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That Time Steel Was Worth More Than Gold

As I write this, it’s late evening in Geneva. The euphoria from Christie’s “Rare Watches Including Important Private Collections” auction hasn’t worn thin yet.
And the reports have been coming in – crazy prices being bid in a frantic follow-up to Phillips’ Start-Stop-Reset chronograph auction on Saturday.
And so I was paging down through the Christie’s results a few minutes ago, and I came across this. Lots 45 and 46 were two Rolex 6263 chronographs form the early 1970s. One steel, one 18K gold, respectively. One ‘very rare,’ one ‘extremely rare,’ respectively.
One specifically a ‘Paul Newman’ dial, one merely a panda dial, respectively. Ostensibly, two virtually identical watches with the exception of the material.    
 Rolex Reference 6263 in Stainless Steel
And the prices? Well, that’s where it gets weird. If you’ve been following vintage watch auctions, you can perhaps guess the results. That doesn’t make them any less weird.
The steel 1972 piece brought $240,000. The gold piece? Only (!?) $122,318. (Those figures include the buyer’s premium).
Rolex Reference 6263 in 18K Gold
That’s the way it’s been going lately. Steel out-performs gold. Even when the gold watch is presumably more rare (we assume ‘extremely’ means more than ‘very’).
These two watches carried the same reference number (6263), the same movement (cal. 727), they’re in similar condition. The gold version has the older riveted type Oyster bracelet, while the steel has the newer Oyster, but that doesn’t seem like the whole difference.
Obviously, forces that I don’t understand are at work here.
-Ed Estlow

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