Newman or Everyman?

Want This, Get This: Vintage Rolex Daytona or Vintage Tudor “Big Block” Chronograph

Buying Guides By Photo by HQ Milton

Today we’ve got a vintage version of “Want This, Get This”, and its timing couldn’t be better. 2013 is the convergence of two important events in the watch world: the 50th anniversary of the Rolex Daytona and the year in which Tudor makes its American market comeback. Given the historical connection between Rolex and Tudor, we could do a series of “Want This, Get This” focused entirely on these two brands; for example, the Submariners or the Day-Date (and the Date-Day). But let’s instead hone in on two watches: one virtually unattainable to mere mortals and one that will give you the same look and Rolex pedigree without having to mortgage your house.

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Want This: Rolex Cosmograph Daytona

Much has been written about this most collectible and lusted-after vintage chronograph. Why is it so coveted? After all, it was a slow seller in its day (which is what makes it rare today) and the styling wasn’t particularly groundbreaking. Hell, even its movement was fairly pedestrian, a handwound Valjoux 72 that was used in a number of other companies’ chronos, from Breitling to Heuer to Wittnauer.

But herein lies the Rolex mystique — with a little help from that icon of masculine swagger and style, Paul Newman, who was seen wearing a Daytona in the 1969 auto racing movie Winning. The watch just possesses a certain je ne sais quois that continues to fascinate and frustrate watch collectors. Of course, a versatile and rugged Oyster case housing a mechanical chronograph is never something to sneeze at and may be the archetype of the modern sports watch. The popularity of present-day Daytonas has only served to further whip up the frenzy over vintage ones, making them highly coveted and very expensive. While some more common varieties can be sourced for prices in Toyota Camry territory, true “Paul Newman” references approach six figures. If you can afford one, congratulations. If not, read on.

Get This: Tudor “Big Block” Chronograph

Sure, we’d all love a vintage Daytona. For most of us, though, owning one is about as likely as being cast as the next Bond villain. But don’t despair; there is a more attainable, nearly as cool alternative. Tudor, the brand Rolex founder, Hans Wilsdorf, created as an affordable counterpart, produced a series of chronographs in the 1970s and ‘80s that bore much of the same styling and quality as the Daytona but without the prestigious name on the dial.

Called the “Big Block” thanks to its tall, chunky proportions, this set of chronographs had thick Rolex Oyster cases and screw-down pushers like some vintage Daytonas; some even had the same “panda” color scheme, with the black-on-white chronograph subdials. But thanks to the more common and affordable Valjoux 7750 movement, and the fact that Paul Newman never wore one, you can now find Big Blocks for a lot less than their primo cousins. They may wear a little taller and heavier, and the dial layout is oriented differently, but we’re willing to accept those differences on what is otherwise a very similar watch. You also save enough coin to buy yourself a nice luxury car or 22,000 boxes of Paul Newman microwave popcorn.

Beware though: with Tudor’s return to the U.S. imminent and a slight fatigue in the vintage Rolex collecting market, vintage Tudors are hot now, with prices climbing. So make your move or kick yourself later.