As more consumers turn to the secondary luxury watch market to find their favorite timepieces, Paul Altieri, Founder and CEO of Bob’s Watches—a leading online marketplace for pre-owned luxury watches—has put together a helpful guide on how to safely buy used Rolex watches.
The retail price of luxury watches is set by how much brands think you should pay for their products while the pre-owned watch market trades on the actual value of the watches. It goes without saying, the true market value of any good is what someone is willing to pay for it. And the secondary market for Rolex watches illustrates that there are plenty of consumers willing to pay way above retail (and well below) for certain models.
As the Founder and CEO of Bob’s Watches and an avid watch collector, I have been selling and buying used Rolex watches for many years. This experience has given me plenty of insight into the booming secondary market for Rolex watches from both a collector’s point of view and a commercial angle.
At Bob’s Watches, we see hundreds of pre-owned Rolex watches go in out of our doors every month, giving us a clear picture of which used Rolex models are currently the most popular, which models are selling above their suggested retail prices, and which models are currently undervalued. Armed with this data and insight, here is my ultimate guide to buying used Rolex watches.
Most Popular Used Rolex Models
Today, Rolex offers an impressive lineup of watches, ranging from everyday luxury timepieces to expertly engineered tool watches. Remarkably, many of these Rolex models have been around for more than a half-century—and they’re still going strong. For instance, the Datejust made its debut in 1945 as the world’s first automatic chronometer wristwatch fitted with a date window on the dial. Just over a decade later, Rolex introduced the Day-Date “President” as a watch that not only indicates the time, day, and date but also as a social signal of personal success. The 1950s was the decade that Rolex gave us all their greatest tool watch hits from the Explorer adventuring watch to the Submariner dive watch to the GMT-Master pilot watch.
If you take a look at the top-selling used Rolex models in 2016, 2017, and 2018, you can see that the Datejust takes the crown as the best seller. This makes sense since the Datejust has always been Rolex’s flagship watch model—the most “Rolex” of them all—offering a great balance between luxury and a practical everyday timepiece.
Following this are the Submariner, GMT-Master, and Day-Date, in that order, and the Explorer and Daytona have traded places at the over the years. Again, no surprises here as these are well-established Rolex models that have earned enthusiastic audiences over the last five or more decades. What’s more, sales of these models have increased year-on-year for the last three, highlighting the growing demand for used Rolex watches.
Based on popularity, these stats indicate that these particular six Rolex models have a better resale value overall compared to other Rolex models.
The Anomaly of Metal Options
Since gold and platinum are precious metals, it is only natural that gold and platinum Rolex watches have heftier retail price tags than their stainless steel counterparts. However, in the secondary market, this is not always the case. Take for example the highly sought-after stainless steel Daytona 116500LN that came out in 2016.
This particular Rolex Daytona has an MSRP of $12,400 yet in the secondary market, prices are around double that. On the other hand, the full rose gold Daytona 116505 retails for $37,450 and prices in the pre-owned market hover around the $30,000, which is about a 20% discount. The same approach applies to discontinued and vintage Rolex watches too, where stainless steel models are more popular than gold or two-tone ones.
Why is this happening, you ask? It is simply a matter of supply and demand—the popularity of stainless steel luxury sports watches has exploded in recent years and few watchmakers make steel sports watches as great as Rolex does. It’s no secret that authorized Rolex boutiques rarely have a single steel Daytona, Submariner, or GMT-Master on display ready to sell to the next walk-in customer. So, Rolex fans looking for a steel watch are turning to the pre-owned market to source these types of models, therefore driving up market prices.
So while it may seem counterintuitive, you may get a better deal overall for a gold or two-tone used Rolex watch (when compared to retail prices) than a stainless steel version given today’s market trends.
Vintage, Discontinued, and Current-Production Used Rolex Watches
A vintage Rolex watch is generally defined as one that is older than 30 years old. Any Rolex model that is less than 30 years old but is no longer in production is typically referred to as a “discontinued Rolex”. Over the years, Rolex has used four-digit, five-digit, and six-digit reference numbers. Rolex switched over to five-digit references in the 1980s and six-digit references in the 2000s.
In general (there are a few exceptions), four-digit references represent vintage models while five-digit references belong to discontinued models. While six-digit references used to (up until very recently) indicate current-production models, Rolex has introduced a whole host of new watches over the last few years and the company still uses six-digits but slightly different numbers. So, to differentiate between a recently-discontinued six-digit reference and a recently introduced six-digit reference takes a little extra research.
In the current secondary market, most of the attention goes to vintage Rolex watches and current-production ones. Which is to say, that out of the three generations of watches, some of the best deals can be found within the discontinued models produced from the 1980s until about the 2000s.
Aftermarket Parts Impacting Value Of Used Rolex Watches
In the pre-owned watch community, used watches that have all of their original parts reign supreme. A completely untouched Rolex in less-than-ideal condition typically commands a higher price than a pristine and polished pre-owned Rolex fitted with replacement parts. For many, the goal is to own a piece that’s as close to the watch that originally came out of the factory years ago.
However, an untouched “factory original” Rolex watch is not always feasible, especially with vintage models. The older a watch is, the higher the likelihood that it has seen a service or two, which means some parts have been replaced, surfaces have been polished, and details have been re-lumed.
However, if the watch has any replacement parts, then you should make sure that they are all 100% genuine Rolex parts. Any custom work (such as gem-setting or PVD) and/or the use of non-genuine Rolex components will harm the value of the watch. Sometimes you will hear the term “Frankenwatch” thrown around to describe watches that are built with either non-genuine parts or genuine parts that are not correct for that particular model.
Similar to most luxury goods markets, the watch market—particularly the Rolex one—is replete with counterfeit products. While it used to be relatively easy to spot fake Rolex watches, the recent “Super Fake” Rolex watches appearing on the scene are almost indistinguishable from the real deal. These forgeries are made with the best materials and even the smallest details are carefully crafted to look like a genuine Rolex.
The most important lesson you can learn about buying used Rolex watches is to purchase them from trustworthy experts that have plenty of experience with dealing with genuine pieces. In short, always buy the seller.