Reef’s ’63 Rolex Le Mans

So  what  do  we  have  here? Oh just a super-honest example of what’s widely considered to be the first Rolex Daytona. Or, as its proud owner Reef likes to call it, the Rolex “Le Mans.” Until talking to Reef, I’d never heard someone refer to a Cosmograph by this name. But after giving it some thought – and being the Rolex purist that I am – I’m with Reef on this nomenclature. After all, his Rolex Chronograph is from 1963, which predates the official relationship between Rolex and the 24 Hours of Daytona (and the inaugural year of the “Cosmograph Daytona” – 1964).

How do we know Reef’s chrono qualifies as a pre-Daytona or Le Mans? Well, for one, if you toggle between Ben Clymer’s scholarly Historical Perspectives article on HODINKEE and images of Reef’s watch, you’ll see it has all the requisite hallmarks to classify it as the Mark I variation of the Daytona. From the “275” engraved, fully-hashed bezel to the silver-print underline and double-Swiss-marked dial. It even has the correct hour, minute and sub-dial hands… I could go on and on about how this watch crosses all the t’s and dots every i when it comes to being thoroughly and unequivocally the Le Mans version.





If it hasn’t already sunk in, it will soon, that Reef’s watch is a special one. And for me, its incredibleness goes beyond the correctness of its parts and condition (I mean… look at that dial). So what could make this Rolex Le Mans even better you ask? How about the story behind how Reef came to own it, which of course can’t be told without also telling the story about how it was found…

Are you sitting down for this? In 1996 an old trunk was purchased at an auction by a father and son who regularly bought miscellaneous items to later sell: farm equipment, entire estates, you name it. Well, this father/son picker team didn’t get around to prying that old trunk open until a few years ago. Yup, you did the math right. The trunk sat and collected dust for almost two decades… When they popped the latch and opened it up, the first thing they laid eyes on were coins galore. All sorts of currency, dating back to the 1800s – a numismatists dream find. Then, as they were sifting through and sorting the coinage, a watch emerged that was missing a pusher cap…

The son, who happened to be a friend of Reef’s, knew of his interest in vintage watches. He sent Reef a text saying, “look what I had up in an old box” followed by a short video of the Rolex on a tabletop ticking away. He asked Reef what he though of it… Now, while many of us would pray the guy didn’t know what he had or have access to the Internet, those thoughts didn’t cross Reef’s mind. And anyways, his friend revealed that he knew it was “worth some money.” Of course, Reef too knew what is was (although he didn’t know about the nuances that made it extra sweet). He told his friend he had found a “cool watch” and left it at that. Reef wasn’t in a position to buy a watch like this – a Daytona. There was no reason for him to get overly excited.

His friend confessed that he replied to a Want to Buy ad on a local classified website. The collector (or dealer) likely knew this particular watch essentially kicked-off the Daytona line. And while his strong offer was welcomed, his aggressiveness to get a deal done was a bit of a turn off…

Meanwhile, Reef was having second thoughts about counting himself out of the race so quickly. So, he called his old buddy back and shared his intentions for the watch – he wanted to restore functionality and wear it. Even though he had no idea where negotiations stood – price-wise – he asked anyway if he could be considered for the opportunity to own it…


What happened next is the stuff of legend. Because they’d always been on good terms, his friend said, “Reef, I want you to have this watch.” (I know, right? Hey, don’t hate on Reef!) But, before they agreed on a price, he wanted Reef to take it for a test drive to make sure it was all he hoped it would be… A mutual acquaintance of theirs was the intermediary. When he met up with Reef, he pulled the watch out of his breast pocket saying, “here’s the watch you were trying to look at.”

After living through something like this – a fantasy of every watch collector, which still seems surreal to Reef – he found himself pondering existential questions such as “Why me?” and “How did I get this watch over countless dealers and mega-collectors?” Listening to Reef recount the story, I have a few theories on how he secured this treasure, which actually turn out to be good life lessons: First, Reef told me he’s never been shy about letting people know what he’s interested in. This way, Reef said, “when the time and opportunity comes across, you’re considered…” Clearly this is why his old pal thought to text him.

Reef also feels strongly that you should never sell yourself short. He wants to remind us, “[we] have every opportunity that anybody else has…” He also reiterated throughout our chat to, “ask questions you want answers to and sometimes you get a good response…” If Reef didn’t call his friend back – and express his passion for the watch – he wouldn’t have this magnificent piece.


And finally, considering this watch had many suitors, how did Reef ultimately win the heart of the seller? I believe he got the watch by just being Reef, which is someone who is sincere and a man of his word. His friend did leave money on the table selling to Reef, but that was a small price to pay for the peace of mind knowing the watch went to someone who would take good care of it, appreciated it and planned to enjoy it – not flip it. So, don’t bother sending Reef, @wristwatchme on Instagram, a DM about selling this beauty…

I hope to see it in the metal someday, and of course, meet Reef in person… 

Photo credit: Reef

Rolex Le Mans ad: Google Images

Three Cosmograph ads: courtesy of @adpatina

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