We’ve just seen a serious auction record set for a vintage Tudor watch – but it didn’t happen under a crystal chandelier in some five-star hotel ballroom. No, this extremely rare Tudor ref. 7923 Submariner just sold for $99,999 on Ebay. And the craizest part? It could have easily sold for more.
Since this watch first popped up online ten days ago, it’s been at the center of internet watch chatter. Bidding started at $3,500 and there ended up being more than 72 bids before the price landed at $99,999. The seller, based in California, had to make major updates to the listing eight separate times, noting things such as Geiger counter readings (to verify the originality of the radium lume) and adding detailed movement photos.
The craziest thing about the result though? The watch probably could have sold for more. Seriously. If you try to bid above $99,999 on Ebay, you are confronted by this screen:
If you want to go through and actually place a six-figure bid, you have to verify that you have the cash on hand to support the bid, and that includes a phone call and filling out some forms. The watch sat at the $99,999 max for quite a while leading up to the auction closing – my guess is that quite a few people thought they would swoop in at the last minute, only to be foiled by this safeguard.
The watch in question is the super rare Tudor Submariner ref. 7923 from 1956/1957. Only a handful have even been sold publicly and we have no reason to believe there are that many more out there. This is the only manually-wound Submariner from either Tudor or Rolex and the watch features a small crown, a super slim case, and a flat caseback. We saw one on our visit to the Tudor archives and the image above is of that completely original, mint condition watch. You can also look at this French document on VRF to see how the ref. 7923 fits into the lineage of Tudor Subs, in terms of components and construction.
The example here is in pretty great, honest condition. If you ignore the scratches and dings on the crystal (not a big deal at all), you’ve got a watch with fat lume plots, an unpolished case, and a nice even bezel. You can even see on the shots of the watch with the case open that there are no service markings or scratches inside the watch either. There’s no strap or bracelet, and while the movement was originally not working when the watch was listed, it was repaired at Shreve & Co. in San Francisco and is now working fine, according to the seller.
I mean, just look at the bevels on the lugs of this case. No question this is an unpolished case. The coin edge on the bezel is another giveaway that this watch hasn’t been worn too hard over the years. Again, ignore the quality of these photos and try to look at the watch that’s depicted in them.
To put this sale in context, let’s look at the very few others that have sold over the years. If we go back to 2009, there’s this ref. 7923 that dealer Andrew Shear sold on the Vintage Rolex Forum for $12,000. At this point, I must remind you to take deep breaths and not throw your computer across the room. Just a few years later, in 2011, one sold at Antiquorum Geneva for a little more, just under $15,000, but the dial was definitely a replacement (note the T<25 at the bottom – a clear giveaway that it’s a later tritium dial). Finally, in 2015, Louis found you one in Bring A Loupe that sold at Watches of Knightsbridge for £38,000.
The only Tudor that has come anywhere close to this watch is this ref. 7924 Submariner that sold for $93,750 at Christie’s in 2016. The ref. 7924 is basically the Tudor equivalent of the Rolex ref. 6538 "Big Crown," the watch worn by Sean Connery in the original James Bond film, Dr. No, and seriously coveted by vintage collectors.
Notice I said this is the most expensive vintage Tudor watch ever sold. In November 2015, the unique Tudor Heritage Black Bay One sold for 375,000 CHF at the Only Watch charity auction. Ironically, the modern Black Bay One was actually inspired by the ref. 7923 we have here today. It was a big price, sure, but it was a one-off event and not something that has an impact on the market more generally (nor is it a reflection of anything other than what this one watch is worth to two particular bidders).
The biggest lesson we can learn from all of this is a pretty simple one: Great watches can appear anywhere. At estate sales, in bottom drawers, through prestigious auction houses, from trusted dealers, and, of course, on the internet. The best collectors know to keep their eyes open and their ears to the ground. And, sometimes, they end up with the big prize.