My friend just asked me about buying a vintage or previously-owned Rolex. Rolex is one of those magic words in the jewelry world. Everyone has an opinion about them: awesome, gauche, aspirational, traditional (in the negative sense), classic (in the positive sense). They seem to have become synonymous with arriving at a certain point of income or status.
I’ll admit it–I’m a Rolex fan. I have other watches, but my Datejust is the work horse: a truly durable and reliable timepiece. Play, work, pool, working out, going out, it’s perfectly appropriate no matter what the setting. Not only does it look exactly the same as it did out of the box 12 years ago, it looks virtually identical to newer models produced currently (Rolex has made a few tweaks to the construction of the bracelets and cases to make they even more durable, but they look the same). The self-winding movement can, in theory, be serviced into perpetuity. All of this adds up to a brand that is very respected as a new watch, but also as a previously-owned watch.
New Versus Previously-Owned Prices
New Rolex watches start around $4200 for the Airking, and you can expect to get a 10-25% discount from the MSRP from a Rolex Authorized Dealer, depending on the model. For previously-owned Rolex models, the percentage off retail will vary a great deal depending on the model and its relative demand, the condition, and the dealer who is selling it. For instance, a Rolex Steel Submariner with Date, Model #16610, retails for $6000 new. You can probably expect to get about 10% off this model, since it’s highly sought after relative to production, for a net price of around $5400. You might be able to buy it used in very good condition with a 1 year retailer’s warranty for around $4800, or about 20% off. Many used Rolex models should sell for 50-60% off new MSRP, and older vintage models may be even less. A few models are so limited in production, and so highly collectible that even previously-owned models will sell for MORE than retail, like the fabled Daytona in Stainless Steel.
There are a number of places to get information about watches online. Two of the most respected sites in the industry are TimeZone.com and WatchNet.com. They are good places to get information, and check out forums to see what collectors are saying. Looking at their “Fraud” notices on Watchnet, I can’t recommend that the average consumer buy through their site though: it just looks too risky.
If you are looking for a new Rolex, it’s pretty straight forward: Look up the closest Authorized Rolex Dealer to you on Rolex.com, and go shopping locally. I recommend buying a new watch from an authorized source mostly for authenticity purposes: new Rolex retails start at $4200+, so you want to make sure it’s the real deal. Also, if your new watch should need service and you buy through an un-authorized source, you may not be able to get certified Rolex service–which I highly recommend for resale and longevity purposes.
You can look up local jewelers who carry new Rolex watches (see above), sometimes they have previously-owned Rolexes that collectors have traded in. You can also check out local jewelers who carry estate jewelry and watches, you might get lucky. It’s a bit hit or miss locally, though: these watches have a huge used following as well as new, so they sell quickly.
Note: Looking online, I would skip eBay, and other smaller online sites. Too risky for this particular brand, which just breeds fraud.
Portero.com would be a good place to start a search for a vintage Rolex, or any other finer Swiss brand watch. From the research I’ve done, the watches are a pretty good value. They work hard on verifying authenticity, provide 1 year warranties, have a 14-day return policy, and offer good descriptions online with condition clearly identified (New, Mint, Very Good, etc.). You can also call customer service at 1.877.307.3767, and add to your comfort level. I found this fantastic 1950’s 18 Kt yellow gold model on a strap–it would look great on a woman (and this is a great price for a gold vintage Rolex!)!
European Watch Company
I made a purchase from European Watch Company for a different watch brand. For that transaction, they provided a lot of guidance over the phone, and delivered a new, authentic watch with original box and papers for a very good value. They have an actual storefront in Boston, which adds a face to their business, and provide a References page on their website with testimonials about their business. Here is a stainless steel signed Tiffany and Co. Rolex from the 1970’s, for an excellent price (could be worn by a man or woman):
This vintage 1930’s “Cocktail Watch” is totally amazing (and the gold content alone may be more than the selling price):
There are some great previously-owned Rolex watches out there, but with this brand, you have to be extra careful about who you buy from. I recommend buying in person or from a retailer with credentials you can actually check out (BBB online, how long they have been in business, industry affiliations). Be sure to do your due diligence when deciding where