As a community, watch collectors love obsessing over tiny, seemingly insignificant little details. Whether it is the placement of date windows, the length of hands, or an extra millimeter in case thickness, there is a certain OCD element that exists within watch collecting, and it is this borderline pedantic attention to detail that ultimately breathes life into this wonderful hobby and gives us all something to discuss. In the same way that some people can be quite perceptive when it comes to the minute details on their watches, many collectors and enthusiasts are also equally observant when it comes to the small signs of wear and damage that naturally accumulate on their beloved timepieces.
Getting a scratch on a brand-new watch is one of those things that can seriously bother collectors — and this is especially true when it comes to more expensive timepieces like those from Rolex. While there is something truly beautiful about a mint condition example with completely untouched brushed and polished surfaces, watches are first and foremost meant to be worn, and if you wear your watch, it will eventually pick up a few marks and scratches. Looking down and seeing another new blemish on your favorite timepiece isn’t likely to ever be something that you genuinely enjoy, but is it actually worth worrying about the marks and scratches on your Rolex?
Trying to Prevent the Inevitable
The only way to truly guarantee that you will never get any scratches on your Rolex is to simply never wear it. However, by not wearing your watch, you are robbing yourself of one of the greatest joys of owning a Rolex: actually using it. Simply put, Rolex makes some of the best luxury watches for everyday wear and use. Modern movements are accurate to within two seconds per day, and even the most luxurious models crafted from solid gold still offer a minimum of 100 meters of water resistance. Rolex built much of its reputation by producing timepieces that a person can wear all day, every day for the rest of their life, and by not wearing your watch because you are afraid of putting a few marks and scratches on it, you are missing out on enjoying the supreme wearability that has defined Rolex since the very earliest days of the company.
Even if you are incredibly careful, life happens, and at some point or another, your watch will inevitably pick up a few scratches. Regardless of whether it will be a railing, table edge, or door frame that finally brings its perfectly polished surfaces to an end, your watch will eventually get scratched - or at the very least, it’s clasp and bracelet will pick up some marks and scuffs from rubbing against the surfaces of desks, arm rests, and tables. Additionally, if you own one of Rolex’s sports watches and actually use it for its intended purpose, you are almost guaranteed to put some fairly noticeable scratches on it throughout the years. If the daily life of working in an office building will eventually scratch your watch, activities like scuba diving or mountain climbing are almost certainly going to leave a few marks from your various outdoor adventures. Simply put, scratches are inevitable, and the more you wear your watch, the more likely it will be to acquire signs of use.
Maintaining Value vs. Creating History
In most instances, a mint condition Rolex will almost always be worth more than one that has scratches and signs of age. While things like a tropical dial or a particularly desirable patina can sometimes be the exception when it comes to certain vintage models, condition is often positively correlated with resale value, and it is typically the pristine and unworn examples that trade hands for the highest prices on the open market. For those who buy watches solely as investments, any signs of wear are typically viewed as negatives; however, when a watch spends its entire life kept inside a safe, it might as well just be a savings account at the bank since it doesn’t really offer any utility beyond just serving as a physical store of value.
Should you own a highly collectible vintage Rolex that has already survived multiple decades in pristine condition, you may want to seriously consider whether or not you wish to be the first person to put a scratch on it. In addition to the potential difference in resale value, some mint condition vintage references can be exceptionally rare, and there may only be a few examples left in existence. However, given the quantity of watches that Rolex produces these days and the number of people who try keep theirs as pristine as possible, a modern Rolex in mint-condition really isn’t all that uncommon, and a few minor scratches aren’t going to detract all that much from its resale value.
Furthermore, when you choose to keep your watch in mint condition, you miss out on the opportunity to create your own memories and history with it. All mint condition Rolex watches with the same reference number will more-or-less look identical, and it is ultimately the way that each one ages over the years that makes them unique. Marks and scratches may detract from resale value, but they also help us create memories with our watches, and for the person who doesn’t plan on ever selling their Rolex, a lifetime full of memories can often far outweigh a few hundred dollars in hypothetical resale value.
The Future of Vintage Watches
It’s also important to always remind ourselves that the brand-new watches being sold today are eventually going to become the vintage timepieces of the future. Part of the reason why many people enjoy collecting vintage Rolex watches is because each one has aged slightly differently over the years, and the wear on them tells stories about their previous lives. When someone finds an old military-issued Submariner, the marks and scratches often add to the intrigue for collectors, and while a pristine example may yield a higher price at auction, it also lacks some of the personality that makes the well-worn example special. If all of the people who buy new Rolex watches today never let any of them get a single mark or scratch, the future of vintage collecting will be incredibly boring and it will also make mint-condition examples virtually meaningless.
Part of the reason why a vintage Rolex watch in pristine condition is considered special is because there aren’t all that many examples that remain truly unworn after all these years. If all of the surviving watches are equally well-preserved, no additional value will be attached to those in mint condition, and the wonderful diversity that exists within the vintage market will largely evaporate altogether. By letting your Rolex acquire the natural marks and scratches from everyday wear and use, you are not only getting the opportunity to enjoy your timepiece to the fullest on a daily basis, but you are also contributing to the future of vintage watch collecting. At the end of the day, whether or not you choose to worry about scratches on your Rolex is entirely a personal decision. However, given that future resale value is never going to be a guarantee, it would be a serious shame to worry so much about the cosmetic condition of your watch that you ultimately miss out on enjoying it.
*All images courtesy of Bob’s Watches.