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by Li Wang February 21, 2021 2 min read

With the most popular steel Rolex watches basically unavailable from Authorized Dealers and secondary market prices skyrocketing, can one find an exceptional Rolex watch at a reasonable price in 2021?

The key: Check out Rolex models from the 1990s, the era that spawned Nirvana’s “Nevermind” and the Beastie Boys’s “Check Yo Head.”

The good thing about Rolex not changing rapidly is that mechanically many of their watches are on par with newer models. For example the 3135 movement, introduced in 1988, has been in use for at least four decades.

So in addition to slimmer classic cases of the Rolex watches from that era, you get the same functionality and quality in the guts of the watch. A well-maintained Rolex will be very dependable and easily tested by a watchmaker to ensure water resistance and timekeeping standards.

Air King

Photo by Analog Shift

For instance, Analog Shift has a 1997 Air-King listed for $4,650. The 34mm classic may be too small for some tastes, but the black dial and tritium markers make this particular watch stand out for a true boardroom to boardwalk style.

Explorer 1

Photo by Analog Shift

On the same site, they have an Explorer I from 1997 that is selling for $7,900. This 14270 is the classic 36mm version and features a “Swiss only” dial that marks the shift away from tritium dials into the luminescent material used in modern watches. The 36mm Explorer is considered by many enthusiasts to be the ultimate Go Anywhere Do Anything watch.

Rolex Submariner two tone

Photo by Crown & Caliber

A two-tone Submariner is not as common and that little bit of bling will set you apart. Crown & Caliber has a 16613 listed for $9,300. The “S” serial dates this watch to around 1993 and it has drilled lugs and is noted to have corrosion on the hands. Your personal tolerance for wear will largely determine whether or not this one is a good buy, but we can’t deny the charm of a black and gold Sub.

Polar Explorer


Photo by Bob's Watches

One of our favorite watches of all-time is the “Polar” dial Explorer II. Bob’s Watches has one listed for $7,995. The 16570 wears remarkably well and the red GMT hand is a subtle detail that makes for a truly handsome mainstay in any collection. It’s a Rolex sport model that will get noticed for its understated elegance.

 Two Tone Black Dial Datejust

Photo by Bob's Watches

You can’t include a round of strong value Rolex watches without including a Datejust. Yes. it’s the most common Rolex in the wild, but it’s popular for a reason. This two-tone Datejust 16223 has a black dial, which is our preference when it comes to two-tone versions. Black dials tone down the bling and contrast well with the gold hands and dial markers. There’s a listing for $6,250 on HQ Milton is from 1997.

Li Wang
Li Wang

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