So much so, in fact, that his collection is perhaps one of the most notable in the world. (I don't even know what's in it at the moment, but I feel comfortable making that grand, sweeping statement because I've seen some of the lots that have come up for auction over the years from his collection, and they're kinda nuts: All manner of vintage Daytonas and complicated, offbeat stuff. Rock star shit.)
And then there's this thing, a Turn-O-Graph ref. 6202 from 1954, also owned by Clapton and going under the hammer at Christie's as part of an online auction beginning tomorrow and ending on Dec. 10th. (Its estimate? $20,000-$40,000. LOL.) Never heard of the Turn-O-Graph before? That's ok — it's kind of a weird corner of Rolex history. But it's important: Released in 1953, the model laid the groundwork for the Submariner, which curiously debuted the same year. (It looks at first glance like the Crown released both a prototype and the final product for public consumption — though the Turn-O-Graph was, in fact, a full-on production model. And it did not have the same intended use case as the Sub — see below.)
A quick glance at the 6202 reveals much of the same details that feature on the Sub: It's got the black dial, triangle, dash and dot indices for hour markers, Mercedes hand set, screw-down crown, Oyster bracelet and — perhaps most importantly — a rotating bezel. (The 12 o'clock hashmark on this one features the famous "red triangle" found on certain early Rolex Turn-O-Graphs and Subs — a cool, subtle feature that's found its way into the modern watch vernacular.)
The collector's market for the Turn-O-Graph is an interesting one: It didn't sell well and was pulled from the Rolex catalog about a decade after its release, though the nomenclature would resurface later. (What with all the marketing power behind the Submariner and a succession of releases that quickly improved upon one another, this perhaps isn't a surprise. The Turn-O-Graph was sort of a redundant watch in the Rolex oeuvre.) Its use case was also interesting: Rolex designed it as a substitute for a chronograph, albeit one with increased water resistance: The bezel ("time recording rim" in early Rolex parlance) could be used to record elapsed time, and this is how it was marketed — to pilots and businessmen. It was also smaller than the Submariner at roughly 36mm, despite it's Sub-like appearance.
For these reasons, it's possible to snag a ref. 6202 — albeit admittedly, perhaps not a perfect one — for under $30,000 today, though because these watches were made during the radium age, they're sometimes found with tritium service dials. But compare, for a moment, the price of a 6202 with that of a 6205, a relatively early Submariner — you're talking more like $50,000-$100,000. And if we're talking about a slightly later (but still relatively early) Sub like the 6538, the "Bond" Sub — forget it: Multiple six figures.
Check this one out, for example, up on Chrono24. I can't speak to the authenticity of the watch's parts, the accuracy of the listing, etc, because I don't know the bloke who listed it. But think about this watch for a moment: an early Rolex sports model purchased by a USAF pilot in England in the early 50s with a gorgeous (albeit service) dial on its original bracelet, for $27,500. If it were an early Sub with that kind of provenance — pffff. Forget it. Particularly at auction.
This isn't to say that Clapton's Turn-O-Graph is going to hammer for a song — some notable collector in NYC will snag it for well above its estimate, which is calculated purposefully low anyway. I merely mention it to highlight the marriage of such an interesting, historically relevant, under-the-radar reference with such a notable personality and collector. Clapton was clearly struck by the Turn-O-Graph at some point in his collecting journey. Guess Slowhand was just ahead of the curve.