In May 2014 – five months after Christie’s record-shattering, jaw-dropping “Lesson One” Rolex Daytona mega-auction – I got my “lesson” on buying a vintage Daytona. As the two-year anniversary of my Daytona story approaches, I’ve decided it’s finally time to share this tale with the watch collecting community – partly because of the sheer incredibleness of it and partly because I find it a cathartic experience given the outcome.
And no hard feelings if you think I should be stripped of my #watchfam credentials after you read this. Not a day goes by that I don’t mentally torture myself with shoulda woulda coulda reproaches…
At precisely 10:06pm – right before I nodded off to dreamland – I heard my cell phone vibrate on my nightstand. The buzz was this email from a local estate jeweler who had me on his shortlist of people interested in buying watches. Up until then the watches he messaged me about were along the lines of Elgin, Bucherer and Corum – not quite in my wheelhouse. So you can understand why I shot out of bed at his subject line this time around: “Special Rolex Daytona…”
I read and reread his message; so many thoughts were swirling in my mind. First, there were the red flags waiving in my face at the mention of the words “Daytona,” “Tiffany & Co.” and “$7,000” all in the same breath. But then there was the seemingly genuine nature of the for sale inquiry. I mean just look at the date stamped pictures and the elementary school ruler used for scale. And I’ll add this about the jeweler: watches are not his specialty, so it was very likely this Daytona and his price were honest.
To say sleep wasn’t in the cards for me that night would be a gross understatement. I remember staying up into the wee hours comparing the jeweler’s snapshots – accented with light box ambiance – to pictures on the pages of my oversized, full color Rolex reference books. Now please keep in mind that back then I didn’t know the likes of James and Jacob at analog/shift, Paul at Bob’s Watches or Justin Vrakas of watchsteez. In fact, I hadn’t even attended my first RedBar Chicago GTG yet. So I was pretty much on my own to authenticate this rare, double-signed “Big Red.” But I will say I did attempt to call on a lifeline: a dial expert by the name of John Buckley – the man behind the painted roman numeral “Buckley” dials found on some Rolex references.
I forwarded pics to John and asked for his opinion. Unfortunately it was very late when I reached out to him, so I didn’t hear a response that night – or by the time my 11am appointment rolled around the following morning.
I examined the watch in a backroom – just me and the owner. He unscrewed the caseback, popped the bracelet using a Bergeon-esque end of a paper clip, and let me have at it. I tried my best to keep my hand from shaking to capture clear shots for John. I peered through a loupe to scrutinize the dial – the “Tiffany & Co.” stamp in particular. I noticed the font was uneven, which actually didn’t bother me too much because I’d felt like I’d seen photos of confirmed Tiffany dials with a similar slanted script.
But despite the apparent correctness of the Tiffany logo – at least to my untrained eye – and the movement looking spot-on, a part of my brain was making excuses why this watch couldn’t be the real McCoy. Maybe it was the backstory: That it was most recently acquired as payment to settle a golfing bet, which sounded a little contrived in order to substantiate provenance – but it could be true…
What ultimately made me turn it down were the screw-down pushers: they weren’t spaced equidistant from the Triplock crown. Their placement seemed odd; I thought “Why would Rolex design a case that’s not evenly proportioned?” Of course when I got home and cracked my Daytona reference book open again, I quickly realized the design of the Valjoux 727 movement included asymmetrically arranged pushers. All the cramming I did the night before – how did I miss this blatant detail?
Shortly after realizing the bonehead move I in all likelihood just made, John Buckley got back to me. Based on what he saw, his judgement was that the watch looked good. Of course when I called the jeweler back, it was no longer available…
I’ve never been afraid to admit my mistakes – and I always try to learn from my blunders. One major takeaway from all this is: never show up empty-handed when a deal like this could go down. As I know all too well now, you only get one chance to close on a deal for this kind of watch. If I had a mulligan on this opportunity, the dough would be in an envelope in my breast pocket. But again, I beg for your mercy. I had never spent that much before and it goes without saying I didn’t know the nuances of the model then – like I do now. I was stuck on the fact that a Tiffany Daytona was being offered to me for $7K – it reeked of being “too good to be true.” I mean you can’t even get a modern Daytona for that price. I went in highly suspicious – my fugazi/frankenwatch antennae were on high alert. It’s not like this was a LeCoultre Deep Sea Alarm in a Goodwill bin for $5.99.
To this day – and probably for the rest of my life – this will always be “the one that got away.” So many questions still float in my head and remain unanswered. Like, how did a $7,000 price tag get attached to this watch? Was it the case of a vintage watch being compared to a modern version and discounted because of its age and condition? After all, it did seem like the jeweler was trying to close the deal by offering to “polish the metal” or “replace the dial.”
Knowing what I know now about vintage Daytonas, let me say this about what I’d do if I had the chance at a do-over: First, I believe the watch is legit. At a minimum, the case, bezel, movement, and hands appear to be the genuine article. The only thing I’m hesitant to bet my life on is the “Tiffany & Co.” stamp. But even if the dial had been tampered with – an attempt to pass off an otherwise pedestrian ref. 6265 as one retailed by Tiffany – at $7,000 I would be in a good position, financially, to restore with an unblemished, time period correct dial. But think about it, why would someone go through the trouble of adding “Tiffany & Co.” to a Daytona dial and then only ask $7,000 for it?
I think I royally screwed-up on this one… Please forgive me…