On this week’s episode of Hodinkee radio, host Stephen Pulvirent and his guests, Hodinkee Shop team members Saori Omura and Brandon Frazin, took a look at the myths around vintage watches. Our takeaway is that one should get in on vintage styles one likes now and wear the heck out of it.
With second hand prices of new Rolex steel models at huge markups, if you’ve saved $6K or so you can still get into some pretty great Rolex models. And if you are OK with a 34-36mm watch size, there is even more opportunity for you. As they covered on the podcast, the numbers on paper don’t always do a great job of telling how the watch will wear on the wrist. Also you can get used to smaller proportions.
Photo by Analog Shift
Taking a glance at our friend James Lamdin’s site Analog Shift, we immediately see a range of Datejust and Air-King models available in the $6K range. There’s a Rolex Datejust 16220 (36mm) with quickset date, engine turned bezel, Roman numeral dial and Oyster bracelet for $6,250. They also have a white Roman dial Air-King (34mm) for $4,950 from the early 2000s. Both of these examples are extremely versatile watches and can serve as your everyday watch with no issues.
Photo by Analog Shift
These are not even old enough to be classified as vintage watches, so durability and dependability should not even be an issue. The great thing about Rolex watches is that they are relatively easy to get serviced either by Rolex or through an independent watchmaker. Rolex movements at this end of the range are known for their ability to perform without much fuss. Not the prettiest movements, but that’s why they are covered up by the steel casebacks. As James Stacey pointed out on a recent episode of The Grey NATO podcast, the plain Rolex casebacks make for an ideal canvas for engraving.
If you really take time to hunt, the Rolex quest for around $6K can be fun. If you have a Tourneau near you, you can browse their pre-owned display cases. Not-so-common versions of classics, such as a tuxedo dial Datejust, are usually not as popular with non-hobbyists. For example, there’s a 1972 two-tone Air-King Date (did you know these even existed?) available from HQ Milton for $5,560. This one has a box and papers and has a cool backstory as a watch given to Coca-Cola employees for 25 years of service.
Like the experts at Hodinkee mentioned, you should focus on the watch you truly want, its condition and originality and not be as concerned with whether it comes with box and papers and whether or not it’s never been polished. Buy the seller, as they say, and you’ll own a watch that is enjoyed for the rest of your life.
Check out straps for Rolex Datejust models here.
Top image of Datejust Two-Tone by HQ Milton