How to buy a Rolex steel Sub — top ten tips on how to bag a unicorn watch


A Rolex authorised dealer speaking to WatchPro recently told me that his team was spending 80 hours per week fielding calls and politely disappointing potential customers who were pleading to buy or even be added to a waiting list for steel Submariners, GMT Masters or Daytona watches.

This is a retailer with four Rolex doors, turnover of £30 million and 85 employees. Three of those people work full time turning away potentially valuable customers. This is how tough things have become.


Demand for these Rolex watches — along with fellow unicorn timepieces such as Patek Philippe’s Nautilus or Aquanaut and Audemars Piguet’s Royal Oak in steel — is so hot right now that customers are prepared to sell their grandparents for enough cash to buy one on the secondary market for double the recommended retail price, or more.

An unworn Rolex Submariner “Hulk” Ref: 116610LV with an official retail price of £6950 will sell for around £14,000 on the secondary market so the incentives are enormous.

WatchPro is constantly asked whether this demand might wane in the future or if the brands will make more of the key models to satisfy both their authorised dealers and customers.

The first rule of how to buy a Submariner is never to ask for a Submariner

The answer to both question is ‘maybe’, but even a small increase in supply will get nowhere near satisfying demand, so the shortage will continue for many years to come.

This leads to the next question: how to get on a waiting list with any chance of securing one of the elusive timepieces before hell freezes over. This is a question WatchPro has put to several authorised dealers for Rolex, AP and Patek Philippe, and there are some common replies that might, just might, help a little.

Top tips on how to buy a unicorn watch:

RULE NUMBER ONE: The first rule of how to buy a Submariner is never to ask for a Submariner. Customers will not see unicorn watches in stores’ windows or cabinets but, unlike unicorns, that does not mean they do not exist.

Authorised dealers hold back watches for their own reasons and store them out of sight in their safes. However, simply walking in and asking for one will not do the trick.

In fact, it will take you further away from bagging your dream watch because there are teams of people scouring the globe looking for these watches because they can be flipped on the secondary market at enormous profits. Authorised dealers hate selling to these flippers and will go to enormous lengths to avoid it. I have even heard of Subs being sold without their warranty cards so that they cannot be flipped “with box and papers”. The brands and their partners want their watches to be worn and loved.

It does not matter what you wear (millionaires wear grubby trainers at weekends); it matters a little what watch you wear, but not much (too easy to fake an expensive horology habit).

RULE NUMBER TWO: Retailers are masters at building and cultivating long term relationships and these relationships cut both ways. In fact, the only way to buy a unicorn watch today is to have a lifelong bond with an authorised dealer. This bond will not begin with a Daytona or Nautilus, these tokens of love will only be exchanged after years of courtship.

The very best first step on the path to bagging a unicorn watch is to buy an engagement ring. This is an intimate process that will require you to sit down and pour your heart out over how much you love your fiancé and how much you are prepared to spend to demonstrate that love. Naturally, from a jeweller’s point of view, the more you spend, the better.

During that consultation, share as much of your personal life as possible. You went to Oxford University, live on the best street in a neighbourhood close to the jeweller, you just sold your first dot.com business, you collect vintage Aston Martins, that sort of thing.

All these details are stored in the memory of a professional sales consultant and, more than likely, transferred to their customer relationship management system so they start building a digital avatar of each punter.

RULE NUMBER THREE: Move through the gears. Spending £10,000 on an engagement ring is a start, but follow this up by designing two wedding bands at the same jeweller. This shows loyalty to the dealer, and loyalty is absolutely critical to lassoing a unicorn.

RULE NUMBER FOUR: Be generous. Buying a watch was once a quick transaction, now it is a multi-year commitment so you will need to become friends with the jeweller.  Does the jeweller know a great florist they could recommend for the wedding is a great question. The likelihood is that jewellers and florists cooperate to create perfect weddings, so there is a bit of mutual back scratching where everybody wins.

RULE NUMBER FIVE: The jeweller MUST raise the subject of watches before the customer does. And they will. You are likely to be in for around £25,000 by this point and the retailer will be thinking about what’s next. Should the Best Man be given a gift to say thank you for their help on the Big Day? Of course, and what better gift than a TAG Heuer or Tudor that can cost far less than the wedding dress.

RULE NUMBER SIX: Rather than jump at the TAG or Tudor, it is time to show a bit of passion and knowledge about watches and start talking about other options. NO NOT talk about Rolexes, Patek Philippes or Audemars Piguets — yet  — show a higher level of knowledge by dropping names of F.P. Journe watches or correctly pronouncing A. Lange & Sohne.

RULE NUMBER SEVEN: The serious spade work is now done and, although you might have had to invent a fiancé and spend a sizeable sum on jewellery (a sound investment), you have not had to commit too much time and you are on the retailer’s radar and their database.

They know, or believe, you have money and taste, so you are going to start getting invited to events. You MUST attend. This might seem like a chore when the Premier League season has started, but the investment is well worth it. Who knows, you could end up watching the game with your friendly local jeweller and you will move yourself even closer to the inner circle.

RULE NUMBER EIGHT: Bring somebody seriously loaded to the event. You might not have a million pound watch collection, but introduce somebody that does and you will benefit from the introduction. This guest plays the classic role of a wing man in a bar. Their job is to start the conversation that can be steered towards the object of your desire: the unicorn watch you crave.

RULE NUMBER NINE: Be patient. Even if you get on a waiting list for a hot timepiece, it could take a decade to get to the top. It might take a year to work through rules one to nine, but a unicorn could just drop in your lap if you don’t get over-eager. Think of the process as saving nine years rather than costing one year.

RULE NUMBER TEN: And this is the most important. Love, love, love watches and take genuine joy from the pursuit of your beloved ticker.

The likelihood is that none of the rules described here will make much difference, but you will have so much fun along the journey that you will not regret a second of the fruitless pursuit.

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  1. Agreed on all points other then number 1. I work for a large authorised dealer and unfortunately we do not have professional models just in the safe for the sake of it. So will need to disagree with point one. In fact it has only got worse this year

    • This is disgusting. This mentality is why I’ve lost total interest in the brand completely. I’m a long time Rolex/watch enthusiast…..not a bullsh*t artist. Rolex has become a watch for sheep with more money than brains. Best of luck faking your way to “unicorns”.

  2. This level of crawling should not be required to purchase a watch. There are plenty of other great watches out there as well as plenty of other things to do with your time.

  3. Brilliant comments and so true, except not only is Rolex THE top brand to get and quality but now one of the few that all watch shops will buy off you and also only go up in value. so the proof is in the pudding.

  4. This is ridiculous. Is Rolex trying to become another Hermes?? Why do we have to go through all tricks to buy a watch? Agreed with the above comment. This is just for brainless sheep. You should spend your time making more money, not on those silly “rules”.

  5. This is absolutely ridiculous lol. Building a relationship with anybody based on lies is a formula for complete disappointment and ultimate failure. You call yourselves pros but your advice is to lie and spend on phantom fiance’s. I have a Sub no date and a Sea Dweller and I got both from my AD by simply being honest. He also got his home serviced with my company afterwards and gave me 2 other referals to date because he liked me not wasting his precious time and being a straight shooter. You people are out to lunch and are obviously eating low quality food and drinking high concentrations of flouride water haha. What a joke!

  6. When I buy a watch, I’m a customer and should be treated as a customer. Instead here we have a strange impractical ritual, which would distract 90% of real buyers.
    So long story short, when I went to the local shop and asked about Submariner, manager just smiled at me. Then I went to the Omega boutique and bought their Seamaster instead. Amazing spectacular watch which I proudly wear for over a year already. And excellent service from their network of boutiques!

  7. This is a stupid article. Markup on secondary will save you the embarrassment of kissing some retail salespersons arse.

  8. “show a higher level of knowledge by dropping names of F.P. Journe watches or correctly pronouncing A. Lange & Sohne.” … yea will be hard to pronounce it correctly if you cant even get the name right. What a joke this article is …

  9. Unfortunately this is life! Most people brown nose their way to the top and getting one of these watches seems no different! What a load of bolloks, if you want to sink that low go ahead as im sure you would have done by now! Fuck you Jack im alright? What a joke you make me wanna puke. I’ll stick with my Timex its reliable tells the time and didn’t cost me my dignity!!!!!!!!

  10. And this is exactly why The gray market succeeds , it’s only 2-3k more for the sub but you can get it in a week and you don’t have to kiss anyone’s ass for YEARS ( and yes kissing ass means buying thousands in jewelry you don’t even want in the first place) in the long run you actually spend way less for that sub if you get it from the gray market , I am 1000% serious!!

  11. Last summer I was in a position to purchase a submariner after 10 or so years wearing omega/breitling etc and it took some time to be in this position to afford it.
    Went to a family run dealer where after discussing my needs it was fairly clear a sub was the best option, now 18 months and even had to chase as follow mail did not get a response and when a subsequent mail was ignored a call revealed sales person had left and had to send my details for new 2020 41mm again to boot
    True aficionado and some but cannot say the same about the missed communication when the AD could of called me

  12. What a stupid article. By the time you e spent 30k and taken 5 years my tip is just pay 11-20k for an over priced one.! Simple buy one at an extortionate price or don’t.

    For me I don’t get Rolex , why would you allow a third party to make more than you make simply by flippers no watches. Sooner or later that’s going to bite back!

  13. If I calculated my hourly rate put into the effort of saving a few grand on a beater sports watch, it would easily make more sense to buy it at the gray market premium. Except for the fact that I don’t overpay for things.

    Just have to wait for a big stock market crash. All the new money tend to flood the market with “unicorns.”

  14. It is like diamond cartel. Rolex has created a market for itself at its own price. How much a watch is watch. It just gives time, right?

  15. Exactly, it costs much less to buy in the secondary market, and that is not just the value of the watch but also the most important thing: the value of time, talking to all sorts of individuals that you would prefer not to talk to

  16. Poor us, all of this for a watch? I hope the writer of the article was simply carrying on pulling people who lose their sleep for getting a Rolex leg.
    If I want one and they have it, I’ll take it. If they don’t, well, good luck for the potential flipper.
    A watch reveals a bit of ourselves, if in the end wearing a Rolex means that I have done things like the ones recommended above, well, I’d rather wear a swatch with a definitely higher and more intact self-esteem.

  17. Cheaper to pay the ridiculous markup on secondary market. Beats paying $20-30k for jewelry I don’t want, just to kiss the AD’s ass in the hops that 2-3 years down the road he’ll sell me the item I actually want. It seems as though Rolex is intentionally driving it’s customers to the secondary market. How odd.


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