Online watch auctions are not only flourishing amid the Covid-19 pandemic, but sales are setting world records. Sotheby’s has broken its own record for the highest price paid in an online auction three times since April. Last week it sold a Rolex Daytona “John Player Special” reference 6264 for $1,545,723, a record price for a watch sold at auction, a watch sold in the U.K. and price for this model.
The John Player Special is a rare Paul Newman Daytona, nicknamed after the British tobacco and cigarette manufacturer, John Player & Sons, which sponsored the Lotus Formula One team in car racing during the ’70s and ’80s, because of its black and gold coloring that mimics John Player branding. As a Paul Newman-style Daytona, it is a three-register chronograph with square lollipop hash marks on the subdials. The piece sold in this auction was made in 1969 with an estimate of $400,000-$800,000.
“An 18-karat yellow gold 6264 is the rarest gold configuration of the legendary Paul Newman. Only a handful of are known to exist, so it is difficult to overstate the fascination it arouses among vintage watch collectors,” says Sam Hines, worldwide head of watches for Sotheby’s. “Beyond its scarcity, the aura of the watch exudes from its outstanding beauty—the warmth and depth of the black-and-gold combination—and association with the golden era of Formula 1. It’s a dream for watch connoisseurs who are often car lovers.”
The previous record for the sale of a Rolex Daytona John Player Special was CHF 912,500 (about $999,000), sold by Phillips in May 2018. This is the third time since April Sotheby’s has broken its record for an online sale. The last time was in June for the 1904 Dent Ultra Complication pocket watch, which sold for $832,240. Since the beginning of 2020, the company’s watch auctions have brought a combined total of $48 million. At a Sotheby’s auction of Important Watches on July 11 in Hong Kong, a one-of-a-kind platinum Rolex Daytona Ref. 16516 with a lapis lazuli dial sold for $3.27 million.
Hines says Sotheby’s is likely to continue to focus on its online sales even in a post-Covid era. “Online sales are part of our long-term strategy. We’ve seen our digital business move from strength to strength since its launch in 2016, and we have been investing in and growing online sales for several years now,” he says. “This is why we were able to adapt very quickly and be present for people who wanted to buy and sell watches at the very start of the pandemic. In the future, we will continue to hold live auctions in the traditional calendar, but online will be a growing part of our business.”
Hines reports that the success of online sales is consistent across all categories, including art and jewelry, but that “watches is certainly one of the most popular collectibles online. It’s the category attracting the highest number of new clients, with a growth of 42 percent since January of this year.”