What is the Best Rolex for a First-Time Buyer?

What is the Best Rolex for a First-Time Buyer?

As someone who has seen and handled some version of every active Rolex model but never personally owned one, the idea of a “first Rolex” interests me. During Watches and Wonders 2023, I said something to the tune of, “I wonder what my first Rolex will be”, to which my colleague quickly responded, “probably a Datejust”. The speed of his answer startled me and got me thinking (for more than a year now), is there a best Rolex for a first-time buyer? Are there even right or wrong answers to that question? A better question might be: what factors should you consider before buying your first (and maybe only) Rolex?

Is There a “Best” First Rolex?

Rolex Oyster Perpetual and Explorer

Image Source: Bob's Watches

Much like getting into watches, I don’t think there’s a one-size-fits-all approach to getting into Rolex. A popular approach is to look at the least expensive models. While the Oyster Perpetual, Datejust, and Explorer are great watches, I wouldn’t put them first in line just because they’re the cheapest. Sure, you can get a 5-digit Datejust on eBay for a couple thousand bucks, but do you like it? Would you wear it? It’s not lost on me that Rolex watches cost an exorbitant amount of money (especially as technically-obsolete objects), but if you’re already spending thousands on a watch, I urge you to choose one that speaks to you – not the cheapest one that says ‘Rolex’ on the dial.

How To Pick Your First Rolex

Take a broad look at Rolex’s catalog, and if you love getting into the weeds like myself, research discontinued and vintage models, as well. Which Rolex watches do you see yourself wearing most often? Of the watches I currently own and wear, I find myself reaching for black or white dials, ≤ 40mm steel cases, and modest finishing. (I know, I’m boring). If I bought a Rolex, I’d want it to have some or most of those characteristics. This leaves me with the aforementioned OP and Explorer from the current catalog or any number of vintage examples, particularly 5-digit sports models. Call me basic, but I just can’t get enough 5-digit Rolex in my life. (I write this with a borrowed Explorer II 16570 on my wrist).

Rolex Explorer II 16570

Image Source: aBlogtoWatch

To some, it may feel counterintuitive to buy a Rolex that’s similar to one or more watches they already own. That’s totally understandable; if your goal is to craft a “well-rounded” collection where no two watches overlap, you should pick a Rolex that fits within your existing collection. However, if that’s the case, I question whether or not you should restrict yourself to Rolex, or any single brand for that matter. If you’re collecting with variety and cohesion in mind, it’s probably best to stay brand-agnostic. 

To me, buying a Rolex means buying a watch I’ll own, wear most days, and pass on to my children. Longevity and build quality are Rolex’s biggest selling points to me. As a result, my chosen Rolex will probably be similar to other watches I chose in the past.

Some General Rolex Recommendations Under $10,000

Now that I’ve shared my buying philosophy, let’s rattle off a few Rolexes. I maintain that you shouldn’t base your purchase solely on price, but I understand that most people have budgets. Here are some of my personal favorites under $10,000. If you like this kind of thing, check out our bi-monthly series Hidden Gems.

Rolex Submariner 14060(M)

Rolex Submariner 14060M

Image Source: Analog:Shift

This is the last Submariner reference before the modern era that brought larger cases, larger dial furniture, and shiny ceramic bezel inserts. In my opinion, it’s perfectly-proportioned, and has all the modern mechanical characteristics you would want. The 14060M features some under-the-hood improvements over the 14060 (full balance bridge, Breguet overcoil, COSC-certification), but both can be had well under $10,000.

Rolex Explorer 124270

Rolex Explorer 124270

Image Source: Worn and Wound

This is the current 36mm Rolex Explorer reference. It retails for $7,250. If you want to save a thousand bucks, you can certainly go back a generation or two without many noticeable differences. I include the current Explorer reference because, unlike many Rolex models out there, you have a solid chance of getting a retail allocation within a reasonable amount of time (less than a year). It’s a bummer that this is something to consider, but it is. The Explorer could easily be your only watch, and therefore, I think it’s a great “first Rolex”. 

Rolex Datejust 16220

Rolex Datejust 16220

Image Source: Wind Vintage

If you want a watch as capable as the Explorer, for instance, but want a bit of iconic Rolex flare, you can’t go wrong with a five-digit Datejust. I know I used this as a “cheap” Rolex example in the intro, but the watch's secondhand pricing doesn't take away from its appeal in the slightest. When it comes to five-digit Datejusts, there are two reference generations: 160XX and 162XX. The latter is mechanically superior and features a scratch-resistant sapphire crystal rather than a mineral crystal. The price difference is often negligible, and as such, I generally recommend going for the 162XX. If you’re buying for a Datejust, I urge you to get one with a fluted bezel and Jubilee bracelet: these are some of the most iconic design notes in watchmaking history and are only available on select models.

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