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As a passionate watch enthusiast and Rolex aficionado, 2023 has been a remarkable year witnessing some of the most iconic and coveted Rolex watches going under the hammer. The world of watch auctions is always thrilling, with each event revealing a piece of history, a tale of craftsmanship, and often, a record-breaking bid. This year, several Rolex watches stood out, not just for their exceptional design and history but also for the fascinating stories they brought to the auction stage. In this article, I’ll take you through my personal favorites from the 2023 Rolex auction lineup, exploring their unique features, historical significance, and the reasons why they stirred the collectors’ world.

Rolex “Big Crown” Submariner ref#6200

First on my list is one of my fave Rolex Submariners, Big Crown ref#6200 w/Explorer dial from 1954.The reference 6200 is a dream for any serious collector. It boasts a sizable 37.5mm case and the much-coveted “Explorer” 3-6-9 dial, unique for its lack of depth rating and Submariner signature that later models adopted. This watch, alongside the 6205, was among the first to feature the now-iconic “Mercedes” style hands. The hour hand in this early version is noticeably longer compared to its successors.

These watches were produced in very limited quantities, with serial numbers falling between 31.9xx and 32.2xx.

Making only its second appearance in the auction scene, this particular piece has a history as captivating as its design. Originally owned by a Scandinavian sailor who captained ships, including during the Suez Canal crisis in 1956, the watch was tucked away in a drawer for nearly two decades following his passing. It resurfaced and was sold at Phillips Geneva in 2018, marking it as a rare two-owners-since-new piece with a clear lineage.

The condition of this watch is nothing short of impressive. The original owner, described by his family as a dandy and an aesthete, meticulously maintained it despite daily wear. The result is a watch that has preserved its strong structure, with original factory bevels and sharp lines intact. Its gilt glossy dial creates a striking contrast with large Arabic numerals that have aged to a gorgeous cream color, accentuating the watch’s sporty look.

The watch has been serviced once, during which it received an additional service bezel, yet it retains its original one.

The iconic reference 6200 stands as one of the most sought-after and collectible vintage sport watches. A two-owner example in such remarkable condition is a true gem, an unmissable trophy for any dedicated Rolex collector.

Original auction estimates were $275,000-550,000

It sold for $325,000

This auction took place Nov 3-4, 2023 in Geneva Switzerland by Phillips Auction House

Rare Rolex  Triple calendar chronograph ref#6236 “The Guido Mondani Killy”

Second on the list is the 36mm stainless steel rare triple calendar chronograph red#6236 “The Guido Mondani Killy” from 1960

The “Jean-Claude Killy” Rolex is a monumental model in the world of luxury timepieces, named in honor of the French Olympic skiing legend, Jean-Claude Killy, known for sporting the reference 6236.

This model traces its origins back to 1947 with the launch of reference 4767, Rolex’s pioneering triple calendar chronograph wristwatch housed in a water-resistant Oyster case. Over the years, from 1947 to 1962, Rolex crafted four distinct Oyster Dato-Compax models – references 4767, 5036, 6036, and 6236. Available in yellow and pink gold as well as in stainless steel, each variant saw limited production runs. Through its evolution, the design of both the dial and case underwent modifications, culminating in the reference 6236, which boasted a sleeker, modern dial and a robust three-piece case with a larger bezel.

Each reference in the Killy line showcases dial advancements:

  • Reference 4767 featured an outside date ring with “open” 6s and 9s, with numbers always facing the center, making the date at 15 appear upside down.
  • Reference 5036 introduced a flipped numbering at positions 8-23 on the date ring for better legibility, maintaining the “open” 6s and 9s.
  • Reference 6036 followed suit with a similar design to the 5036 for enhanced readability.
  • Reference 6236, the final iteration, is found predominantly in the serial range 5763XX. It showcases closed 6s and 9s on the date ring, with hour markers punched through the dial and distinctive “Feuille” hands.

The 6236 on offer is a remarkable example of Rolex craftsmanship. Its robust case remains crisp and sharp, showing minimal signs of wear over its lifetime. The dial too is in excellent condition, a rare feat considering the watch’s age.

The watch’s pedigree is equally impressive. Previously part of The Mondani Collection of Rolex Wristwatches (lot 75, April 1, 2006), it has been immortalized in literature, featuring prominently in Osvaldo Patrizzi’s “Collezionare Orologi da Polso Rolex Collecting Wristwatches” (pages 478-479). It was later auctioned at Phillips, 11-12 May 2019, The Geneva Watch Auction: NINE, lot 56.

Intriguingly, this particular piece is a mere 5 serial numbers away from the record-breaking reference 6236 from the Gordon Bethune collection, which fetched 702,500 CHF at Phillips Geneva Watch Auction: EIGHT. Such proximity in serial numbers adds a layer of allure and connection to a record-setting counterpart, making this watch a captivating piece of Rolex history.

Original auction estimated were $275,000-$550,000

It sold for $386,000

This auction took place Nov 3-4, 2023 in Geneva Switzerland by Phillips Auction House

Rolex Submariner ref#5513 w/”tropical laquer exclamation mark” dial on bracelet

Number 3 on my list is the Rolex Submariner ref#5513 w/”tropical laquer exclamation mark” dial on bracelet from 1962.The Rolex Submariner isn’t just a well-known line in Rolex’s repertoire; it represents one of the most fascinating developmental journeys in watchmaking. The piece in question, a 1962 version of the reference 5513, is a prime example of this. Launched shortly after its chronometer-rated counterpart, the 5512, these models were groundbreaking as the first in the Submariner series to include crown guards – a feature that would become synonymous with the line.

This particular watch, bearing the serial number 765026 from 1962, is exceptionally captivating. It boasts a host of rare and desirable attributes, elevating it to an extraordinarily collectible status.

The dial is the undeniable highlight. Initially black, it has transformed over time into a deep, mesmerizing brown with a unique “degrade” effect. The color radiates outward, turning golden in certain lights, giving the impression that the dial is emitting light. The rich chocolate hues give this timepiece a truly singular look. The unpredictable evolution of the black lacquer dial to this astonishing state adds to its allure. Another intriguing aspect is the small dot at 6 o’clock, marking it as an “exclamation mark” dial. Produced only briefly between 1961 and 1962, these dials indicated a lower radiation level than their predecessors. The case too is remarkable, with its sharp bevels and robust proportions well-preserved.

Adding to its charm, this watch has a storied connection to the world of racing. It was consigned by the son of the original owner, Randall Bouverat, a professional racer who even appeared in the racing documentary “Once Upon a Wheel” with Paul Newman. The watch, which accompanied Bouverat on numerous adventures, came with a letter from his son, detailing the various exploits and the constant presence of this trusty Submariner. This blend of horological significance and a rich racing heritage makes this Submariner a treasure of both timekeeping and storytelling.

Original auction estimates were $33,000-$65,900

It sold for $80,215

This auction took place Nov 3-4, 2023 in Geneva Switzerland by Phillips Auction House

Rolex Milgauss ref#6541

The fourth and final watch which happens to be my holy grail is the incredible, Rolex Milgauss ref#6541 from 1958. This watch is not just an incredibly rare and exquisite timepiece but perhaps the most pristine and complete reference 6541 ever seen at auction.

Launched in 1956, the 6541 marked Rolex’s foray into the world of the Milgauss, crafted specifically for professionals in high magnetic fields like scientists and engineers. Its distinctive “lightning” seconds hand is a clever nod to its electromagnetism-resistant design. The Milgauss, capable of withstanding up to 1,000 oersted magnetic fields, gets its name from ‘mille’ (Latin for 1,000) and ‘gauss’, a unit for magnetic fields. It achieves this feat with anti-magnetic alloys and an iron movement cover, effectively acting as a Faraday cage. Given its niche target market, it remains one of Rolex’s rarest models.

The piece in question, dating back to 1958, is a marvel in preservation, presented by Phillips in Association with Bacs & Russo. Its likely unpolished state showcases original factory finishes, from the beveled lugs to the red-tipped bezel and the sharply milled case back. The contrast of polished and brushed surfaces underscores its untouched authenticity.

Standing out is its lightning bolt-shaped seconds hand, lending the watch an unmatched character. The exceptionally rare black “Honeycomb” dial, featuring circular and triangular faceted indexes, remains in astonishingly pristine condition, free from any signs of ageing, with graphics that pop.

Enhancing its allure is an array of original accessories – the Rolex Chronometer Certificate, Guarantee, Milgauss literature, an extra chronometer certificate dated June 14, 1960, the hang tag, and its presentation box. It’s rare to find a reference 6541 this complete.

For collectors, acquiring a reference 6541 is a lofty aspiration, but finding one in such unspoiled condition with an impeccable dial and complete with original accessories is almost mythical. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence in the world of watch collecting, a true white whale that may not resurface on the market anytime soon.

Original auction estimated were $571,000-$1,140,000

It sold for $2,618,728.56

This auction took place May 13-14, 2023 in Geneva by Philipps auction house

When you think about how these watches were considered tool watches that performed a specific function and at best were around $1,000 or less when they came out almost 70 years ago, this should show you just how powerful, timeless and relevant Rolex is today!

All pics and techinical watch info courtesy of

Due to the unpredictable and volatile market on certain Rolex, Patek Philippe and Audemars Piguet watches, prices are subject to change.