Right now, it’s impossible to simply walk into your local authorized dealer and just buy one of the popular steel Rolex watch models. Two years ago you might have even seen a Submariner 116610LV “Hulk” sitting in the case of a jewelry store in the mall. Nowadays, you’d have to pay almost two times the retail price from a pre-owned source. Even a year ago, you could get one of the newer 39mm Oyster Perpetual with a white dial fairly easily. Right now, they are largely unavailable new from an authorized dealer.
The shortage of Rolex watches is by, now, old news, which leads us to the pre-owned market. Yes, you will pay a premium for more popular models, but you have a better chance of going into a Tourneau, choose the watch you’ve been eyeing, and leave with it on your wrist. But, even the used market is not as robust as it was even six months ago.
Which leads us to checking out some of the more interesting prospects in the five-digit arena of Rolex watches. A Datejust 16013 or a Submariner 16610 are very viable choices in the preowned marketplace. These remain timeless watch styles, and classics are always solid choices as their esthetic has withstood the test of time.
So if you are determined to own a Rolex right now, we advise you to follow the old adage: buy the seller. Look for dealers who have been in the game for a long time. Hang out on the watch forums and learn about reputable dealers that are mentioned time and time again. Ask a lot of questions. Take a day to visit the store and sit down with a salesperson. Ask more questions. Understand why two watches that are exactly the same price differently. Try on different models. All good dealers welcome this process. After all, a happy customer quite often equates to referrals and repeat business.
The Good News
Even if you end up paying above the original retail price for (for example) a Rolex Explorer II 216570, the likelihood of its value declining is very slim. Rolex steel sport models have become highly valuable and sought-after commodities. The resale value is not about the drop and will probably increase. We’re all kicking ourselves for not picking up a Kermit a few years back.
Values Still Can be Had
If you can wear a 34mm case, the Rolex Air-King 14000 series can be bought for under $4,000 on the pre-owned market. What goes around comes around in watch fashion, and the New York Times even wrote about the return of the smaller watches citing “jumbo watch fatigue.” Those popular Timex re-issues with menswear innovator Todd Snyder wear fine at 34mm.
In general, if a particular Rolex style speaks to you, by all means, go against the grain. Go for it. A Rolex Datejust Turn-O-Graph 116264 with a red date wheel and red seconds hand certainly sticks out from the crowd. These can be found in pre-owned inventory for around $6,000.
- Enjoy the hunt. We also saw a Y1 serial Rolex Explorer I for under $5,000 listed on a major pre-owned watch site. The trick is the keep searching the web as new listings pop up frequently.
- Make a wish list of models you really want and relentlessly edit this list. Only include watches that you are obsessing over. Don’t settle even if it’s a good value. Remember a wrist watch is an object that can give the owner pleasure every day, so choose with your heart. Everyone else’s favorite watch may not be yours. On the other hand, if you really love a popular model, be true to yourself, and add it to your wish list. Watch community favorites are popular for a reason.
- Should you hold out for box and papers? The short answer is not if it’s a watch you really want, and it may disappear from the marketplace. You can get service papers from Rolex Service Center later if you need authentication during a resale. If you know your purchase is for your you and you only, don’t wait for box and papers. We won’t argue against holding out for or paying more for box and papers, as some people simple prefer to have the whole kit in their Rolex experience. In today’s climate, just don’t hesitate if you know the watch being considered is your dream model. That’s why it’s so important to have that wish list formed.
- This tip is worth repeating: Buy the seller. We go on the record to endorse any particular seller here, but do your homework. If the deal seems too good to be true, it more than likely is.
Is There a Case for Buying New?
For some people, being the first owner is a special feeling. It’s 100% yours, and you are creating your own history with your watch. If you take the time to develop a relationship with your authorized dealer, you will likely receive excellent post-purchase service. You also get the five-year official Rolex warranty, which can come in handy if you need it.
The problem is that right now, you have a very limited selection to choose from. Again, keep hunting. One dealer we know has some old stock Harley dial Oyster Perpetuals models available. There are fleeting windows of opportunity, and as all things in life, you create your own luck. Have fun, and share your experiences in the comment section below.