This week, the man appeared on PBS’s Antiques Roadshow to have his practically unworn 1971 Rolex Oyster Cosmograph evaluated by appraiser Peter Planes in Fargo, North Dakota.
The unidentified veteran said that he was stationed in southeast Asia in the 1970s when he became enamored by Rolex watches after noticing many airline pilots wearing them. He added that he liked to scuba dive back then, and thought the Rolex would endure water well. He ordered the watch in November 1974 via the military base exchange and received it in April 1975.
"I found this particular watch where I could afford it, and I never used it. I looked at it and I said, `You know, this is really too nice to take down in salty water,' " he said. "I just kept it."
He stored the Rolex in a safe deposit box, and held onto all the purchase and maintenance documents, which added to its value, Planes explained. When he told the veteran that the watch could be worth $400,000 at auction, the man fell on the ground with shock.
"You OK?" Planes said calmly as the man got up. "Don't fall. I'm not done." Planes continued, "Because of the condition of it, basically, it's a new old stock watch, no wear on it. We have all this complete documentation here, also, maybe one of the very few in the whole world that still was never worn, your watch, at auction, today, $500,000 to $700,000."
The veteran said: "You got to be (expletive) me." The particular Rolex model is cherished by collectors because Paul Newman wore it during the 1969 movie Winning, Planes said.