5 of the Rarest Vintage Rolex Models in the World

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If you follow Rolex's new model releases at Baselworld every year, you may notice that the watchmaker adheres to strict design standards that vary little from configuration to configuration. This aesthetic consistency has made their watches instantly recognizable and iconic, cementing the brand's classic style in the minds of consumers.

However, over the past century Rolex has released models that have become outliers based on their deviation from brand standards. Over time, their uniqueness and rarity has made these vintage pieces quite valuable to collectors. Some have commanded over $1 Million US at auction, and others are unrecognizable as a Rolex but for the brand name on the dial. I share 5 of the rarest models I have come across on the vintage market below. 

Rolex Reference 8171 "Padellone"
Rolex Reference 8171 "Padellone"
The idea that a stainless steel watch could sell for over $1 Million US sounds absurd, but the Rolex Reference 8171 shown above commanded that much at auction in Hong Kong last year. Known as the "Padellone" which translates to "large frying pan" from Italian, this exquisite timepiece features a moon phase indicator at 6 o'clock, with the day and month displayed at 12 o'clock and the date indicated by blue numbers on the outer ring of the ivory dial. Very few examples of this reference exist in the condition of this piece, making it highly attractive to collectors.

Rolex Reference 4645 "Neptune"
Rolex Reference 4645 "Neptune"
Rolex's Oyster case is one of their most iconic innovations and is featured on the majority of their wristwatch models. It is rare to find a vintage Rolex with a square case like the Reference 4645 shown above in yellow gold. Rarer still is the depiction of Neptune on the dial in a cloisonné enamel design. Created by Mrs. Nelly Richard for Stern Fréres as commissioned by Rolex, this is the only "Neptune" configuration on record. It was manufactured around 1953, likely for a VIP client.

Rolex Reference 79412
Rolex Reference 79412 
Perhaps equally as rare as the "Neptune" is the asymmetrical triangular gold Rolex shown above. Dating back to the 1960s, this Reference 79412 represents the watchmaker's foray into the modern aesthetic that dominated that era. A futuristic design made from classic materials, this configuration was designed by a French goldsmith for the watchmaker as part of a unique set featuring other asymmetrical modern cases. Their lack of commercial success upon release has made watches like this unicorns in the vintage Rolex market of today.

Rolex Cosmograph Daytona "Oyster Sotto"
Rolex Cosmograph Daytona Paul Newman Reference 6263 "Oyster Sotto"
The watch with the most familiar face of the list, the Paul Newman Oyster Sotto shown above is considered rare due to the idiosyncrasies of its Mk2 dial. Selling for over $750,000 US at auction in 2016, the Oyster Sottos are the rarest among the Paul Newman Daytonas. The name translates to "Oyster beneath" in Italian and refers to the fact that the word "Oyster" is printed beneath the words "Rolex Cosmograph" on the dial.

Rolex Reference 8651 "Champs Elysée"
Rolex Reference 8651 "Champs Elysée"
Another extremely rare Rolex with a cloisonné dial, the Reference 8651 shown above sold for $572,000 US in Geneva last year. This "Champs Elysée" configuration features a Chimera, a winged mythological beast with the head of a lion, body of a goat and tail of a snake. Marguerite Koch enameled the dial of this 35mm 18k yellow gold piece for Stern Fréres on commission by Rolex. It features a black leather strap with gold plated buckle and a manually wound 17573 caliber.

There aren't many examples of rare Rolex models on the vintage market, which is why many of these references go for more than most people's homes at auction. The chances of seeing one on someone's wrist are slim due to the maintenance required to keep them in top condition, free from scratches and wear. To check out more Rolex models that have sold at auction in recent years, visit phillips.com.

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