Ultra-Rare Rolex Zerograph Sells For Shocking Price

Ultra-Rare Rolex Zerograph Sells For Shocking Price

I recently wrote an article on the Rolex Zerograph (sometimes designated as the Centregraph): an ultra-rare 1930s-1940s monopusher chronograph. The watch features Rolex’s first rotating bezel and first chronograph movement. Fewer than ten have ever appeared at auction, making it one of the rarest Rolex models in existence. This past April, a nice example sold for €266,500 ($286,412) at Monaco Legend Auctions. Soon after, a new-to-market example sold at Sotheby’s. . . and the price was absolutely shocking. Better yet, the buyer is a well-known artist and collector. Let’s take a look at this Rolex Zerograph auction.

The Most Recent Rolex Zerograph Auction

On May 30th, I noticed a Rolex Zerograph listed under lot 128 of Sotheby’s upcoming ‘Important Watches’ sale (June 5th). This watch is the sixth Rolex Zerograph to appear on the public market. It’s the second known ‘California dial’ and the only known dial that reads ‘Zerograph’ instead of ‘Zerographe’, indicating that it was likely made for an English-speaking buyer. Calling this watch historically significant would be an understatement. While the case appears to have been polished, the watch is in gorgeous and seemingly honest condition. 

Rolex Zerograph

Image Source: Sotheby's

Sotheby’s set the estimate at $50,000 - $100,000. Given the recent outcome at Monaco Legend Auctions, the $286,412 sale I mentioned earlier, I expected this newly-discovered Zerograph to destroy its estimate. In fact, I made a friendly bet with a fellow watch writer – someone who has forgotten more about watches than I’ll ever know – and we set the line at $199k. I took the over.

Of course, I watched the auction live. Right before lot 128 came up, the lights in the room went out. Laughing, the auctioneer said something to the effect of, “this next lot will be extra dramatic”. Spoiler alert – it was not. After a couple of bids, the watch sold for $54,000: just above the low end of its estimate. Needless to say, I was shocked by the price. This ultra-rare Rolex, in gorgeous condition, fetched about a quarter of what I expected it to. My amazement was quickly overshadowed by my realization that I lost that bet by a WIDE margin.

So, Who Bought the Zerograph?

Phil Toledano Rolex Zerograph Auction

A day or two following the Sotheby’s auction, I saw the Zerograph on Mike Nouveau’s Instagram. As it turns out, conceptual artist and watch collector Phil Toledano (aka @misterenthusiast on Instagram) snagged the rare Rolex monopusher. Two weeks prior, Toledano launched his first-ever watch in collaboration with designer Alfred Chan: the B/1 by Toledano & Chan. The brutalist-inspired integrated beauty was a huge success, selling out in less than an hour. I don’t know if this Zerograph was a celebratory purchase, but in the aforementioned video, Toledano said, 'I never thought I’d own this watch... I’ve been obsessed with this watch for years and years and years and thought, "not a chance."'. Congratulations, Phil. According to the bet that I lost, you got yourself a steal.

Final Thoughts

The result of this Rolex Zerograph auction truly shocked me. I’ve never been particularly interested in watch auctions, but I feel like I got the bug from following this one. I’m glad the watch went to someone who will wear it and post pictures of it. This is a genuinely special example that I didn’t want to see disappear. What do you think of this result? Did Phil get the steal of the year? Or was the estimate fair?

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