Rolex Daytona 6265 – The “Unicorn” Frankenstein Plot


John Goldberger’s white gold “Unicorn” Daytona Ref. 6265 is legendary. Revealed to the world in a Hodinkee “Talking Watches” episode in 2013, the watch fetched nearly 6 million Swiss Francs at Phillip’s legendary thematic auction “Daytona Ultimatum” in May 2018. It is the second most expensive Rolex watch sold at auction but just like the “Neanderthal” discussed in a previous article, the “Unicorn” is a completely made-up Frankenstein watch, even to the extent of featuring crucial parts that are very likely fake. Discovered as a terrible assemblage of parts, Goldberger secretly “restored” the watch to his idea of original condition after he acquired the watch from one of the most prominent figures in the world of watches. Sold under the pretext of benefitting charity, rumour has it that only a small fraction of the six million Swiss Francs went to charity.
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Rolex Daytona Ref. 6265 “Unicorn” White Gold, 2877587

Presented as nothing less than “Rolex’s magnum opus” (the most important watch ever produced by Rolex), John Goldberger’s “Unicorn” was the star of Phillips’ “Daytona Ultimatum” auction. The rarity, believed to be the only manual-winding Daytona ever made in white gold, was expected to make in excess of 3 million Swiss Francs. In March 2018, when Vacheron Constantin flew me in to visit their manufacture in Geneva, I took the opportunity and dropped-by the Phillips headquarters to see the “Unicorn” and others in the flesh.

The “Unicorn” on my wrist


Not much was said about the provenance, only that it had been ordered by a German retailer from Dortmund. How Goldberger, whose real name is Auro Montanari, got his hands on the watch was mystery. In April 2018, at the “Daytona Ultimatum” preview in Singapore, Sumit Nag of Revolution tried to find out but Goldberger refused to answer questions about the “Unicorn”:

“As I was working my way up to asking about the Unicorn, John, the gentleman that he is, offered to answer any of my questions, as long as I not ask about the Unicorn. Talk about a screeching halt.”

Read more: Where the Unicorn Got its Bracelet (Revolution)


What a strange behaviour given that the “Unicorn” was the main act of the upcoming auction. Was Goldberger afraid of spilling the beans on unpleasant truths? On May 11, 2018, one day before the auction, we finally got the answer. An anonymous Instagram account named “Newoldschlock” (IG: @newoldschlock) posted pictures which showed Mr. Goldberger’s timepiece in a completely different and very poor condition.


The pictures published by Newoldschlock were without a doubt of the “Unicorn”. The markings on the case are identical and all screw head positions are a perfect match which can be considered unique like a finger print. The latter is an indication that the movement was not serviced between 2010 and 2018, else the screw heads would be in a different position.

Comparison case nad movement 2010 vs. 2018


In these pictures the watch had a steel bezel, steel Mk 2 screw-down pushers and a strange all-black dial. There was nothing mentioned of a restoration, neither in Phillips’ catalogue nor in the condition report. The only alteration disclosed was the special bracelet from a Rolex Ref. 1507 “Date”:

While originally found with a leather strap, Goldberger has fitted this timepiece with a luxuriously heavy white gold bracelet to enhance its visual appeal.


A few hours after the pictures were published, something remarkable happened. The auction house published an interview with John Goldberger in which the restoration was suddenly disclosed, well sort of. To be perfectly clear, the restoration was only communicated after the damning pictures had surfaced, just hours before the auction. In the interview John Goldberger said:

“Several years ago I was informed by a distinguished international auction house that an individual was looking to sell via private treaty sale, an extraordinary vintage Rolex Daytona in 18 karat white gold, which until then, was never thought by anyone to have been produced.”

He continued:

“…there were several replaced parts that bothered me. I searched the world for the right components, sparing no expense, to restore it to its original glory.

Having most likely gone through several services at Rolex, the dial, pushers, and bezel were incorrect replacements – and in my view, not worthy of the watch.”

Read more: Phillips interviews John Goldberger … ahead of Daytona Ultimatum (Phillips)


People capable of critical thinking were extremely eager to learn where Goldberger had sourced the missing white gold bezel and the white gold “millerighe” screw-down pushers. Mille righe is Italian for “thousand lines” and refers to the very fine knurling of exceptionally rare early screw-down pushers. Obviously, if the white gold Daytona was indeed a one-off as claimed, those pushers would have been utter and complete “Unobtainium”. The same goes for the white gold bezel. Goldberger never disclosed where those parts came from:

I replaced the incorrect bezel and pushers faithfully, as they should have been in 1970.


Let’s take a closer look at the pushers, shall we? Can you see in the following comparison how the “Unicorn” pushers (right) look nothing like the 100% original “millerighe” screw-down pushers of case number 2330402? The shape is off, they lack refinement and the precision one would expect from a Swiss Made part. What about that weird burr (arrow)?

Comparison “Millerighe” screw-down pushers


Logic tells us the bezel and the pushers must have been remanufactured. The question is by whom? Was it done by Rolex? And if not, would those parts not, simply put, be fake? The other important question is which one was the “distinguished international auction house” Goldberger was talking about. Phillips asked:

“Can you reveal how much you paid and where you purchased it?”


Goldberger replied:

“As I mentioned, I paid a steep price via a private treaty sale through a leading international auction house. Out of respect to the seller and adhering to the terms of a private treaty sale, I’m unable to disclose further details.”

This is where this story takes an interesting turn. The mysterious “leading international auction house” was Christie’s. And who was at the helm of Christie’s watch department at the time? The very same person that is now at the helm of Phillips’ watch department, top auctioneer Aurel Bacs. It was Mr. Bacs himself who swiftly orchestrated a private treaty sale to Goldberger. The famous auctioneer knew the true nature of the watch from the very beginning, but just like Goldberger, he kept quiet for as long as possible. In hindsight, the above question by Phillips is truly comical.

Newoldschlock’s exposé did not have the reach a story of this magnitude deserved, despite Ben Clymer and Hodinkee being tagged in it. Immediately after the hammer fell, Hodinkee published the “Breaking News” without mentioning the restoration with a single word. Some people talked about it in the comments though:

Read more: White Gold Rolex Daytona Ref. 6265 ‘Unicorn’ Sells For $5.9 Million At Phillips (Hodinkee)


The Singaporean watch blog SJX Watches also published a number of articles promoting the “Daytona Ultimatum” auction. An article published on May 5, 2018, was immediately updated after news broke of the restoration:

“Addition May 11, 2018: Included John Goldberger’s interview with Phillips where he explains several parts of the white gold ref. 6265 were replaced with period correct components.”

Read more: Penultimate Picks from Daytona Ultimatum at Phillips (SJX Watches)


Hodinkee was instrumental in promoting Goldberger’s watch. The “Unicorn” made its first public appearance in a Hodinkee “Talking Watches” episode with Ben Clymer and John Goldberger. The watch was prominently featured in the corresponding article. The Phillips auction catalogue made reference to this fact:

“When this watch made its public debut in 2013 via Hodinkee, a well-known online watch magazine, the news of a white gold vintage Daytona sent reverberations throughout the watch community.”


Watch below how the Unicorn was introduced to the world:

Talking Watches episode with John Goldberger where the Unicorn was first presented (see 4:30)


Read more: Talking watches with John Goldberger (Hodinkee)

Unlike SJX Watches, Hoodwinkee made no effort whatsoever to set the record straight on a watch they so thoroughly promoted over and over again. Goldberger is highly respected among their audience, his books are legendary. Ben Clymer says he trusts Goldberger inherently:

“And as we all know, if Goldberger says it’s good, it’s good.”


Well Ben, Goldberger also said the recent Cartier Trash is good. It would really be helpful if the folks at Hodinkee were less gullible and a bit more critical. Too often they have been used to promote questionable stuff. Let’s now take a closer look at how good of a job Goldberger did to bring the “Unicorn” to its former (unknown) glory. As mentioned earlier, the screw-down pushers and the bezel are very likely fake. Goldberger never explained where these parts came from but it can be assumed they were made by the same Italian counterfeiters that produced the countless fake steel “Millerighe” pushers that are out there.

Black “Sigma” Dial

Goldberger replaced the stange black dial that was in the watch when found with a black “Sigma” dial. The 18th letter in the Greek alphabet, a lowcase sigma placed left and right of the lume designation “T Swiss T” denotes the usage of solid gold for the indexes. Regarding the choice of dial Mr. Goldberger stated:

I searched for an absolutely period correct dial for the year of manufacture – a stunning black ‘Sigma’ dial with radiant silver subsidiary dials.


The thing is, the dial chosen by Goldberger is not correct for the year of manufacture. It is furthermore questionable whether Daytona “Sigma” dials were already introduced at the time of production. From what I can see in my extensive database, ROC Daytona “Sigma” dials were introduced around case number 3.0 million.

Rolex Daytona “Sigma” dial variants


There are three different types of ROC Daytona “Sigma” dials. On first generation dials introduced around case number 3.0 million (1972), the “Sigmas” are very close to the T’s of the “T Swiss T”. Goldberger’s dial is actually a later Mk 2 variant which was introduced around case number 3.5 million (1975). As a matter of fact, the dial that is installed in the “Unicorn” did not yet exist when the watch was made. Had I know in 2018 what I know today, I could have easily exposed the “Unicorn” as made-up, based on the wrong dial alone. Anyway, in my opinion, Rolex would never have installed a dial from a steel watch in a specially made white gold Daytona. If we look at modern white gold Daytonas, they received special dials and also a special bezel so that the watches can be differenciated from their steel counterparts.

Movement

The movement of the “Unicorn” remained in the same condition as found in 2010 but it nevertheless has some issues as it is inconsistent with other Daytonas in close case number proximity. This can be seen by the way the caliber designation 727 is stamped onto the mainplate (7-2-7 vs. 727).

Comparison Cal. 727 movements in close case number proximity


The “Unicorn” movement is an early Cal. 727 version that was introduced with Ref. 6262/6264, some of which were later modified by Rolex to create the first examples of Ref. 6263/6265 with screw-down pushers. The above comparison shows that slightly earlier case numbers already featured the newer movement. In addition, there are a number of components present that are from much older movements. From a logical point of view, if the Unicorn was created from scratch in that time, I would expect it to have a later version of Cal. 727.

Thoughts

Imagine what a fantastic story the “Unicorn” could have been if the folks involved were straight arrows who had presented the watch to the world when it was discovered in 2010. Picture a fully documented restoration, perhaps even with Rolex’s help. The “Unicorn” would have been the horological find of the decade, heck maybe even of the century. Instead it was plotted behind the scenes to restore the watch in secret and pass it to a celebrated scholar to lend credence to a very thin story. By doing so, the restoration of a unique piece devolved into the creation of just another Frankenstein monster or as some would put it, a mini horse with an ice cream cone taped to the forehead.

Auction houses and dealers are reluctant to disclose restorations simply because it ends up killing the value of a watch. Collectors have been conditioned by dealers to demand untouched watches, often unaware that sooner or later every watch will require a restoration in one form or another. Everything changes and nothing remains still, especially watches. The dials, the lume, the materials, everything continues to develop patina which at some point will no longer be considered attractive. If this simple truth was discussed more open, perhaps restorations would become more acceptable and sellers would stop lying about it. In many cases there is no alternative to restoring a watch. Generally, what keeps vintage watches from reaching new heights in value is the staggering dishonesty in the business. Watches could be up there with vintage cars and art but the busines needs to be cleansed first.

The “Unicorn” was a total mess when found. It is unclear how a one-off made on special request as claimed, could end up in such a sorry state. It begs the question whether the watch was initially a complete watch or just a prototype case made for evaluation. Think about it, how could such a watch lose the original bezel? The existence of a case number certainly points to a real production watch but then again, there are counterfeiters out there able to apply case number engravings that are almost indistinguishable from real engravings. Let’s assume the story is real, the watch defnitely deserved to be given back its dignity. I bet if the real story had been disclosed from the very beginning, the watch might have fetched a high amount of money regardless, given the Goldberger provenance and of course the fact it was sold to benefit charity.

Speaking of charity, neither Phillips nor Goldberger ever disclosed how much money ultimately went to the Children Action Foundation. There are conflicting statements as to what amount was donated. Hodinkee wrote that all of the procceds went to Children Action. According to SJX Watches it was only the net proceeds of the hammer price, whatever that means. Then there are rumours out there that only a small fraction of the nearly 6 million was given. It is weird, people are normally very proud to show how much money they donate to charity. They hand over large, oversize cheques with big sums on them. In this case? Nothing. Weird. We will problably never know.

Thank you for you interest.


To get more background information on the subject matter, please listen to the following podcast I did with Rikki of Scottish Watches.

Link: Episode 429 – Fake Rolex Watches and Exposing The Auction World With Perezcope


Or read the following article about a previously discovered 3 million dollar Frankenstein Daytona.

Read more: Rolex Daytona 6240 Paul Newman “Neanderthal” – A Myth Goes Extinct

13 comments

  • Another case solved by Perezcope!
    But will it have enough explosive support to reveal the real faces of the protagonists? Very looking forward to it…

    Like

  • “Speaking of charity, neither Phillips nor Goldberger ever disclosed how much money ultimately went to the Children Action Foundation.”

    60% to “Goldberger” and 40% to Bacs. Clymer got a pat on the head for being a “useful idiot” and exclusive rights to interview “Goldberger” until the day he dies.

    Like

  • Is it just me or does it seem that most of the auction houses are complicit at best? The lengths these thieves/auctioneers go to are incredible. Thank you for another great study Jose.

    Like

  • I may not have the in-depth forensic capabilities that you have with your meticulously curated database & new levels of forensic analysis but I do have over 30 years experience in the business plus a good gut for what is and what isn’t!

    I always looked at the Unicorn as if it was another Rolex proto like the white gold 1680 that was sold at Christies. That had the dial from a yg 1680 and a bezel that looked like it was after market. It also had the insert from a yg 1680. It had no S/N, just a ref number so it made sense that it lacked a dial & bezel. Maybe Rolex put a steel bezel and crown onto the watch to see what they felt about putting such a watch into production? Was pretty obvious that it was an unused prototype that never went into production.

    This is why the unicorn having an SN always puzzled me. Surely if Rolex went to the trouble of making a one-off case for a certain individual, they would have given it a different dial if not bezel at the very least? People may want to appear humble but they normally want people to know that they’re trying to appear humble! 😂

    The first time Rolex ever made a white gold Daytona was of the leather strap variety in the 90’s & the bracelet version in the 2000’s. All versions had white, black or grey arabic racing dials & different bezels to that of the steel variety. For that matter, even the yellow gold versions of the 6265 had gold accents not to mention their chronometer rating, setting them apart from their steel counterparts.

    It is odd that someone went to the trouble of adding a steel bezel and pushers to this watch but left an all black aftermarket dial in the watch. Could that aftermarket dial have actually been the original all black prototype that Rolex intended to put into production? I guess we will never know but one thing is for sure. I’d like to have a closer inspection of the now missing black dial & if my suspicions are correct, I’d love to put it into one of my steel watches, stating the nature of it of course!! 😉

    Like

  • Buyer beware is synonymous with ANY vintage Rolex. It really is a bit of a fools game where a single line of text can double, triple the value of a watch. Step up to this
    rarified snack bracket and you’ve got nobody but yourself to blame if you get shafted. I sincerely hope Mr Goldberger responds. I have always held him in the highest regards of knowledge and honesty.
    And, that’s why you stay away from Vintage Rolex. ..Patek and VC are where you park you dollars being that they are one of the few that can certify a watch and it’s parts as authentic and original. Rolex does not and for good reason.
    I do not feel sorry for the purchaser of the
    “Unicorn “.

    Like

  • Nice work! It would be very interesting to see a picture of the serial number… but I guess it is not “available”anywhere.

    Like

  • Your investigative work is always sensational, well done and keep on exposing these con artists, its a shame that its not worth buying expensive vintage watches these days as there are thousands of dodgy sellers and as for auction houses, i would not believe a word they said.

    Like

  • excellent research…one would think the auction house would disclose how much actually went to charity…if they do not, one would think it is negligible amount

    Like

  • Fantastic Blog! Thanks! Love your critical and analysing attitude, as well the look out for stories nobody talks about….see Panarai Diver etc.

    Like

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