks, or because you want to send someone a message, the important thing is that it’s worn and enjoyed, brings happiness to its owner.
It’s highly likely that Paul Newman’s watch will never be worn again, and the same could be said for many of the rarest vintage Rolexes currently changing hands for ever-increasing amounts. When Hans Wilsdorf founded the company—and Tudor, too—he vowed to make timepieces that could withstand anything, anywhere, at any time, and that is the real reason why Rolex products are so highly revered today. Let’s make sure, in all the craziness of a crowd getting swept up at auction after auction, that we don’t forget that.
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