Rare Birds

Only 12 of This Ridiculously Rare Vintage Rolex Watch Were Ever Made. And One’s Coming Up for Sale


November 4, 2019 Watches By

So you think you’re a thoroughly jaded Rolex connoisseur. You’ve seen them all — “double red” Sea Dwellers, Tiffany-signed 5513s, Mil-Subs, Daytonas with the khanjar on the dial retailed by Asprey. Everything is old hat for you at this point.

Well, Phillips has a pretty special watch coming under the hammer in November — one that’s possibly the rarest and most special of all Rolex production. It’s the reference 4113 — an oversized, split-seconds steel chronograph made in the early 1940s during the throes of the Second World War, of which only 12 examples are known, nine of which are accounted for.

If you know Rolex, you know that the Crown doesn’t really “do” complicated watchmaking anymore — hell, they never really did. Sure, there are some complicated midcentury chronographs, but these are few and far between, and it’s really the 20th century sport watches that tend to turn heads at auction. So a chronograph, let alone a split-seconds chronograph, which is used to time to events simultaneously, is a rare thing indeed.

Lot 139 from Phillips’s The Geneva Watch Auction X is a ref. 4113 manufactured in 1942, when the British army was struggling to contain Rommel in North Africa. It features a manually wound cal. 55 VBR with 17 jewels housed in an extremely oversized 44mm case, which is itself all kinds of rare for the 1940s. (Most men’s wristwatches were sized well under 35mm at the time.) Only 12 examples of the 4113 are known to watch scholarship, all of which are cased in steel.

Unusually slim with downwardly curling lugs and an extremely thin bezel, the 4113 is unlike almost any other Rolex ever made. This particular example first came to market in 1991 at Christie’s, consigned by the widow of a racing team member, and the last time it was sold at auction in 2011, it hammered for CHF 1,035,000 (approximately $1,040,120). Never featured in a Rolex catalog, it’s now believed that each 4113 was presented to a member of a select group of racing teams.

With an off-white dial with raised pink gold-colored Arabic and baton hour markets, the watch also features outer blue and black telemeter scales, used for calculating speed and range, and a remarkable well-preserved case with original satin finishing throughout the side and back.

Incredibly thin and beautiful, this complicated Rolex is a very rare bird indeed. And though you may not be willing to sell your house, your kidneys and your children to participate in the bidding, it’ll sure be fun to follow the auction and see how much this 4113 hammers for this November.

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