The Touching Story Behind The 1971 Rolex From Antiques Roadshow

Many an antique bought becomes just that — an antique, a curious or sentimental find without much more insight into its past beyond that. And a buyer of antiques may not be particularly precious about them. They may even be bought for regular use. That's what a U.S. airman meant to do when he got a hold of a 1971 Rolex. As he later told "Antiques Roadshow" (via PBS), the Rolex was considered a good watch for scuba diving, and the airman had admired the Rolexes worn by the pilots he served with in Thailand in the mid-70s. The '71 Rolex was out of his price range for a long time, and even when he found one at a 10% discount, it still came to a month's salary.

When the Rolex finally came into the airman's hands in 1975, his initial plans for it fell apart. "I never used it," he told the appraiser from "Antiques Roadshow." "I looked at it and I said, 'You know, this is really too nice to take down in salty water.'" He packed the watch into a safety deposit box, and there it stayed for 30 to 40 years. The airman said he only took it out for a look two or three times during that period.

The airman's Rolex was popularized by Paul Newman

The specific model of Rolex that the airman bought was an Oyster Chromograph 6263, also known as a Daytona. According to Rolex itself, the watch was first made in 1963, and its Daytona name was meant to connect to the famous racetrack in Florida. It picked up a third name, the Panda, for its white face with black counters, though later iterations of the Daytona have played around with the colors.

The airman was attracted to the 1971 Daytona through the pilots he knew who wore them, but those pilots may have been inspired to wear that particular watch by someone else. The Daytona was associated with Paul Newman, who was in turn associated with race car driving as well as acting. The appraiser the airman spoke to on "Antiques Roadshow" named the 1969 movie "Winning" as providing the connection between the actor and the watch. One of Newman's own Daytonas sold at auction for more than $17 million in 2017 (per Bloomberg), and two more went for over $1 million each in 2023 (per Fortune).

The airman was blown away by the value of his watch

The airman got more than the watch itself when he bought his 1971 Rolex, and he held onto all that came with it. He came to "Antiques Roadshow" with the receipt, the watch box, the brochure from Rolex, and the warranty and identification papers. The latter paper alone was valued at $2,000; because it was never filled out, it could be bought and applied to any such Rolex. Because the airman had opted to keep it in a safe deposit box instead of using it, it was in pristine condition, down to the foil sticker on its back.

On top of its shape and its accompanying documentation, the airman's Rolex had value due to it being one of a rare number that were branded as Oysters. An Oyster-marked Chromograph was estimated to have a $400,000 value by "Antiques Roadshow's" appraiser, a number that made the airman fall over in delight. The appraiser had to caution him not to fall down again when he gave him the estimated value of his particular Rolex. Due to its condition and having all additional materials, the airman's watch was put somewhere between $500,000 and $700,000. He didn't fall again, but he did swear on PBS from shock and delight, and sigh a little when told that, to keep that value, he couldn't wear the watch.