Vintage Rolex has become one of the most controversial and complex fields in watch collecting. I can think of no other subset of the hobby that is beset with long-raging debates and passionate discourse — but then that is why people are drawn to it and fall in love with it.
Celebrity auction lots and original owner issued watches (Comex and MilSubs) aside, it is rare to see new discoveries appear either on the market or within the collecting community. And when they do, what happens?
A rain of skepticism pours down like a monsoon and the holder of the newly unburied treasure has to fight off a barrage of “yes, buts” and “I can’t imagines” from keyboard warriors and social media wannabes. But a new discovery has been found, in the realm of the king of Rolex watches, the mighty Daytona. Today I can share with you a previously unknown batch of Daytonas that were gifts from the Sultan of Oman.
A Royal Air Force Career
David Wood had an extraordinary career as a military pilot. He joined the RAF in 1943 straight from school to begin a 40-year flying career that would involve flying experience in over 40 different types of aircraft and in far-flung global hot spots including Africa, the Middle East and the Far East.
During this distinguished career he was responsible for flying members of the British Royal Family during a two-year posting to the Queen’s Flights where he transported the Royals in a De Havilland Heron plane. He rose to the rank of Group Captain in the Royal Air Force where he remained until 1975.
Captain Wood’s son Steve explained that flying was in his father’s blood: “My father’s early flying included Beaufighter operations against insurgents in Malaya and being invited to join the Central Flying School as an Instructor on the Meteor, the RAF’s first operational jet.
“A highlight of his career though, was a three-year posting to the Queen’s Flight where he flew on nine overseas tours. This was followed by two years in Aden during the unrest whilst simultaneously being Air Attaché in Addis Ababa.”
However, the more senior David Wood became, the less time he spent flying, which didn’t suit him. “Having risen to Group Captain, he realised that this meant a curtailment of his flying. He resigned from the Air Force and moved to the Sultan of Oman’s Air Force (SOAF) where he then learnt to fly helicopters and eventually headed SOAF’s operations in the north of Oman for 10 years.”
The Sultan of Oman
This isn’t a history lesson, but some context of Oman is helpful in this story. Muscat and Oman, as it was known until 1970, had been under the rule of Sultan Sai’d bin Taimur since 1932.
By the 1960s, whilst still maintaining strong links with the United Kingdom, it was becoming internationally acknowledged that the Sultan was not in control of his country. His son Sultan Qaboos Bin Sa‘id, born in 1940, attended Sandhurst Military Academy in England at the age of 20 and then joined the British Army.
He returned to Oman in 1964 where he was placed under house arrest by his father. Six years later in 1970, with the support of the British SAS, he overthrew his father to take control of the country (the British interest in this was the oil boom in which they wanted a share).
Once on the throne he announced the new name for the country, the Sultanate of Oman and began a programme of oil-funded modernisation of the country, including opening relationships with the rest of the world. Within a new flag the Sultan incorporated a new emblem of a khanjar dagger on top of two crossed swords.
Under his father’s reign, a group of rebels had formed in the early 1960s and by the early ’70s the rebels posed a significant threat to the country. These Dhofar rebels were taken on, with support from the British SAS troops who worked alongside Omani forces, and were finally beaten in 1976. David Wood arrived in the midst of this conflict and played a key role in the air strikes undertaken by the Omani Air Force.
The Gift of Time
Vintage watch dealer Daniel Bourne did a lot of early research into Rolex watches that were given as gifts to military officers by the Sultan of Oman. He comments, “There is a custom in the Gulf of presenting gifts, often watches, in recognition of achievements, appreciation or as a mark of respect.
“The Sultan was a well-known watch collector and would often give watches as gifts to senior members of his military forces.” In fact Group Captain Wood was given a number of watches by the Sultan including pieces by Raymond Weil, Eterna, Seiko and Rado. It was a Rolex, however that is arguably the most interesting.
Understanding these Omani Rolex watches is a complex field and the watches exist in known serial number batches with specific dial versions. Up until recently there were accepted dial and serial combinations of vintage Rolex Daytonas, that collectors have collated into accepted variances.
Recently, David Wood’s son contacted Bonhams to enquire about the possibility of selling a couple of pieces from his father’s collection of Omani watches. Immediately the silver-dialed Daytona jumped out of the group shot.
A previously unknown version of the khanjar-logo’d watch was in the group. The silver dial features a khanjar on the upper half, replacing the usual text seen on these dials. The applied coronet remains, as does the red DAYTONA text above the bottom chronograph register. This was an important discovery with unarguable provenance, but if only another example existed from within the previously unknown batch…
A Second Surfaces
Earlier this year, a provincial auction house in the UK was holding one of its regular watch sales. And in that sale — a silver dial Daytona 6265 with the same dial as David Wood’s watch, albeit with a so-called ‘floating’ Daytona (the Daytona script is printed slightly higher above the six o’clock sub dial).
And the watch had a serial number less than fifty digits away from Wood’s watch. So that’s two watches with the same style dial and within the same batch — and the best bit? It was a gift to the original owner — an Air Force officer stationed in Oman!
The watch was bought by a UK collector who has done some significant research on the watch and picks up the story: “My watch has been confirmed to have been manufactured by Rolex in 1980 and they believe it was delivered to Khimji Ramdas, the Oman Rolex distributor, that same year. This style of khanjar printing is seen on many Day-Date models from the mid 1970s onwards and placed in the only physical space big enough to take the logo – where the SCOC text would normally be on a Day-Date and where the Rolex Oyster text would be on a Daytona.” Did Rolex supply blank dials or did Khimji Ramdas remove text and print the khanjar? “Close examination shows no signs of previous text, but the simple answer is that it’s impossible to know.”
The second watch was given to a senior Royal Air Force officer in late 1981 during a posting to The Omani Flight Training School. He had a long and varied career in the RAF, including maintaining international training standards around the globe as part of his role at the Central Flight School. Much like David Wood, during his time he was given several presentation watches in both gold and stainless steel, including pieces from Rolex and Seiko. He sold the Daytona to a collector friend in the 1990s and this collector consigned the watch to auction.
I can also exclusively reveal here that there is a third known watch, currently residing in Oman with the same ‘floating’ dial as the above mentioned watch with a serial number exactly in the middle of these two watches. That’s three of a kind!
I am delighted to have been given exclusive access to both watches for Revolution, to photograph both pieces side by side. So here we present to you the newly discovered Rolex Daytona 6265s with khanjar dials. The Group Captain Wood watch will be auctioned in Bonhams 11th December Fine Watches sale and the Bruce McDonald watch resides in a private collection.