A gentleman’s guide to buying your first Rolex

A gentleman’s guide to buying your first Rolex

Your first experience of anything significant is an event you will most likely never forget. Whether it be a car, job, or girlfriend, it is sure to evoke vivid memories long into the future. One of those once-in-a-lifetime experiences is that of buying your first Rolex.

Seeing that iconic crown on your wrist is an image that is closely associated with success, is a symbol that has transcended the world of watches, and is understood worldwide. Taking this into account you want to be sure that you have a good time and don’t regret your choice. To aid that process, today we want to give you some tips on what you should take into account when buying your first Rolex.

How much should I expect to pay for a Rolex?

The very first thing you should know is your budget. This will influence not only which watch you buy but also where you buy it. Something that isn‘t mentioned frequently however is that in your budget you should also consider the service costs which, depending on the watch, can vary wildly. If something happened with your Rolex, particularly if it is a more complex or rare model, the costs for a repair can quickly jump into the four-digit range. That is why I always advise folks to be honest with their budget and plan for possible issues. 

Another thing to take into account that scoring a bargain deal on a quality Rolex has become near impossible. Since they are so popular their value is common knowledge and information can be easily found. That means that if you come across a deal that seems too good to be true, it most likely is. That comes of course with the benefit that if you ever need to sell your watch a Rolex is one of the easiest watches to do so. Lastly, while it is true that certain models have seen great jumps in value, try not to think of it as an investment since that may stand in the way of your enjoyment of the watch.

If you want to read further, Watch & Bullion recently published a guide to how much Rolex models cost for popular models, together with how prices have changed in the last 6 months during the pandemic.

Where should I buy my Rolex?

The next big decision in the process is figuring out where you want to source your new watch from. While there are countless different places you could buy your watch from they all loosely fit into one of two categories.

The first is an authorized dealer (AD). These are jewellery stores that Rolex has carefully selected to be allowed to sell their new watches. Here you will find all the current models in brand new condition and at the recommended retail price. This would usually be the easiest route to purchase a good if we were talking about any other brand, but with Rolex things get a little tricky. Since the demand has skyrocketed particularly for steel sports models there are extensively long waiting lists, and chances are that if you do not have a purchase history or personal connection with the store they will refuse to even put you on the waiting list. So if you want that brand new Rolex boutique experience and are willing to wait potentially several years, then this is the way to go.

On the other side, there is the grey market. While the term may sound a little dodgy, gray market in this context simply means genuine products sold outside the approved distribution channels. In other words, this is anything but the authorized dealers such as a private individual on a watch forum, a power seller on eBay, or a store specializing in selling luxury watches. The range of products here is significantly larger ranging from brand new watches to niche vintage models. All the watches you see will be available for purchase immediately and priced according to demand for them. This means you might get a watch for below the retail price or, which is more likely, above it. Here the most important thing to consider is that you are also buying your seller. Particularly if you do not feel very comfortable examining the quality of a watch you should always go with a brick and mortar watch store that has a good reputation, rather than try to score a deal on the internet only to leave you disappointed with your watch and have nowhere to return it.

Should I consider getting a vintage Rolex?

Since Rolex watches have been in production for so long, the current lineup is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of what’s out there. The vintage world is its own little universe spoiling you with choice. 

There are, however, some drawbacks with vintage watches. Most notably the older the watch is the harder it will be to repair. While Rolex was always known for their quality their products are not infallible and necessary repair jobs can both be pricey and time-consuming. The other issue is the risk of being duped. There are many ways that a watch can be overpriced, but in this segment a particular issue are Frankenwatches. These are watches thrown together from spare parts that may look like a rare collector’s item but aren’t nearly as valuable.

To avoid these pitfalls a lot of research and expertise is necessary, so while it may not be optimal for a newcomer it is a possibility provided you do the research required. If you do want to go down this path pay particular attention to the reputation of your seller to avoid making a costly mistake.

What condition do you expect your Rolex to be in?

The condition of both the watch and all the parts that come with it have a significant impact on the value of your watch. There are two things you may want to look out for.

The first is whether you have a full set. This refers to everything that comes with a watch when it was originally purchased new at the AD which and most significantly refers to the box and papers. Of these two matching papers are the most important and you can check their authenticity by referencing the serial number on the documents with those on the watch. The box seems more important, but because it is not uniquely linked to your watch it can usually be bought separately and hence without matching papers you have to presume that this is not the original box.

A gentleman’s guide to buying your first Rolex

The second thing you should pay attention to is whether your watch has been taken care of properly. You should pay attention to whether your watch is over-polished which happens because every time your watch gets polished it ends up removing metal. This means that eventually, you reach a point where your watch has lost too much metal and further polishing would affect the structural integrity and significantly reduce the value. You can access this by paying close attention to whether the edges of the case are soft and dull or the crown on the clasp faded. Another good way to access the quality is to pay attention to the stretch of the bracelet. On a watch that isn’t worn much the bracelet will stay straight rather than slope down when you hold the watch at 90 degrees by the case.

How do I avoid buying a fake Rolex?

There is only one thing worse than overpaying for an overpolished frankenwatch, and that is buying a fake watch. This has become increasingly relevant since surging demand for watches goes hand in hand with an increased incentive for criminals to fake them. While two decades ago spotting a fake was easy because their quality was notoriously bad this has changed with the advent of super clones that even experts struggle to tell apart.

There are, however, still some measures you can take to protect yourself. First of all consider how popular your watch is. A Submariner, for example, is one of the most faked watches in the world due to the simple design and incredible popularity so care is required, whereas a Yacht-Master 2 is not only less in vogue but mechanically so complex that it is exceedingly hard to replicate.

Next, inform yourself on the details that define your watch. Oftentimes fakes struggle to replicate certain details like the spacing of text on the dial, the font on the date wheel, or the weight of the watch. In isolation, some clones are impossible to distinguish so research is vital. If something in your gut is telling you there is something dodgy, it probably is.

Finally, and this comes back to a point made previously, consider your source. The chance that a full set watch with matching papers and period-appropriate box from an established dealer is a fake is significantly lower than a steal of a deal watch without papers coming from an individual who urgently seems to want to get rid of it.

What are good beginner Rolex watches to choose?

This was a lot of information to take in and the world of watches can be a little daunting when you enter it. Don’t let that discourage you though since this is a wonderful hobby you can lose yourself in and your first Rolex is a wonderful start to any collection as well as an experience you will always remember.

Where to begin though? In case you have no clue what watches you might like, as a closing note, I have suggested below some classic options that are considered great beginner watches. You can research these watches which are all solid options and look out for what else you find on the way.

Explorer ref. 214270

A gentleman’s guide to buying your first Rolex

One of the most important watches Rolex ever made and the basis for a lot of their professional models. The Explorer is the watch most associated with the first ascent of the Mount Everest. If you want a simple time-only classic that doesn’t draw too much attention try this model which can be bought both at an AD and on the web.

Submariner no-date ref. 14060

A gentleman’s guide to buying your first Rolex

The Submariner is arguably the most popular watch in the world. The new models are very hard to come by, but this no-date steel reference with its neo-vintage charm can be easily found on the gray market. The date version is also a good alternative if you consider it useful but purists dislike how it breaks up the symmetry of the dial.

Explorer II ref. 16570

The Explorer 2 is a fantastic watch for all those with an active lifestyle. This youthful model features a red 24-hour hand and comes with a white or black dial. This specific version can be found for good prices on the web since it isn’t as popular as the similar GMT-Master. If you want something more chunky you should consider the updated version that can be had at an AD too.

Oyster Perpetual 36 or 41MM 2020

A gentleman’s guide to buying your first Rolex

The new Oyster Perpetuals were just released in September of 2020. Therefore these models are still quite hard to get if you don’t want to pay premiums. The hype is justified however since this model is the iconic beginner Rolex and offered in many different sizes and colours. I would recommend a 36mm or 41mm version and to talk to an AD and have yourself played on a waiting list to avoid having to pay a premium.

Milgauss 116400GV

A gentleman’s guide to buying your first Rolex

The Milgauss has a long history and was a watch designed for scientists and all those that need a watch that can withstand high levels of magnetism, an issue that is becoming increasingly more prevalent in our technology-driven life. This specific reference that can be had both at an AD or on the gray market and stands out for the bold colours it uses. This what could be considered a more loud Rolex, by virtue of its electric blue dial, orange thunder seconds hand, and green sapphire glass makes for a super fun and unique timepiece.

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