Hidden Gems: Rolex Under Retail in 2024

Hidden Gems: Rolex Under Retail in 2024

For this installment of Hidden Gems, we have a do-it-all diver, a timeless dress icon, and a stealth-wealth Submariner with a pop of color. The cherry on top? All of these watches can be had for less than their original retail price, adjusted for inflation. Happy holidays and let’s get started!

Everyday Watch: Rolex Submariner 16610

Rolex Submariner 16610

Image Source: analogshift.com

The Rolex Submariner needs no introduction, but I’ll give it one anyway. This is the most iconic wristwatch of all time. Rolex — a brand that revolutionized waterproof watch design — unveiled their flagship dive watch in 1954. For almost 70 years, the Rolex Submariner has been the prototypical tool watch: durable, legible, and practical. It’s proven itself a timeless silhouette, but one reference stands out in particular.

The Rolex Submariner 16610 is one of the brand’s longest standing references produced from 1987 to 2010. This generation was a giant leap into modernity. Taking the baton from the transitional 16800 (and very transitional 168000), the ref. 16610 is decidedly modern with a sapphire crystal, 300 meters of water resistance, and Rolex’s caliber 3135. Despite its modern creature comforts, this watch has some undeniable vintage charm.

Rolex Submariner 16610

Image Source: millenarywatches.com

This is the last Submariner to feature an aluminum bezel insert and pre-Super-Case design. The 16610 features slim lugs, minimal crown guards, and a slightly smaller diameter of 40mm. Early examples feature tritium lume, allowing for some delightful patina over time. Of course, this radioactive material was replaced by LumiNova in the late ‘90s. Early examples also feature drilled lugs (aka pierced lugs, lug holes): a cool utility that we’ve watched disappear from Rolex’s catalog. 

With overkill water resistance, a cyclops date window, and a timing dive bezel, the Submariner 16610 has a great resume for the perfect everyday watch. They can be had for $7,000-$9,000, depending on year of manufacture, condition, service history, and extras (box, papers).

The Dress Watch: Rolex Day-Date 18239

Rolex Day-Date 18239

Image Source: windvintage.com

We’ve featured quite a few Rolex Datejusts on Hidden Gems; I think it’s time for a Day-Date. With its curved 12 o’clock day readout, cyclops date window, and bulbous three-link President bracelet, the Rolex Day-Date is as recognizable as it is beautiful. It was famously worn by US President Lyndon B. Johnson.

We talk a lot about “sweet spots” in Rolex’s historical catalog, often referring to value. With obvious exceptions, many vintage watches sell for less than their modern counterparts (like the Submariner ref. 16610). A so-called “sweet spot” model may have introduced one or more modern features (e.g., sapphire crystal, quickset functionality, or solid end links) but has a lower price tag than the truly-modern example.

Rolex Day-Daye 18239

Image Source: tropicalwatch.com

To me, the 182XX reference generation, specifically the 18239, is the sweet spot for Day-Dates. Equipped with Rolex’s caliber 3155, this late-80’s generation introduced a full balance bridge (added stability to fragile mechanics) and double quickset functionality: vastly simplifying the process of setting the day and date. The dials on these watches are stunning as well – many feature railroad minute tracks inserted with Roman numerals: a design element that, if I were in the market for a Day-Date, I wouldn’t pass up on. Many dials I found also have a wonderful even patina.

My pick is the white gold Rolex Day-Date 18239. I like white gold because of its weight and understated presence: it just looks like stainless steel to most people. Depending on factors like condition, service history, and extras (box, papers), you can find a Day-Date 18239 in the $16,000 - $20,000 range. For reference, the modern equivalent retails for $37,900.

The Fun Watch: Rolex Submariner 126619LB 

Rolex submariner 126619LB

Image Source: hodinkee.com

A precious metal Submariner perfectly sums up the idea of a fun watch. Starting with the ref. 1680, Rolex has made a habit of gussying up the stoic Submariner with colorful dials, bezels, and gold cases. Gold — a much softer and pricier metal than steel — directly opposes the Submariner’s practical ethos, leaving a strange taste in some people’s mouths. Luckily, this means that most gold Subs sell below retail. One such example is the ref. 126619LB: my favorite precious metal Sub. 

This model can be identified by its bright blue Cerachrom bezel insert. Surrounding a glossy black dial, it may remind you of the Batman GMT-Master II. However, this bezel is entirely blue — a design that we’ve only seen on precious metal Submariners and the rare ‘Blueberry’ GMT-Master. The 126619LB is entirely made of white gold. The stealth factor of white gold is much more salient with the Submariner than with the aforementioned Day-Date, for example. Steel is the norm for the Submariner; the Day-Date has never been made in steel.

If you’re looking for a watch with a splash of color and/or a flash of gold, look no further than precious metal Submariners. For my money, the Rolex Submariner 126619LB is the most intriguing color and material combo. It can be had for between $30,000 and $37,000, depending on condition, service history, and extras (box, papers).

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