This is a two-part guide on buying your first Rolex watch. Our Rolex buying guide is intended both novices and seasoned watch lovers. Part 1 discusses when you should invest in your first Rolex, while Part 2 discusses what specific Rolex timepiece to buy.
True story: when I first became interested in "nice" watches I had little interest in Rolex. Looking back, I think I found them a bit ordinary or too conservative looking. My 20 year-old self perhaps saw them as being "too safe" from a design perspective and not close enough the modern, experimental designs I was attracted to at the time. That was all true. Rolex watches are design monoliths. Due to Rolex's impressive marketing over the years, as well as the sheer popularity of their products, they have become the archetype of the "nice watch." And everyone certainly knows about them. My younger self was simply looking for something a bit more fresh. It was not a right time to get my first Rolex.
Over the years my relationship with Rolex evolved. It is now one of admiration, appreciation, and certainly understanding. I know what Rolex watches are good at, I know what to expect from the brand, and I certainly know how seriously other people take them. And that goes equally for new and vintage Rolex watches that attract very distinct fans.
Why People Want A Rolex
Rolex watches are perhaps the finest mass-produced industrial timepiece on the planet. They may actually be the finest mass-produced anything. And by mass-produced I mean in terms of watch brand production volumes which for watches at the Rolex price point is most always less than one million watches per year.
Eventually, I came to approve of and even greatly desire one, then two, and later more Rolex watch models. What really changed my perception of Rolex was being able to survey the competition. My status as a watch writer and expert affords me the opportunity to handle over 1,000 watches per year. I've reviewed a lot of watches and can say for sure that Rolex does a lot of things the very best. You also can't deny the communicative power a Rolex watch has when saying something about your status, wealth, and taste. None of it may be true, but years of work have given Rolex wearers a pretty good personality edge. Even people who think buying a Rolex is a too easy way of showing actual or apparent wealth can usually only fault the wearer and not the watch. I've come to find that a Rolex watch is infrequently a bad choice.
People tend to want buy a Rolex for one of the following main reasons: to celebrate an achievement, to own a watch that appears to hold value, to communicate a level of career or life success, to own a luxury watch that is a simple choice, or to wear a timepiece with a lot of history. Most Rolex watch models would satisfy each of these needs. No reason is better or worse, but it is interesting that most people's desire to wear a Rolex falls into one or more of these categories.
The natural next question to ask is whether these are good reasons or whether these are just marketing perpetuated ideas to sell watches. That is a very good question and I think the most simple response is that whether or not these ideas are perpetuated by marketing, they are true. Rolex watches are frequently given or purchased on special occasions. Rolex watches to tend to hold their value very well. And Rolex watches are a well-known luxury brand with a name lots of people have a positive association with. So marketing aside, they are true claims.
People have sometimes asked me if "Rolex watches are the best in the world?" Rolex is probably the most powerful luxury watch name, and their products are very well-made, these are facts. However, Rolex watches are the last timepiece some people will buy, and for others they are just a start. Rolex tends to make simple mechanical movements and a limited variety of core designs. There is an entire universe of more complicated, more expensive, and more thoroughly designed watches. Having said that, few will claim that a Rolex doesn't belong in a well-rounded watch collection.
When Is The Right Time To Buy A Rolex?
Around the time this article was written, we on aBlogtoWatch were wrapping up a viewer poll on this exact question. Visitors to aBlogtoWatch were asked, in their opinion, what the best time to buy a Rolex watch was. Four possible response choices were given and the results were remarkably well-distributed. About 21% said that it was best to buy a Rolex as soon as they could afford it. About 24% said the best time to get a Rolex was after sampling watches from many other brands. About 25% said it was Rolex time as soon as you've achieved a certain level of success. The rest weren't interested in Rolex watches at all.
The poll results indicated that 70% of aBlogtoWatch readers felt it was a good idea to buy a Rolex at some point. Clearly, you need to afford one first. As of now, the entry level price for the most basic new Rolex watch is about $5,000, with most pieces people want priced in the $8,000 - $12,000 range. Of course vintage or pre-owned Rolex watches can be less or actually more money.
Assuming the money is in the bank, you need to feel emotionally ready. Sound silly? Well given that people associate so many types of sentimental feelings with Rolex watches, it is actually something to consider. Let me tell you what I personally feel. Like I said earlier, Rolex watches are a monolith. The brand is like a rock-solid force that was here before I was born, and will be here after I have left. Rolex also does not really add or subtract models with any speed or regularity. In fact, the watch models Rolex sells today, will in some highly recognizable form, be available long into the future. Rolex evolves their product collection versus changing it. That means it is as good a time to buy a new Submariner now, as it will be in 5, 10, or even 20 years. The Submariner will still be around - and it is that type of reassurance that Rolex has worked so hard to foster.
Having said that, I'd love a Rolex right now, but perhaps it would be a foolhardy decision. I am among those people who believe that the time to buy a Rolex is right after you've sampled a lot of watches, and when the right level of life success calls for it. I am just one person however. What we've done for you is collect the thoughts of our most respected fellow watch experts and writers to weigh in on this issue. Read their thoughts below and check out part 2 of the "When To Buy Your First Rolex" on what watch to buy.
What The Experts Say
You know what we have to say on the topic of when to get your first Rolex watch, and below you'll see what other important voices think as well. It is important for you to feel that your new (or new for you) Rolex comes at the right time. Our colleagues and fellow experts offer their advice on the matter of your first Rolex watch below (click on their name to read their statement):
I think that a vintage Rolex in particular is an excellent watch for beginning collectors for a few reasons. In fact, I would say that if one is comfortable with the brand positioning of Rolex, it is arguably the finest "first nice watch" someone can own. The reason that I would suggest vintage early in the collecting career is A) they can be had for little money comparatively speaking, B) you get a superb, historic, and truly in-house watch from a bluechip brand, and C) it was the 1950s-70s when Rolex was really in its hey-day. In fact, I would argue that Rolex is the most important watch brand of the 20th century - their list of technical firsts is a mile long, and watches such as the 1970s Datejust (ref 1603), which very much like the modern Datejust today, can be purchased in good, original condition for $2500 (+/- depending on condition, etc). The modern equivalent, which is very much the same watch, retails for double the price and the aging commonly found on the dial and hands give the vintage pieces a nice, elegant glow. The Datejust (or Oyster Perpetual, or Air King, etc) is a superb everyday watch that is universally appreciated and universally acceptable - whether with a t-shirt and jeans or a suit. The cases, bracelets, and movements are of exceptional build quality and I don't think there is a better buy for that kind of money.
I think a modern Rolex is a slightly different story, and the real benefit to buying new is if you want a true sport watch that can handle anything you throw at it. Sure, an old Submariner or GMT can be serviced to be completely water-proof, but they still have plastic crystals and 40 year old parts (here and there). A modern Rolex is built like a tank, and while they may not have some of the charm of some vintage pieces, they are truly exceptionally well-made watches. Though, I think they lack some of the charm of the early tritium and radium dials.
I like the way the Japanese gift watches based around an occasion such as a graduation, a significant birthday, a first job or an important promotion. I think that approach should apply even if you're buying for yourself. A mechanical watch is not like buying a lamp or a computer, it is something very special so you should link purchasing one to a meaningful event in your life. Both the event and the watch will hold more meaning that way.
As mechanical watches require some care you need a sense of responsibility to own one. We all mature at different ages but many people (males and females) have the sense of responsibility by sixteen or by eighteen.
Rolex still has an 'image' that it is a watch to commemorate something special. Your first job, your first child, your graduation, your wedding, and so on. I feel, that if you are buying a Rolex to celebrate something, you should always try to go for a brand new Rolex instead of a pre-owned one. If you aren't buying a Rolex to celebrate a joyful event, but just want to buy that first good watch that will last a lifetime, you might as well take pre-owned Rolex watches into consideration. A pre-owned Rolex will certainly save you a few bucks, unless the Rolex is a sports model that is much sought-after (f.i. Submariner, Sea-Dweller, GMT-Master). Chances are quite good that the price of a pre-owned vintage Rolex equals a new Rolex watch or is even more expensive.
I believe the best time for someone to purchase their first Rolex is whenever they fall in love with a Rolex watch, and decide they have to have it and can't live without it. It's that simple. This happened to me 30 years ago, when I was 16 years old. There was a Rolex Authorized Dealer (AD) in Mill Valley, California I somehow wandered into when I was 16. At the time, Rolex had recently introduced the first Submariner with a synthetic sapphire crystal, which gave it a really modern look. I fell madly in love with that watch and used to go visit it at least once a month. I became friendly with the jeweler, who must have thought I was nuts, because I would drop by just to try on the watch and stare at it like it was Sophia Loren.I remember thinking to myself, there was something magical about the Submariner. I was stunned by its super-timelessness and purposeful looking design. I remember thinking there was something very James-Bond-like about it, and I thought, if I could just get one, it would somehow make me invulnerable – like wearing a bracelet with magic powers. At the time I did not realize that every James Bond actor had worn the Rolex Submariner as their default sport watch, but for some reason, when I would look at it on my wrist, the James Bond theme music track would start playing in my head! You know. the dun-na-na-na, na-nunna, dun-na-nunn-na...
One day, when I was still 16, I went to go visit the Rolex Submariner again, and the jeweler said "Hi Jake! Coming to visit your best friend again?", to which I said "Yes." Then he said, "Why don't you just buy the watch, so you don't have to come in here and stare at it on your wrist?" I remember asking the AD every imaginable question about the Submariner, and I remember being frustrated that I could not just buy it since the watch retailed for just over $1000 at the time, which was a lot of money, particularly for a 16 year old.
I thanked the AD, and he said "See you soon!", to which I responded "Yes you will. I will be back before you close the store this evening to pickup the watch." He smiled and had this kind of confused look on his face. Somehow, I came up with the $1000, and showed up several minutes before the AD closed and bought the Rolex Submariner. The AD sized it for my wrist, and I could not stop staring at the watch. I remember I went home and laid in bed for hours staring at the timeless beauty of the design, and when I turned the lights off, I would get way under the covers and completely cover myself in blankets so no ambient light was visible, and I would just stare at the beautiful lumed dial, and I would stare at the second hand as it moved ever so precisely around the dial in big circles. So my answer is, you should buy what you want or in my case had to buy, whenever you can afford it.
A good time to buy your first Rolex watch is when you have enough discretionary income to where you can afford the model you want. Our average Rolex buyer is 40 to 45 years old but we have recently experienced a 15% increase in younger buyers in their mid to late twenties. But they all share the same love and appreciation for what it means to own and wear a Rolex. And while some are celebrating a momentous occasion like a college graduation, the vast majority are just buying the watch for themselves because they want it!
For those looking to find the best deals: buy soon after a major holiday like Christmas or Fathers Day where it is sometimes possible to find a small percentage discount. But don’t expect to find bargain basement close-outs. Not on a Rolex.
Advantage of buying a pre-owned Rolex? A pre-owned Rolex watch, unlike a new one, will not depreciate in value soon after it is purchased. While buying a new Rolex is akin to buying a new car: they will both depreciate in value substantially after they are purchased. By buying a pre-owned watch you have essentially eliminated this retail markup devaluation making it possible to someday sell your Rolex for more than you paid.
Buying a first Rolex is something monumental and it makes sense to do this for a memorable occasion. This can be either a celebration (high school diploma, university graduation, promotion at work, wedding) or something for remembrance (using an inheritance for instance).
7/10 Rolex buyers are buying exclusively for the name and do so whenever they have the cash to afford an 8K+ watch (as Paul said). If you consider yourself a watch nerd type, you may be buying a Rolex (and a specific model at that) for a variety of reasons. Rolex has a sport watch tied to the history of many manly pursuits (Sub = diving, daytona = racing, explorer/II = exploration, GMT Master = pilots, gold date just = dictator/mafioso/cocaine cowboys).