The New Old Stock Phenomenon

I think most watch guys and gals could play a quick game of ‘How Many?’ this week, the subject being ‘How many times have you been sent the Oyster Newman Antiques Roadshow video?’ 10, 20, 40?

One dealer even posted a public announcement on Instagram asking for people to stop sending him the link…spoilsport! In case you’ve been on an internet/social media/newspaper/television blackout for the past week, here’s the story.

A US Air Force veteran buys a Rolex Daytona in April 1975 from a military base. He decides it’s too nice to wear in service, especially when diving, and so he puts it away for 40-odd years. It turns out it’s a Mk2 screw-down Rolex Oyster Cosmograph exotic dial ‘Paul Newman’ reference 6263.

This is arguably one of the most desirable production Daytonas and it’s virtually unworn. The appraiser tells the guy a regular example is worth $400,000 — he falls over. Literally.

The unworn Rolex Oyster Cosmograph Daytona 6263 ca. 1971, featured on Antiques Roadshow (Image: pbs.org)
The US Air Force veteran who fell over when Peter Planes the appraiser tells him the figure that his watch could fetch (Image: pbs.org)

Then he’s told that his example is probably the best in the world and could be worth up to $700,000.

The Quality Conundrum

Honestly, with the quest for quality and the still fever-pitch demand for out of the ordinary vintage manual-wind Daytonas, I believe the watch could do better than even the presenter’s top estimate.

Under the gavel of Bacs, I wouldn’t be surprised if it broke into the seven-figure territory of the Oyster Sotto. Ask any well-informed watch dealer how the market is and you’ll get a variation of the theme of its levelling out a little with regular pieces in steady supply, but finding quality is nearing impossible.

We have seen this for a while now — remember the Rolex Submariner 5508 at Phillips that I talked about last year? Half a million for a small crown Rolex Sub is a significant achievement, but again it was akin to a brand new watch.

Rolex Submariner ref. 5508 that sold at the Geneva Watch Auction: Nine for CHF 500,000 (Image: phillipswatches.com)

These genuine original-owner-puts-it-in-a-drawer-for-half-a-century watches are incredible when they surface, but sometimes is it too good to be true? I want to clarify here that I am in no way doubting the Antiques Roadshow ROC Newman or the Phillips 5508 — quite the opposite in fact.

These watches are important to set benchmarks for sales and the market value and are certainly important for scholarly research into what these watches looked like when brand new. But with such high-stakes on these watches, is it leading to a secondary issue?

A Long Time Ago, in a Galaxy Far Far Away…

In fifty years’ time there will be a plethora of new old stock (NOS), never worn watches dating to the early 21st century, as a lot of people buy watches and put them away. Most vintage dealers have never-worn modern steel sports watches in their vaults. I actually have an obscure 10 year old very cool Tudor that I bought as dead-stock a few years ago, that is sitting unworn — my own NOS Tudor time capsule.

We are now into this phenomenon, but then so is everybody. How many times do I wish I’d kept all my Star Wars figures from my childhood in mint condition on the cards? For many years now there has been a movement of people creating perfect reproduction Star Wars figures cards and the plastic bubbles, in which the figures were sold in the 70s and 80s.
They then seal a nice condition so-called ‘loose’ figure in the carded bubble. This nostalgic enterprise is generally represented as being what it is. But of course, it can be abused and these toys sold as true NOS 1970s collectibles. So what about watches?

Modern Manners

There is an article due soon, penned by our Founder Mr Koh, that goes into the issue in some detail and I don’t want to go too deep into it now. View this opinion piece as a promo for his forthcoming opus. But with the demand for perfect, never-touched NOS watches at the forefront of the market right now, it is becoming easier than ever to create that look on virtually any watch.

Laser welding, lapping machines, new-old-stock parts, dial restorers and donor watches – all combined can give you a seemingly ‘brand new’ watch. We are living in the 21st century folks, making a green and gold foil caseback sticker is child’s play. Its black and white – watches can be restored to virtually as new condition, with only a few people able to truly spot the restoration work. But the black and white can easily become blurred and then we enter the grey area…and that’s when it gets interesting, and a little scary. Stay tuned…