Fratello Friday: Buying New vs. Vintage Rolex, Part 2

Rolex Explorer 2 - nautical rope backgroundIn last week’s Fratello Friday, the first of this two-part article on buying and collecting Rolex watches, I offered my thoughts on the pros and cons of vintage Rolex watches. This week, we shift the focus to the other side of the spectrum, discussing the merits and pitfalls of new and modern Rolexes.

If you read Part 1, you know that buying vintage Rolex watches can be — how can I put this mildly — scary shit. If you “just” want a good watch and don’t want to get dragged into the quest for that perfect vintage Rolex, you might want to consider buying a new Rolex instead.

A lot of people — mainly watch enthusiasts — will tell you that buying a new Rolex is “boring” and that you can purchase other interesting watches for the same price or less. This may be true, but please bear in mind what’s important to you.  If you want a watch that will last a lifetime (or two) and that does not depreciate too much (usually the opposite will be true, if you are patient enough), then a modern Rolex might be a good choice.

Although the Rolex company is as tightly closed as its own Oyster cases when it comes to providing information, the general assumption is that it produces close to a million watches per year. The lucky few who have been inside the Rolex production facilities have reported on an impressive number of automated processes there that are unlikely to make mistakes that humans would make. All watches are still assembled by hand, of course. And the high quality that Rolex is able to maintain on such a high production number of watches is truly incredible.

It is no secret that a lot of people did complain about the lack of innovation at Rolex up until a few years ago. At the time, Rolex still used the clasp that looked as if it was made from soda-can material, the relatively small (40 mm) case diameters for its sports watches and the same movements it had been using for decades. In the last few years, however, Rolex has introduced more innovations and changes than it did in the previous four decades. Rolex upgraded its bracelets by adding new clasps that have a super-easy system for (micro)adjustment, started using ceramics for its bezels, tweaked its movements with the new Parachrom hairspring, and even made its watches appear bigger. “Appeared?” Yes. For instance, the latest Sea-Dweller 116600 and GMT-Master II 116719BLRO with Pepsi bezel are still 40 mm in diameter, but appear larger because of the dimensions of their lugs.

Rolex Sea-Dweller

Rolex GMT-Master II Batman

Another point some watch enthusiasts like to raise is that Rolex watches are outrageously expensive. I beg to differ, actually. Rolex watches were never cheap to start with, so everything is relative, but there are a few things you need to consider. A new Rolex Submariner has a price tag of just over $8,500. On the pre-owned market you can find this watch for around $7,000, in good condition, approximately 1-2 years old. I will leave the bargaining at an official Rolex retailer up to you. My point is that the depreciation is only small compared to – basically – that of every other brand in this price category. You can have an awesome $8,000 watch from any other brand, even with some interesting complications in there, but will it keep its value? Since you are visiting this website, I’d assume you also know how to find your way to the online watch markets that carry all sorts of watches. Take a look at what is left of the list price on many of these other watches after a couple of years. Additionally, it’s worth mentioning that Rolex has an excellent service department. A total overhaul of your Rolex watch is expensive, but when you get it back it will look as it did the day you unwrapped it for the first time.

Rolex Explorer 2 - nautical rope background
Rolex Yacht-Master II

My personal experience with Rolex’s Geneva service center is that I actually had to double-check to see if they didn’t replace the case of my Sea-Dweller 16600 when I got it back from an overhaul (they didn’t). I could not believe my eyes. It took them about six weeks, which is quite stunning compared to other watch companies. I have watches from other brands whose servicing took much longer, sometimes up to six months even for something as relatively simple as adjusting the movement. It’s been my experience that many watch manufacturers forget about you as soon as you buy something from them and would rather spend their money on celebrity “ambassadors” or expensive marketing campaigns, but it seems that Rolex actually cares a lot about the after-sales service.

Servicing vintage watches, of course, is a totally different issue. Parts might not be available anymore, new spare parts can mess up the value of your highly sought-after vintage watch, price quotes can be as high as those for a modern watch, and so on.

Whatever modern Rolex you will choose, it will be a quality watch. The chance that something will be wrong with it is very small, and the possible resale value (though there are no guarantees) is another incentive. My pick would be between the new Rolex Sea-Dweller 16600 mentioned earlier or the Rolex GMT-Master II 116710BLNR.  What would be your pick? Please share with us.

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  1. John K

    I see you prefer vintage watches in original condition. Some advice please.
    I have an old inherited Rolex GMT 1675 with Pepsi bezel. The watch is not working but seems intact apart from a missing bracelet. The bezel is faded but unmarked. The luminance is coming off on the hour hand. The glass is cloudy but doesn’t seem scratched. The case is in good condition, but the case back has signs of someone trying to open it without the proper tool. The face is slightly brownish but unmarked.

    If I send the watch for a service with the agents, they will most likely replace the glass, case back, hands and perhaps the bezel. It will come back as new. Is this a good idea considering that there are many collectors who like like the vintage look? What other options should I consider?

    What will be the best option bracelet wise? There is a bit of the original bracelet with the watch. It seems to be a jubilee rather than oyster. I prefer the oyster, but want to stay correct.

    Also what could the watch be worth as it is now and after restoration?

    Sorry for all the questions, but I am a newbie and you seem to like vintage Rolexes.

  2. Neil Kirby

    I think everything you say about buying a new a Rolex is fair comment, except to say that the price of their stainless steel sports watches has virtually doubled in recent years, and whilst Rolex, thankfully, don’t adopt pointless ‘Brand ambassadors’, their advertising and sponsorship spend has grown exponentially in recent times, due largely I am told, to the perceived threat to their market position from Omega, in particular.

    • Thanks for your comments. Although their prices have increased (a Sea-Dweller 4000 was 4800 Euro when it was discontinued in 2008 and they are now priced at 8,500 Euro again for the new 2014 model), they also innovated a lot in this time-span of 6 years. In any case, all brands are having their insane annual price increase, so compared to other (big) brands it is still an interesting brand to consider. The good message is that with these annual price increases for their new models, the prices on pre-owned and vintage models also increase. So it is still quite a ‘safe bet’.

      • MrTissot

        I agree with what you are saying. Price increases on new models will help retain some value on older models to be sold on the second hand market.

  3. ioancio alex

    definitely the Pepsi if it would be from steel. I am chasing one for 10 years now. After almost sixty pieces I do not own a Rolex. It is incredible. After I get out from my financial kwashiorkhor I definitely go after a Rolex sub or gmt. Only new ones. I do have this disease a virgin one is something special.That’s it

    • Thanks for your comments. I can surely understand that people want a new Rolex to be able to create your own ‘history’ with it. The Pepsi will probably be introduced in stainless steel later on (like they did with the WG Submariner in blue).

  4. Supergenius

    I think I would go with the Milgauss. Interesting history to the model line, clean styling and their prices have held up well through the years.

  5. Hormazdiyaar

    Hi Robert-
    I fully agree with you. If you are going to use the watch and even abuse it then buy a new Rolex. If you are going to pamper it and keep it in your collection then the charm of owning a vintage is a totally different ball game. I do both.

  6. I like the Yacht Master with blue dial and platinum bezel (but you sure pay for that bezel) and the black and blue bezel GMT displayed above.

    • Have a look at the Yacht-Master in the pre-owned market, a young occasion might be worth investigating. The Yacht-Master is not the model with most demand, which influences the ‘going’ prices on these models. The Batman GMT (blue/black) is awesome and less likely to drop in price :)

  7. I believe you are referencing the GMT 116710BLNR, the one pictured. The BLRO is the new white gold “pepsi” GMT that costs ~$40k.

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