A Prospector Found This Rock And Prayed For Gold, But The Treasure Inside Was Even More Valuable

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It’s May 2015, and an Australian named David Hole is prospecting for gold not far from his home near the city of Maryborough. Then, suddenly, Hole’s detector indicates that there’s metal in the ground. And as the blackened rock with a red hue he uncovers looks promising, he takes it home after his time in the field is done. At this point, though, Hole doesn’t know that he has unearthed something exceedingly precious – even better than gold.

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After Hole had pulled the rock out of the soil, the first thing he had noticed, in fact, was how unusually heavy the item was for its size. Ultimately, it turned out to weigh more than 35 pounds. And while Hole reckoned he’d found something really rare, he was at a loss as to what exactly this could be. One thing he did know, though, was that he’d found this rock in an area famed for its gold.

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Indeed, the district where Hole had been prospecting – or fossicking, as they call it in Australia – had once been the scene of a frantic gold rush. The region is still known as the Victorian Goldfields today, as during the mid-19th century people flocked there in the hope of finding nuggets of the precious yellow metal. Famously, gold fever had gripped California at around the same time.

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The Australian run on gold started in earnest with the discovery of the Mount Alexander field. This was an alluvial prospect, meaning the metal was to be found in stream beds. And, boy, did those fossickers find it. The field produced some four million ounces of gold, in fact, with the majority of this plucked from the waters in the initial couple of years of the rush.

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Then, in 1852, a nearly 9-ton consignment of gold that had been shipped from Victoria docked in London, England. “This is California all over again – but, it would appear, California on a larger scale,” a contemporary report from The Times noted. That was seemingly the case, as Victoria’s Bendigo field was actually the source of the majority of the planet’s gold in the second half of the 19th century.

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And two years later, fossickers would come across the White Hill goldfield – just a couple of miles from where Hole found his mysterious rock. Before this period, the district – which had been used for livestock grazing – didn’t go under the name of Maryborough. The farming area – established in the late 1830s – was owned by the Simson brothers, who gave it the moniker Simson’s Range.

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Then, while Hector Simson was out surveying his herd at White Hills in the summer of 1854, he spotted a few men digging. Yet while the strangers confirmed that they were indeed gold hunters, they claimed not to have had any great success in their fossicking there. Simson didn’t believe them; for one, their excavations appeared too extensive for men who’d apparently found barely anything at the location.

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Once word of Simson’s suspicions got out, however, the results were predictable. There were already hordes of prospectors in Victoria at the time, as gold had first been discovered in the state – not far from what would become the town of Maryborough – in 1851.

Image: State Library Victoria via Goldfields Guide

So, perhaps inevitably, people descended on the district in their thousands. Some pushed handcarts while others arrived in horse-drawn buggies, and a number came carrying nothing more than their swags – Australian slang for bedrolls. Most arriving at the location were youthful men, although there were entire families as well.

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In short order, a shantytown grew where before there’d only been the Simsons’ remote outpost – although at first the new settlement was little more than a sprawling mass of tents. All the while, crowds of fortune-hunters hacked away at the ground around White Hills in a bid to find the metal that could make them rich.

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But the authorities soon stepped in to impose order on this rag-tag community, and this in turn led to the township receiving its name. A man called John Daly was appointed as commissioner to the area, and towards the end of 1854 he decided to call the place Maryborough in honor of the Irish town where he had been born.

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Then, within time, the new settlement acquired all the trappings of a proper town – including a bureau that issued mining permits, a police station and, somewhat inescapably, a jail. This last innovation was crucial, as it seemed that the easy money of gold rushes attracted criminals of every stripe. When they weren’t rounding up thieves, however, the cops spent their days shutting down Maryborough’s many illegal bars.

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Regulations governing life in Maryborough included detailed rules about the holding of permits to prospect, the precise measurements of a claim area and exhortations to behave correctly on the Sabbath. Conditions there, by contrast, remained notably primitive, with the majority of the townsfolk still residing in tents that were often equipped merely with a few pieces of crudely fashioned wooden furniture.

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Nonetheless, just a few months after the goldfield had first been publicized, the population of Maryborough had swelled to somewhere in the region of 25,000. Astonishingly, this number had more than doubled by 1856. And crime continued apace, with claim disputes sometimes resulting in mass brawls. Shady characters also stole from unwary prospectors in the ramshackle drinking dens.

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Yet spending time in Maryborough was worth it, as there were still some extraordinary finds to be had in those White Hill goldfields. For example, at a spot called Blackman’s Lead, a nugget of in excess of 1,000 ounces was discovered in 1855. The following year, fossickers working at the same location uncovered a nugget of more than 230 ounces, while a 537-ounce lump of gold emerged from the mud in 1858.

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But even those finds were dwarfed by the “Welcome Stranger.” This was unearthed in 1869 by English fossickers Richard Oates and John Deason at a place called Moliagul – some 20 or so miles from Maryborough. The huge nugget weighed at an astonishing 2,300 ounces and had to be split up simply to fit on the scales; to this day, it remains the biggest alluvial chunk of gold ever to have been discovered.

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In the end, though, the first flush of the gold rush petered out, and in 1857 Maryborough’s population was recorded to have shrunk to a little over 10,000. Later, visitors may have come by way of the railroad, which arrived in the area in 1874, and traveled through the area’s splendid train station – still standing today. And on his 1895 tour of Australia, none other than Mark Twain visited the town and, according to the Culture Victoria website, said of the station, “Why, you can put the whole population of Maryborough into it and give them a sofa apiece and have room for more.”

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However, while the area’s goldmines had all been shuttered by the end of 1918, that wasn’t quite the end of fossicking in Maryborough. Like Hole, men and women still traverse the old goldfields, hoping to find nuggets of the precious yellow metal that were somehow overlooked by the 19th-century prospectors.

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And Hole himself may have been excited when his detector started beeping in summer 2015. Indeed, as the rock he subsequently unearthed was so heavy, the gold hunter suspected that there might well be a nugget hidden within. Before he could dream of how he would spend his riches, though, Hole had to open up the lump of stone.

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So, once Hole had managed to transport the 37-pound rock home, his next move was to try to split the object. To begin with, the Australian attempted to cut into the heavy object with a rock saw. That didn’t work, however. Neither did a drill, which simply managed to make some insignificant surface dents.

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Dousing the rock in acid similarly failed to bring dividends, while using an angle grinder simply resulted in creating nothing more than some shallow grooves on the hard surface. Increasingly frustrated, Hole even took a sledgehammer to the rock, but he found that the implement would just bounce off upon impact. Ultimately, the modern-day prospector gave up on the task and forgot about the rock for a while.

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Then, in 2018, Hole decided to take the lump to Museums Victoria in Melbourne, as perhaps staff at the attraction could make something of it. There, the puzzling object came into the hands of experts Dermot Henry and Bill Birch, who put forward an intriguing theory: this heavy rock may not have actually originated on Earth.

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More specifically, the specialists considered whether the item was a meteorite – even though it was a long shot. Lots of hopeful local residents have shown up at the museum with lumps of stone that they suspect are meteorites, and Henry has inspected many thousands of examples in his more than three decades at the museum. Of these throngs of rocks, however, very few have actually turned out to be from outer space.

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Henry even had a quip at hand when talking to Australia’s Network 10 in July 2019. “I’ve looked at a lot of rocks that people think are meteorites. And as we often have to say, they’re meteor-wrongs,” he laughed. Yes, among the dozens and dozens of stones that Henry has looked over, just two have actually been meteorites – with Hole’s being the second.

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And as soon as Henry and Birch saw Hole’s rock, they had a hunch that it was something special. Speaking to The Sydney Morning Herald in July 2019, Henry said, “It had this sculpted, dimpled look to it. That’s formed when [meteorites] come through the atmosphere. They are melting on the outside, and the atmosphere sculpts them.”

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Meanwhile, Birch told The Herald that he realized the object’s provenance at the moment he lifted it. “If you saw a rock on Earth like this, and you picked it up, it shouldn’t be that heavy,” he said. But, of course, the two scientists needed more proof than just learned assumptions. This meant trying to break into the incredibly hard piece of stone so that it could be analyzed properly.

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Fortunately, Birch and Henry knew where to get the right equipment for the task at hand. At a commercial specialist named Crystal World of Melbourne, staff used a diamond saw to cut into the rock. Then, as the scientists finally examined the item’s interior, they were able to prove beyond doubt that they had a meteorite on their hands.

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To be precise, the rock is classified as “an H5 ordinary chondrite meteorite,” as a press release from Museums Victoria described it. The word “chondrite” indicates that the meteorite has chondrules, or minuscule crystals, within. These were created by intense heat impacting on dust that floated in space shortly after our Solar System was formed.

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Birch and Henry believe, moreover, that the meteorite likely formed in the asteroid field between the orbits of Jupiter and Mars. They’ve even been able to put an age to this extraordinary lump of stone; astonishingly, it’s believed to be 4.6 billion years old. And the scientists themselves aren’t immune from being amazed at this news.

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“When you consider all the events this chunk of rock has experienced since its formation 4.6 billion years ago, it’s really mind-boggling that we get the opportunity to hold it and study it today,” Birch pointed out in the Museums Victoria release. “How good is that?” Yes, even veteran specialists can experience moments of wonder from time to time.

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And Hole’s meteorite could be a source of a great deal of information that could prove highly useful to science. “Meteorites provide the cheapest form of space exploration,” Birch explained. “They transport us back in time, providing clues to the age, formation and chemistry of our Solar System – including the Earth.”

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“Some provide a glimpse at the deep interior of our planet,” Birch continued. “In some meteorites, there is ‘stardust’ even older than our Solar System, which shows us how stars form and evolve to create elements of the periodic table. Other rare meteorites contain organic molecules such as amino acids – the building blocks of life.”

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Now, Hole’s rock has become known as the Maryborough meteorite. But what happened to create this incredible relic all those billions of years ago? Well, the most likely explanation is that in the early days of the Solar System, chunks of chondrite rock were orbiting our young Sun.

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Gravity would have gradually forced these objects together, and in some cases the result would have eventually been planet formation. Indeed, that’s said to be how Earth came about 4.5 billion years ago. Other pieces of chondrite remained swirling free, creating the asteroid belt that circles between Jupiter and Mars today.

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Then, every so often, rocks in the asteroid belt will collide in an explosive event that leaves fragments of stone flying through space. Some of these chunks subsequently make their way to Earth as meteorites, plunging through the planet’s atmosphere before coming to rest on its surface. And in the case of the Maryborough meteorite, the landing spot was in the Australian outback.

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So, when exactly did the Maryborough meteorite fall from the skies? Well, even for eminent experts such as Birch and Henry, though, that’s a tricky question to answer. Their best estimate, based on carbon 14 analysis, is that it probably landed near Maryborough sometime between the 10th and 19th centuries.

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The rock may even have appeared more recently, as a slew of newspaper reports from 1889 to 1951 have described eyewitness accounts of meteorites coming to Earth in and around Maryborough. For example, in 1889, The Herald reported, “A strange aerial phenomenon was witnessed a few evenings since by a number of local residents, who observed a meteor of exceptional magnitude and brilliance shooting over the town in a westerly direction.”

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Another Maryborough incident was recounted in The Age in 1898. “An intensely bright meteor fell here this morning shortly after 2 o’clock,” the article read. “It filled the sky with a most dazzling light for fully a couple of seconds.” In 1901 the same newspaper also reported, “A meteor of great brilliance was seen last night, after 9 o’clock, in the northern sky.”

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Altogether, Birch and Henry tracked down eight articles on people witnessing meteorite strikes around Maryborough, with these having been printed over a 62-year period. And while there’s no way of knowing if one of these events involved Hole’s meteorite plummeting towards Earth, it’s a distinct possibility.

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Regardless, the meteorite is an incredible find, and Hole knows he was fortunate to play a part. When talking to The Sydney Morning Herald about discovering the space rock, he modestly claimed, “It was just pot luck, mate. [The odds were] a billion to one – bigger, a trillion to one. [You’ve] got more chance of being struck by lightning twice.”

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But though his find was certainly remarkable, Hole isn’t the only man to have acquired an object of unexpected value and rarity. Indeed, when Air Force veteran David appeared on the traveling TV series Antiques Roadshow brandishing his old watch, it’s highly unlikely that he realized the heirloom would be worth such a staggering sum. But when he found out its true value, he appeared to drop to the ground in a dead faint. So, just how much was David’s Rolex worth – and how had he been unaware of its incredible story for almost 50 years?

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Well, David had not enjoyed the kind of life that allowed him to indulge his love of Rolexes in the lap of luxury – far from it. He was drafted during the Vietnam War. At the time, all young men aged 18 to 25 were assigned a number for each draft lottery. And when a number was pulled, anyone with that digit or less – and who was eligible to be part of the military – was called up to serve.

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When David’s number was pulled, then, he was told he’d have to join a branch of the military. Otherwise, he’d be enlisted automatically by the following January. And so the veteran consequently decided to join the U.S. Air Force, where he began serving in munitions. More specifically, he was dealing with explosive ordnance disposal.

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For David, this primarily involved clearing roadways of landmines as well as cleaning up impaired munitions storage facilities. “There were multiple children and adults that were injured as a result of unexploded ordnance,” the veteran said during an episode of Antiques Roadshow in January 2020. “The hazard is still there today.”

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From 1973 David spent two years stationed in Thailand. And during that stint, he flew on a number of continental airlines. It was on these flights that he first developed a fondness for Rolex. You see, he noticed that pilots would frequently wear the brand’s watches – and subsequently found himself intrigued by the timepieces.

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David decided he wanted to buy a Rolex watch for himself but quickly discovered they were beyond his budget. For a while, then, he put the idea on the back burner. But eventually, he was transferred to another base, where he spent time scuba diving. And with Rolex’s reputation as a great choice for scuba divers, it’s likely no surprise that the activity brought the watch brand back to the forefront of his mind.

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In the end, David managed to find a Rolex for what he considered to be a reasonable price: $345.97, with a ten percent discount. Nevertheless, it was still quite an extravagance – supposedly amounting to around a month’s military salary in the 1970s. The veteran ordered the watch through the on-base department store in November 1974, but he would have to wait for months. You see, the pricey purchase didn’t arrive until April the following year.

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And the particular variant that David had settled for was a Rolex Oyster Cosmograph. Yet according to the veteran’s account, he never actually used the timepiece. No, when it arrived, he decided that it was perhaps too nice to wear whilst scuba diving. So, he simply placed it into a safety deposit box – where it remained for another three to four decades.

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The watch supposedly only left its secure housing on two or three occasions during all that time, in fact. And when it did, it was only for David to admire it proudly before it was carefully placed back into storage. As a result, the timepiece was in fantastic condition – particularly given its age. What’s more, David also kept all the original documentation he’d received when buying it.

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It’s therefore quite understandable that David was so interested in getting a valuation for the Rolex. And to do so, he decided to speak to the experts of Antiques Roadshow. The hit series has gained quite a reputation for accurately appraising people’s antiques, after all, and it’s been running for more than two decades in the United States.

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However, while the U.S. version of the show has undoubtedly been successful, the series actually has its roots in Britain. The original Antiques Roadshow began life as a BBC documentary, you see, which followed members of an auctioneering institution from London, as they traveled around England’s West Country. The first episode was filmed on May 17, 1977, and was met with such success that the format has effectively never changed.

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The U.K. version of Antiques Roadshow now spans more than 40 individual series, too. And it’s remained with the BBC for its entire history and has even spawned spin-off shows. The children’s special Antiques Roadshow: The Next Generation, for instance, was broadcast every Christmas from 1991 to 2006. Meanwhile, a short-lived offshoot dubbed 20th Century Roadshow aired briefly in 2005.

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But it’s not just the original British show that’s proved popular enough for spin-offs over the years. Indeed, a half-hour American show titled Antiques Roadshow FYI aired for a short time in 2005. And the program – which offered a more in-depth look at collecting and antiques in general – also followed up on items that had previously featured in the main series.

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But arguably what makes Antiques Roadshow so successful are the veritable gems that have been unearthed while the cameras were rolling. Over the decades, the franchise has featured some seriously valuable items on both sides of the Atlantic. In 2008, for instance, an original sketch of Antony Gormley’s Angel of the North sculpture – now a fixture of northern England – appeared on the U.K. show. And the appraisers estimated it to be worth around a whopping $1.29 million.

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In the U.S., meanwhile, Antiques Roadshow’s appraisers valued a 1904 work by Mexican painter Diego Rivera – spouse of acclaimed artist Frida Kahlo – at between $800,000 and $1 million in 2012. And six years later, in light of auctions for Rivera’s other paintings, a second appraisal of the artwork placed the value even higher: at anywhere from $1.2 million to a dizzying $2.2 million.

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That’s not all, though. In 2011 a series of centuries-old Chinese cups – which had been hand-carved using rhino horns – were priced at between $1 million and $1.5 million. And multiple paintings have been appraised at around half a million dollars each, including works by American artists Andrew Wyeth and Norman Rockwell.

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However, it’s not only rare antiques that the show spotlights. The U.S. version – broadcast by PBS – is taped at numerous locations across the country, with smaller, lesser-known cities often acting as the backdrop for the beloved franchise. These places – generally disclosed ahead of time – include settlements such as Rapid City in South Dakota, Biloxi in Mississippi and Chattanooga in Tennessee.

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And for one episode in January 2020, the cast and crew of Antiques Roadshow traveled to yet another little-known treasure: Bonanzaville, a museum complex located in the city of West Fargo in North Dakota. The area is comprised of 40 different historical and modern buildings. It was here that David seized on the opportunity to get his Rolex examined.

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The appraisal of David’s Rolex has since been uploaded to Antiques Roadshow’s YouTube channel, where it’s racked up more than 7.5 million views. In the clip, appraiser Peter Planes quizzes David on his backstory and how he came to acquire the watch. He then asks the veteran about what’s happened to the timepiece in the years since to help him reach his verdict.

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With all that information in mind, Planes subsequently draws on his knowledge of rare watches to offer an assessment. He begins by looking over all the paperwork that David diligently kept with the watch, including the brochure, receipts and even the original warranty paper. Because this latter sheet is blank – and can therefore add value to any watch – Planes estimates that it alone is worth around $2,000.

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The appraiser then focuses on the watch itself, highlighting all the relevant details that will help him ascertain its price. First, he points out that the watch isn’t just a regular Rolex Cosmograph. It’s an Oyster variant, in fact, which refers to the “screw-down buttons” on the side of the watch’s body.

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According to Planes, this particular Rolex was produced in two styles – both with and without screw-down buttons. It’s the latter feature that makes the watch so popular, though, because these buttons allow it to be submerged in water. And back when the timepiece was first released, this novelty was a great incentive for buyers from all over the globe.

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Planes also addresses the condition of the watch, noting that it’s been very well looked after over the years. Indeed, the foil sticker on the watch’s back is still present, showing a reference number of 6263. “Had it been worn, that’s the first thing that would wear off the watch,” the appraiser explains. He then points to the date mark, which shows that the watch was produced in 1971.

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Planes then explains that collectors adore this particular model – which is also known as a Daytona Rolex – thanks, in part, to Paul Newman. You see, the actor wore the watch in the 1969 movie Winning, which apparently first inspired his love of motorsports. He subsequently became a competitive race car driver, and the timepiece was an iconic part of his image.

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The Washington Post reporter Travis Andrews explained the watch’s popularity in 2017. “The mechanical watch radiated coolness, much like its owner,” he wrote. “It was a constant companion to Newman’s left wrist in magazine shoots, paparazzi photos and while he was speeding around in his race cars.” Incredibly, Newman’s actual watch sold for a record $17.8 million at auction in 2017.

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As the clip continues, Planes tells David that models of the watch Newman wore usually fetch around $150,000 to $200,000 at auction. And to his credit, the veteran remains surprisingly calm – despite being quoted such an enormous sum of money. But what the appraiser says next prompts an entirely different reaction from David.

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Yes, Planes explains that David’s watch is even more special than the model Newman wore, because it’s an Oyster variant. “They did that for an extremely short period of time,” the appraiser says. “We refer to that as a mark two dial. And this particular model, being marked Oyster, is extremely rare. A watch like this at auction is worth about $400,000.”

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At that moment, upon hearing this even larger figure, David seems to collapse to the floor in shock, waving his legs in the air for effect. Planes then rushes across the table to check that the veteran is okay, while voices off-camera can be heard laughing at his dramatic reaction.

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Thankfully, David is absolutely fine. And the spritely fellow quickly hops back up again, laughing in disbelief at the news he’s just been given. But Planes then tells him, “Don’t fall. I’m not done yet.” Yes, it turns out that the appraiser chose his words carefully when he said a watch “like” David’s sells for $400,000.

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That’s because, largely thanks to the condition David’s watch is in, it isn’t actually worth that eye-watering amount – far from it. “It’s a new old stock watch, [with] no wear on it, the original foil sticker on the back of it, and… we have this complete documentation,” Planes says. “[It’s] maybe one of the very few in the whole world that was still never worn.” So, with all of this information in mind, the appraiser then reveals that David’s watch would likely fetch an eye-watering $500,000 to $700,000 at auction.

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This time, David manages to stay on his feet. It’s clear, though, that he’s totally blown away by the figure Planes has just uttered. He shakes his head in continued disbelief and makes a remark that has to be bleeped out by the show’s producers, too. Nevertheless, Planes responds that he’s very serious about his appraisal.

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“It’s an absolutely fabulous find,” Planes confirms. “It’s one of the rarest Paul Newman models, and in this condition, I don’t think there’s a better one in the world. I can’t thank you enough for bringing me one of the greatest watches to ever be seen on Antiques Roadshow – and thank you very much for your service.”

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The appraiser then warns David that he can’t wear his magnificent antique. For if he does, the value will drop to around $400,000. However, it’s not known what the veteran’s plans are for his staggeringly valuable collectible. “He’s saved it all these years,” Planes told The Washington Post in January 2020. “He may be saving it more.”

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According to Planes, David’s reaction stands out as particularly memorable. That’s perhaps not too surprising, though, given that his Rolex is the most valuable ever to appear on the show. But it’s not the most valuable watch ever featured. No, that honor apparently belongs to another timepiece, which is now said to be worth $2 million to $3 million.

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Perhaps unsurprisingly, people across the world have loved David’s incredible story. The Antiques Roadshow clip has garnered millions of views and thousands of comments, too, since it was uploaded to YouTube. And much of the online reaction to the astonishing appraisal has been roundly positive. For instance, one YouTube user wrote, “Somebody’s retirement just became a lot more comfortable. Congrats to this gentleman.”

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Another, meanwhile, was similarly effusive in his praise for David and the show. “The man spent his time in service defusing mines and unexploded ordnance,” they wrote. “I could not think of a more deserving person to have this sort of discovery. Hats off! Happy for you and everyone you have had a positive effect on.”

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But not all of the online reactions have been so glowing. In fact, some users have even criticized Planes’ appraisal of the watch. “The watch has obviously been worn,” wrote one. “There are many scuffs on the band and a light scratch on the front. How is it being called never-worn, new old stock?” And it didn’t take long for other users to jump in and voice their agreement.

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Another person wrote, “The sticker and clasp shows at least a year of frequent wear, so you can’t call it new old stock/no wear like this appraiser does. Those stickers don’t get like that from sitting in a lock box.” Meanwhile, another user agreed that the segment was “total amateur hour by the ‘appraiser.’”

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Nevertheless, an expert named Paul Botros backed up Planes’ valuation to Forbes in February 2020. “The watch appears exceptionally well-preserved and complete, and I’m in agreement with the appraisal,” he said. “It’s a watch that Phillips would be thrilled to offer at auction.” Indeed, a similar watch apparently sold for $425,000 at auction in December 2019.

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So, when worn watches can fetch north of $400,000, it’s no wonder that David reacted the way he did to Planes’ appraisal. After all, he parted with a mere $345.97 for the watch all those years ago. As investments go, then, it’s performed pretty spectacularly. And, of course, it’s become a real moment to remember for Antiques Roadshow fans.

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