Happy Halloween! For this installment of Hidden Gems – our biweekly series highlighting the best deals in used Rolex – we have a high-flying everyday watch, a not-quite-vintage chronograph, and a few colorful dials to brighten your day. Let’s take a closer look at each watch.
The Everyday Watch: Rolex Air-King 116900 (or 126900)
Image Source: timeandtidewatches.com
The Air-King is a rare example of a Rolex watch that’s received a complete visual overhaul. Originally released in 1945, the Air-King maintained its core design elements for about 60 years: stick hour indices, monochromatic dial, ‘Air-King’ text below 12 o’clock. You can take an Air-King 5500 from 1957 and an Air-King 14000 from 2006 and put them side by side: you’ll notice more similarities than differences. In 2016 however, Rolex flipped the model on its head with the ref. 116900. It features a black dial, green seconds hand, green ‘Rolex’ text, and a yellow-gold Rolex crown. The classic ‘Air-King’ text has moved below the pinion and the indices now feature double-digit arabics on five minute increments. This 60-minute scale and inverted triangle at 12 o’clock are quintessential design elements of pilot’s watches. While staying true to its roots in aviation, the modern Air-King doubles as an exceptional daily watch with high legibility, a waterproof and comfortable 40mm Oyster case, and of course, an accurate and reliable Rolex movement.
Image Source: monochrome-watches.com
Since the launch of the 116900 in 2016, we’ve seen one major update with the 126900 (pictured above). The refresh brought a caliber 3230 (as opposed to the 3131), crown guards, and a ‘05’ instead of ‘5’ on the dial. For an extra ~$1,000, I’ll let you decide if those updates are worth it. If you want to go last-gen, you can pick up a used Rolex Air-King 116900 for around $7,000: just below its original retail price.
The Purpose-Driven Watch: “Zenith” Rolex Daytona 16520
Image Source: sdwatches.com
Whether you have a practical application for a chronograph or just feel like you need one to “complete a collection” (I hope it’s not that), the purpose behind this pick is having a stopwatch on your wrist. When it comes to Rolex chronographs, you only have one option: the Daytona. Luckily, the 60-year-old model has plenty of iterations to choose from. For my money, five-digit Daytonas, also referred to as Zenith Daytonas due to their use of a (modified) Zenith El Primero movement, provide solid value and potential future upside due to their historical significance. This was the first generation of Rolex Daytona to use an automatic movement.
Zenith Daytonas look fairly similar to early 6-digit Daytonas, but there’s an easy trick to differentiate the two just by looking at the dial. If the running seconds subdial is at 9 o’clock, the watch uses a Zenith-based movement and has a 5-digit reference number. If the running seconds is at 6 o’clock, the watch uses an in-house movement and has a 6-digit reference number.
Image Source: tropicalwatch.com
Within the world of 5-digit Daytonas, there are plenty of premium options. Those with error dials such as the inverted 6 (on the 6 o’clock subdial) or the organic varnish patina “Patrizzi dial” go for significant premiums, usually above $50,000. However, a run-of-the-mill Rolex Daytona 16520, white or black dial, will run you just north of $20,000. While well above retail, this is a lower price than even last-gen 6-digit Daytonas. Of course, you’re getting an older watch, but 5-digit Rolex sports models are notoriously well made and offer excellent value.
The Fun Watch: Rolex Oyster Perpetual 41 124300
Image Source: monochrome-watches.com
While the Oyster Perpetual usually leans closer toward ‘everyday watch’ than ‘fun watch’, the 2020 colored-dial Oyster Perpetuals are bright, bold, and increasingly affordable. Available in multiple sizes (28mm, 31mm, 34mm, 36mm, 41mm) and colors (turquoise blue, coral red, yellow, green, candy pink, bright blue, silver, bright black, and pink), you’re sure to find the right configuration for you. Of course, the OP 41mm runs a bit of a premium due to its size, but depending on the color you choose, you can get a great deal on these discontinued color bombs.
Image Source: ablogtowatch.com
The turquoise Tiffany-adjacent dial is, has been, and always will be the most expensive. These watches are still upwards of $25,000: too much for an OP, in my opinion. Decreasing in price, you can get the yellow dial (my personal favorite) for around $16,000. This is still a lot for an OP, but if you love that dial like I do, it might just be worth it. Even less expensive is the coral red OP 41mm which can be had for around $15,000. Green dials, still in production, go for about $8,000. If you’re interested in black, blue, or silver, I would recommend trying to get one at retail. You’ll likely have to wait a bit, but it’s probably worth the couple thousand dollars of resale premium. From my purely anecdotal knowledge, wait times for Oyster Perpetuals are significantly lower than all other Rolex sports models.