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.
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.
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.
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.