The Rolex “Bao Dai” is one of only three Rolexes with a black dial and diamond markers and is the only one with the markers at the even hours. The last emperor of Vietnam, the Bao Dai, bought the watch in Geneva in 1954.
Geneva--A rare Rolex with a historically significant backstory could become the most expensive watch from the brand ever sold at auction when it goes under the hammer in Geneva next month.

The 35 mm reference 6062 “Bao Dai” Rolex made its debut at Baselworld in 1950, and the watch lays claims to its fair share of “onlys”--it’s one of only three models from Rolex with a black dial and diamond markers; of those three, it’s the only one with diamonds at the even hours; and it’s the most complicated Oyster case model ever made by Rolex, featuring day, date, month and moonphase indications.

And, like any great piece of jewelry or watch that’s bound to stir up aggressive bidding at auction, the Bao Dai also has a fantastic back story.

Another shot of the Bao Dai shows more of the watch’s gold bracelet.Another shot of the Bao Dai shows more of the watch’s gold bracelet.The timepiece belonged to Nguyen Phuc Vinh Thuy, the last emperor of Vietnam who was granted the title of Bao Dai (Keeper of Greatness) when he ascended to the throne in 1925 at the age of 12.

The Bao Dai bought this Rolex in Geneva in 1954 when he was in town attending the Geneva Conference, the meeting that resulted in the Geneva Accords, which brought an end to the first Indochina War.

Paul Boutros, the head of Americas and senior vice president for Bacs & Russo, said they do not know how much the Bao Dai originally paid for this watch, as it was never sold commercially or appeared in catalogs.

(Bacs & Russo runs the watch department at Phillips; well-known watch auctioneer Aurel Bacs and his wife, watch specialist Livia Russo, re-established the department for the auction house in 2014.)

The Bao Dai died in 1997, and Boutros said that in 2002, the emperor’s family consigned the watch and it sold for $235,000 at Phillips, making it then the most expensive Rolex ever sold at auction.

The man who bought it in 2002 sold it to a private collector, and it is this collector who is bringing the watch back to Phillips for a second sale, Boutros said.
“In this era of advanced technology, where consumer products become obsolete within months, people are attracted to the enduring aspect of fine mechanical watches, which are built to last an eternity.” --Paul Boutros, Bacs & Russo
While the watch auctioneer gives a pre-sale estimate of more than $1.5 million, watch collector Edmond Saran went a step further on his website, Le Monde Edmond, writing that the Bao Dai Rolex will sell for “a heck of a lot more” than $1.5 million and that it will, in fact, break the record for the most expensive Rolex ever sold at auction.

That record is currently held by the Rolex reference 4113 “Split-Seconds” that Phillips sold for $2.5 million in Hong Kong last November.

When asked if he agreed with this estimate, Boutros said that while the auction house has published its estimate at more than $1.5 million, the Bao Dai Rolex “has to be considered as a serious contender to achieve a record-breaking price.”

He said like collectible cars and contemporary art, the market for collectible watches has grown at a “healthy pace” since the last time the watch was sold, in the early 2000s, hence the reason why a watch that sold for less than $300,000 fifteen years ago can be expected to go for more than $2.5 million today.

“In this era of advanced technology, where consumer products become obsolete within months, people are attracted to the enduring aspect of fine mechanical watches, which are built to last an eternity,” Boutros said.  

Phillips is auctioning off the Bao Dai, along with a number of other vintage Rolexes, at Geneva’s Hôtel La Réserve on May 13 and 14, holding the sale in association with Bacs & Russo.

Online bidding will be available for all those registered to bid and vetted by Phillips prior to the sale.

More on the other watches being offered can be found on the Phillips website.

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