To the readers of QP, Eric Clapton is as well known for his watch collecting as for his musical skills or his troubled personal life; yet it is difficult to realise that he only rose to prominence as a collector a dozen years ago. It was in June 2003 that Christie’s NYC held a sale which featured 25 watches from his collection which he sold to benefit the Crossroads foundation, a drugs rehabilitation charity which he had founded.
The most unusual piece was lot 181, a steel Cosmograph 6239 from 1965, with a most unusual dial, a strange combination of a “Paul Newman” dial and a conventional one. Whilst the running seconds and hour totaliser dials were like other Paul Newman dials, the 30 minute register lacked the square block indices at the five minute marks. At the very bottom of this register was a tricolour sector just outside the area between the 15 and 20 minute marks, a bizarre location for what was supposed to be a regatta timer; it would have made much more sense between the 0 and 5 minute marks.
This wasn’t the only unusual feature of the dial; the outer red seconds track was much further from the bezel than normal. But the strangest thing about the watch was that the expected name of “Daytona” was nowhere to be seen; in its place was the anachronistic model name of “Yacht Master”.
In many ways, the watch was a perfect example of Rolex during the Patrick Heiniger years: subdued ostentation. And it was during the Heiniger years that Rolex began to sponsor major yachting competitions, including the Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup (for seagoing leviathans which can cost between $5m and $100m to build) held in plutocrats playgrounds such as Newport, Rhode Island, Nice, Monaco and Porto Cuervo, further identifying the brand with money & privilege.