Parksville senior's 'priceless' past helps watch sell for $158K

Before it was set to be sold at a rare watch auction in New York, the Rolex was simply the watch that Bill wore before his Timex.

“It’s not worth a damn,” Bill says gesturing to the watch on his wrist.

It’s certainly not like the Rolex which was bought for $200 in 1953 and used as a tool to keep track of time while diving without an oxygen tank.

“A lot of us could hold our breath for three minutes,” the almost-90-year-old says from his living room in Parksville, where he’s looking through old newspaper clippings from his adventurous past.

Bill was a local octopus-wrestling champion, international spear-fisher, and one-time kettle fish casualty.

“It bit my tit!” Bill says holding up a set of large sharp teeth. He says they left a mark for almost a year. “I was sore for quite a while. Revenge!”

True to its name, Bill wore his Rolex Explorer while climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro, cycling around South America, and looking for love on Vancouver Island.

“When I was tomcatting, I always wore that,” he laughs.

When Bill finally met his wife Barbara, he wore the Rolex during their date nights.

“Well I never thought much about it,” Barbara says. “Watches were not my thing.”

The thing was, nobody really thought much of it until Bill mentioned his Rolex to a friend, who introduced him to an expert at Meticulous Watches in Victoria.

“Right away, I knew it was something special,” owner Jonathan Mossop says.

Mossop was thrilled by its vintage condition and its story. His contacts at Phillips Auction House in New York agreed.

“This is an absolutely breathtaking early Explorer,” the auctioneer gushes before starting the bidding at $40,000.

Mossop shows me the video from New York. Bids come fast and furious from around the world (“Japan at $75,000! $85,000 in Switzerland!”).

After “going once, going twice”, the auctioneer bangs his gavel and proclaims, “Sold! For $100,000.”

Bill and Barbara — who were watching the auction online — couldn’t have been more surprised. “It blew my mind!” Bill laughs.

After adding the seller’s premium, and factoring the exchange, the watch went for around $158,000 Canadian.

Mossop says Bill’s adventurous past was a big selling feature.

“[Watches] are part of people’s history,” Mossop says. “Even if you don’t own a $150,000 watch, that doesn’t mean your watch isn’t priceless.”

If you ask Bill about the most priceless part of his story, he’ll answer with a big smile and one word, “Barbara!,” his timeless love.