Auctions

Bao Dai’s Watch is the Most Expensive Rolex Ever Sold at Auction

An emperor, some diamonds, and a one-of-one timepiece

It’s funny how closely the collector watch market parallels the car market. Just like cars, the value of a vintage watch is determined by condition, originality, service history, design, historical significance, brand, and of course, rarity.  Need proof? Check out the Rolex Reference 6062 ‘Bao Dai’ that just sold for $5,060,427, breaking the record for most expensive Rolex ever sold at auction.

At face value, the Bao Dai is mechanically identical to a regular 6062, packing the same triple-calendar and moon phase complications as other 6062s. This was a special model for Rolex, even back at the model’s debut in 1950. The advanced calendar and moon phase complications were shoehorned into Rolex’ new screw-down waterproof Oyster case, a design that continues to be used today, albeit in modernized form. Incorporating such complex features into a “sport” design wasn’t commonplace, so the 6062 is exceptionally well-regarded by collectors.

Taken as a model line, Ref. 6062 isn’t particularly scarce. Values for regular, run-of-the-mill 6062s range from $200,000 to low seven-figures for less common variants, a far cry from the Bao Dai’s final hammerfall. The secret to the Bao Dai’s insane valuation lies in its coveted status as “one-of-one,” being the only black dial 6062 with five small diamonds at hour indices – three black 6062 are known to have six diamond hour indices, but only the Bao Dai has five, leading to a well-proportioned and unique dial design. This one-of-one status is buoyed by longtime ownership by Bao Dai, the final emperor of Vietnam.

As the auction docket tells it, Bao Dai purchased the unique 6062 in 1954 while abroad in Geneva. He was in the midst of negotiations with the Viet Minh – the deliberations would lead to the splitting of his country, and his new title as the last emperor of Vietnam. During a break, he stepped across the street of his hotel to Rolex-retailer Chronomètrie Philippe Beguin, and requested “the rarest and most precious Rolex ever made.” Not finding anything in stock that measured up to this wish, Rolex itself couriered this 6062 to the shop for Bao Dai’s purchase. He enjoyed the watch through the years, up to his death in 1997. The watch remained in Bao Dai’s family through 2002, emerging onto the market in remarkably original condition.

This story, the rarity, condition, and ownership has made the Bao Dai 6062 one of the most legendary and recognizable watches among collectors. When the watch was announced for consigned auction, the market was unsure what to make of the potential value – some reports pegged a pre-sale estimate at $2.5 million, while others predicted a much higher figure. When the dust settled, Bao Dai claimed $5,060,427 at Phillips’ Geneva Watch Auction. This is the second time the Bao Dai 6062 has set records – when it last sold in 2002 for $235,000, the Bao Dai set the record for most expensive Rolex sold at auction.

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