The Golden Bear’s gold Rolex made history this week. Jack Nicklaus’ personal gold Rolex Day-Date, a watch he had worn for five decades, sold for $1.2 million (including buyer fees) at the Phillips Game Changers auction in New York on Tuesday night. It was a new record for that model of watch, and all of the proceeds from the sale went to Nicklaus’ charity, the Nicklaus Children’s Health Care Foundation.
"From April 1967, I wore that watch for 50 years. It was just a part of me," said Nicklaus in the auction materials. During the Canada Cup in Tokyo in November 1966, the star golfer—who already had six major championships under his belt—attended a Rolex cocktail party with fellow golf icons Gary Player and Arnold Palmer. Rolex offered Nicklaus the watch of his choice among those on display. Player, a Rolex ambassador at the time, suggested he pick the yellow gold Rolex Reference 1803, in a nod to Nicklaus’ nickname, The Golden Bear.
The following year, Nicklaus wore the watch when he won his second U.S. Open. For decades, it was his everyday watch. When playing, he would remove it before teeing off and place it in his golf bag, and he would put it back on after finishing his last round of the day. It can be seen on his wrist in several photographs when he accepted trophies for 12 of his record 18 major championships.
Originally launched in 1956, the Day‐Date, with its signature President bracelet, was the first wristwatch to feature a date window and fully spelled‐out day of the week displayed in an aperture at the top of the dial. It soon became one of Rolex’s most prestigious and famous models. Nicklaus’ watch in 18K yellow gold featured a rare Champagne‐colored “pie‐pan” dial with tapered and faceted baton hour markers.
According to Paul Boutros, Phillips’ senior vice president and head of watches, Americas and international strategy advisor, the same model from that era in similar condition without the celebrity provenance would have a retail value of about $10,000. Given that it belonged to Nicklaus, Phillips estimated the watch would sell for between $100,000 and $200,000. The result of $1.22 million far exceeded all expectations.
“We like to see multiples in the results when there’s great provenance behind the watches,” Boutros says, noting that the Nicklaus Rolex sold for more than 120 times above the retail value for a similar non-celebrity model.
Another hyped celebrity-owned Rolex in the same auction was Marlon Brando’s personal 1972 Rolex GMT-Master Reference 1675, seen on his wrist in the 1979 film, Apocalypse Now. After about 20 minutes of bidding, that piece ended up selling for $1,952,000 (including buyer’s premium), setting a new record for the model. A portion of the proceeds from that sale will benefit he Brando Fischer Foundation, established by Brando’s daughter, Petra Brando Fischer, who consigned the watch for sale.