Are grey market dealers really to blame for the Rolex shortage?

Are grey market dealers really to blame for the Rolex shortage?

DMARGE, an online lifestyle magazine, recently published an article blaming Rolex authorized dealers for selling their most-sought-after watches to grey market/non-authorized watch sellers so that both parties can profit off of a substantial markup correlated with the demand for popular Rolex models. In all my years of watch collecting, this inability to simply walk into a Rolex store and buy (or at least get the watch you want in a few weeks) has become a strange phenomena with no end in sight.

Photo by DMARGE

Yahoo! Finance interviewed experts such as vintage watch dealer Eric Wind and Bob Altieri, owner of secondhand dealer Bob’s Watches, who pinned the issue more on a simple supply vs. demand issue. 

Grey market dealers have been around some time. The watch forums have long discussed “Should I buy a (Insert watch model) from Jomashop?” topic before the Rolex shortage of recent years. I personally don’t believe that the shortage can be pinned on grey market dealers corroborating with authorized dealers. Usually consumer demand does drive shortages. Anyone old enough to remember how hard it was to buy a Cabbage Patch Kid doll in the 1980s? The fever pitch to obtain this toy created a situation where it became so highly coveted that those who didn’t want one in the first place started to want one, thus exponentially increasing demand.

I believe that’s simply what’s going on with Rolex right now. The internet, social media, luxury publications have made it really, really cool to own a luxury watch and Rolex happens to be the most-well-known brand on earth. 

Photo by Time + Tide Watches

One time I was having a casual conversation with a friend who complimented my Oyster Perpetual—which I did buy at retail and is considered the most basic, entry-level Rolex sports model. She asked “What kind of watch is that?”

I told her it was a Rolex and she replied, “Oh, of course, the best,” poking fun at my taste for nice things.

That’s how most non-watch enthusiasts view the watch world: There’s Rolex and then there are other brands. You could be wearing a Nautilus and most people would have no idea that you are wearing a nice watch.

I was waiting outside to get into Watches of Switzerland in SoHo because of COVID-related restrictions and met two young men eagerly waiting to get into the store. One had on a ceramic Submariner and the other had on a Tudor Pelagos. I asked what watch they were seeking to buy and the Pelagos owner pointed to his friend’s Sub and told me he wanted to get a Rolex like his friend.

I told him, “I’d just wear the heck out of that Pelagos you have on your wrist.”

It was unsolicited advice, yes, but I truly feel that way. We should appreciate the fact that there are many great watches out there available at retail. The Rolex shortage will pass like most market conditions. For now, let’s enjoy what we own and if you really want a Rolex, put in the work and research the marketplace for older models that may not have a crazy markup.

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