Many years ago – so many years, in fact, that I can’t even locate it on this site – I wrote an analysis of a watch auction that I was always fond of. What I did was examine a few interesting lots, and challenge myself to make an argument both for and against why that best fake watch was worth the price it fetched. I thought I’d revive that concept today, because Phillips’ Racing Pulse auction, ostensibly based out of New York, but auctioneered from London, was the most interesting day of 2020 by a country mile for vintage lovers. Things got a little crazy. And that’s crazy even by the admittedly crazy world of luxury watches, and public auctions.
Rolex Reference 5517 MilSub Sells For $567,000
Why This Makes Sense: The black dial fake Rolex Submariners made for and issued to the British defense forces have always been popular with serious collectors – they are, in some ways, the archetype of what makes Rolex cool. They’ve always been dramatically more expensive than a normal matte dial Sub – and that delta jumped considerably on Saturday. This particular example of a MilSub is one of the most compelling I’ve seen. It is, of course, a full-spec watch, but beyond that, it is a rather rare variant, the full Rolex ref.5517 replica for men. The earliest and most often-seen watches are reference 5513s, then you have the dual-reference 5513/5517 wherein the watch is engraved 5513 between the lugs, and 5517 under the lugs, and then finally, the full 5517, which is what this example is. I’d not realized it, but Phillips had never sold a full 5517 reference before, which could well have been a factor in driving up this price. Beyond that, the watch was damn pretty, with an extremely full case, and what’s more, papers from Rolex Bexley verifying the authenticity of this watch. Rolex stopped issuing these papers many years ago, so examples that include them often come with a serious premium. But this extreme of a premium?
Why This Makes No Sense: MilSubs are great. Hell, it was the very first big-time watch I bought for myself – and I paid for it in installments because I for sure could not afford it when I found the one I wanted. But in many ways, along with Swiss made fake Rolex Submariner COMEX watches, they’re a bit like entry-level mega-Rolex watches. They’re not exactly common, but they’re not hyper rare either. This one was undoubtedly great, but the market for a good MilSub as of late has been, what, half this price? Phillips itself sold two 5513 MilSubs in 2018 for $175,000 each. Then, just one year ago, in the December 2019 sale, it sold a dual-reference example with a very cool original owner’s kit, for $218,750. Let’s put a 5517 premium on that and you’d be in mid 200s. Doubling that number for this watch? It feels really strong. But, as we know, all it takes is two guys on Planet Earth who both really want something to make an auction watch go crazy. I’m not saying they’re wrong to do it, but this is already being viewed as an outlier result, not any indication of a market shift.