Recently we spoke with the Rolex boutique in Beverly Hills and they confirmed that Rolex has about 2,000 SKUs even though there are only a few product families to choose from. That effectively means that there are tons of available Rolex watches to choose from. And that doesn't even include Rolex's rather intense catalog of vintage and no longer produced models.
Many people know they want a Rolex watch but aren't sure what model to get. Some people simply want the name on their wrist and are looking for the least expensive model. Other people have a closer connection with a specific model's history, or simply feel that one particular Rolex fits their lifestyle best. Even then, with all the options available it can be difficult to decide what your first Rolex watch should be. So let's take a brief look at what Rolex watches are available, and how to satisfy the various reasons you want to buy one.
What Are You Looking For?
As we discussed in Part 1 of the Guide To Buying Your First Rolex, different people want Rolex watches for different reasons and at different times in their lives. Understanding what your needs are will certainly help in determining what your first Rolex watch should be.
The Rolex you buy might be your first and last Rolex, or the start of a collection. You'll want the first model to have some meaning, residual value, as well as a versatile style. Most Rolex watches are designed to fit with many outfits, but that isn't the case for all of them. Also, those with a specific interest in value retention have special considerations to make.
People who just want the Rolex name on their wrist probably have the hardest time. These people are going to be looking at thousands of available watches all over the world hunting for the best watch, at the best price, in the best condition. Today, the Rolex Air King models are the entry level pieces and the least expensive with a price of about $5,000. These are basic models and are considerably smaller than most of the other popular models from the brand. We will discuss more of that below.
Pre-owned or used Rolex watches can be a good deal, but again, require a fair amount of time to located, verify, and purchase. There are used Rolex watch dealers out there, or you can use a range of online resources to purchase Rolex watches from existing owners. The problem is that these resources are mostly geared toward knowledgeable enthusiasts who know what they are looking for. Novices new to Rolex are going to find these resources more challenging, so we recommend going to a reputable pre-owned Rolex dealer. Alternatively, you can of course visit a new Rolex dealer for the most simple, but of course pricey experience.
Vintage Rolex watches exist in bounty, but can be marked by extremely high prices given their rarity. Also note that compared to today's average men's wrist watch size, vintage Rolex models tends to be quite small. In fact, today's average Rolex is of "moderate" size compared to other watches (though that fact is changing as Rolex steadily releases larger watches). Having said that, owning a good quality vintage sport or dress Rolex model can be very rewarding in both style and "cool" factor. Having a vintage Rolex Submariner for example is not only often less expensive than a brand new model, but is certainly more hip. They also aren't so small as to appear like ladies watches much of the time.
When looking for a Rolex to fit your lifestyle things get easier. For men we will identify three types of lifestyles or characters that Rolex watches will fit into nicely. First there are what we call "everyday casual sport watches." This represents most of the men's collection and are just that; sport watches that can be dressed up or down and are suitable for everyday wear. We will discuss the models we recommend in this range below. Next are office or formal watches. Rolex has a couple of product families that will serve you very well in a suit and tie. These watches are not inherently sporty, but are durable enough. From a style perspective they are attractive, timeless, and mature... but not really suitable for jeans or shorts much of the time. Having a dedicated "suit and tie" Rolex will make it better for an office environment, but it will lack the versatility of a sport model.
Last are the more "showy" Rolex watches. These are the more "blingy" versions with diamond decoration and/or fully made from precious metals such as 18k yellow, rose, or white gold... or platinum. These models exist in the other Rolex watch families, but are factory decorated by Rolex to be much more status symbols than a handsome everyday timepiece. Often times people who come into a lot of money, land a huge business deal, or simply want to show off wealth prefer a model such as this. Consumers should be careful when buying pre-owned in this category because many of them are aftermarket creations (such as diamond setting) versus those fully made by Rolex. Trust us that Rolex offers more than a generous selection of "factory" bling versions of their products. The options are staggering, with countless variations and levels of diamond decor mixed with different types of precious metal cases.
Right off the bat we want to inform you that we are not going to discuss all Rolex watches available. That would be a very long and overly complex list. What we will do is discuss a survey of the model families and discuss some basic considerations in helping you to choose the right model to suit your needs. We also want to point out that both sport and dress watches from Rolex are available in precious metals and with diamond decoration. Of course the styles and designs vary, but getting a solid 18k gold Submariner with a diamond-studded bezel is more than available.
Rolex Sport Watches
The most versatile and thus popular watches are Rolex's sport watches. King of the hill is the Submariner with an average price of about $8,000. Available in a few styles and materials, your basic black Submariner model in steel is the go-to piece for the majority of Rolex lovers. The 40mm wide steel case is a good middle-ground size, and its style works well with anything from a tuxedo to a t-shirt. Immensely popular, the only bad thing we can say about the Submariner is that you won't be the only person in the room to have one. New or vintage, these are solid models.
Close to the style of the Submariner are related models such as the GMT-Master II (similar in appearance but with a second time zone hand), the Sea-Dweller Deepsea (a larger, more professional use dive watch), and the Yachtmaster (dressier version with a style between a dive watch and a dress watch). Think of these as offshoot models which vary the core theme but are all related by the same DNA. These are all good options as well and will have prices within a few thousand of your basic Submariner. In a nutshell, the Submariner is the most popular, and the others offer interesting, yet sometimes minor, variations that might suite your style and lifestyle better. None are inherently "better or worse" watches, and are worth a look to find the right size, material, and color for you.
Less expensive than the ultra popular Submariner are the Rolex Explorer and Explorer II models. Both in steel, one is 39mm wide (in its most modern forms) three-hand watch, while the other is a 42mm wide (in its most modern form) GMT model. These models make excellent starter Rolex watches because even new, their prices are relatively low ($5,000 - $7,000), but they are well-sized and good looking.
While not right for everyone, a perennial favorite among the "want to show I made it crowd" is the Rolex Daytona chronograph. At 40mm wide, this is Rolex's famous chronograph watch and it comes in a range of styles. Famously, the steel version of the Daytona was being sold for a premium over its retail price as it was so popular for a while. The Daytona is dressier than Rolex's other sport models but is still a very versatile timepiece. Compared to most other chronograph watches, the Daytona is a bit small, but certainly has a strong following. Its base price is more expensive than a Submariner.
Rolex Dress Watches
We mentioned that the Rolex Air King is the brand's entry level model and is a casual dress watch. However, we cannot easily recommend it for men because while Rolex considers it a men's model, at 34mm wide it is only suitable for boys. Women are much more likely to be seen wearing it. In fact, Rolex has been modernizing the sizes of its men's watches to fit the demands and expectations of today's male buyer. The majority of "older' men's watch sizes such as 36mm and below are primarily being purchase by women these days. We recommend men to look at Rolex watch sizes no smaller than 40mm wide.
While the Submariner was our top pick for a Rolex sport watch, the Datejust II is our top pick for a Rolex dress watch. Updated from 36mm wide to 41mm wide, the famous fluted bezel of the Datejust has been a hallmark of Rolex for decades. At first, the Datejust might seem stuffy and conservative, but it is a remarkably useful and good looking watch once you get to know it. In steel with a white gold bezel, its base price is about $9,000. Though in precious metals it can go way up in price. A perfect watch with a suit that combines a good style and the name you are looking for.
Not offered in steel and priced higher are the Rolex Day-Date II watches. These feature a day of the week complication and are otherwise similar to the Datejust models in size and style. The Day-Date II watch is also known as the Rolex "President" much of the time. These watches are certainly more showy and expensive given a lack of steel versions. It is a good watch for a middle-aged man who feels he can afford it without struggling with an average price of about $30,000.
While other potential Rolex dress watches exist, we like to focus on the Datejust II and Day-Date II as good 'first' Rolex watch models. Though in reality, most Rolex watches can be dress watches if the right version and attire are chosen. Also, note that in this entire article we do not mention average pre-owned prices or vintage watches for a reason. First, pre-owned popular Rolex watches often sell for prices close to retail. If not, then they aren't in good condition. Also, many vintage Rolex models are too small for us to recommend for most modern men, though there are lots of exceptions and personal taste is a factor. Furthermore, exploring vintage Rolex watches is often reserved for those who are aren't first-time Rolex buyers. Nevertheless, our panel of experts does offer some valuable advice below on looking at vintage Rolex pieces.
Life Of The Watch
As we mentioned earlier, a very important consideration to make is "what will the life of this watch be?" So consider if you want to keep the watch for life and wear it every day. Will it be just an occasional part of your collection? Are you interested in a watch that you can sell in a few years for a profit or at near purchase price? Each of these considerations will alter your choice of model.
For those wanting to wear the pieces every day, we recommend a popular sport model that is easily available. These will likely retain value, but aren't really going to increase in value. These will look good with most outfits and will be timeless in their appearance.
Value speculators are advised to look for rarer or niche Rolex models. A good example is the green bezel and dialed version of the new Submariner. It has a slight price premium over the black dialed model, and is produced in less numbers. It is also less classic looking and thus going to be in lower demand at this time. History has told us that such lower production, more niche Rolex watches tend to be collector's items in the future. Though how long into the future is anyone's guess.
People who want a Rolex watch for mostly special occasions should seek out their dressier or showier models in precious metals and perhaps with diamonds. These watches will be used as wealth and status symbols and thus don't need to go along with all types of outfits or occasions. Otherwise, you'll look like a South American drug lord wearing a diamond-encrusted gold Rolex in your workout clothes. On the flip side, a mere Rolex Submariner isn't likely to deliver the right message if you are trying to impress people at a high-society event or executive luncheon.
Before you read the important thoughts below from fellow experts, our friends at Minus4Plus6 have uploaded the full 2012 list of Rolex watch retail prices here.
What The Experts Say
Once again we visit our panel of experts for supporting or alternative views as to what your first Rolex watch should be (again click on the names to read their statements):
I don't think there is a better buy in the world than a 1960s or 70s Rolex Datejust. The watch is a true icon, imitated but never duplicated, you get a fantastic movement, and everyday wearability. I also think the Oyster Perpetuals and Air Kings are excellent first-time buyer watches, but the Datejust I think has a bigger upside down the road (financially) and it is 36mm (though it wears larger) whereas the others are 35mm and smaller. A Submariner 5513 or 1680 is also an excellent choice for a first time buyer, though they are slightly more expensive - sport watches tend to fetch significantly more money than "non-sport watches". But of course there is larger demand and higher possibility that these sport watches will increase in value over time. The Day-Date, sometimes known as the "President" (though incorrectly, that refers to a bracelet often found on the Day-Date), is also an incredible value if someone is looking for a solid gold watch. Yellow gold Day-Dates from the 70s sell for a literal fraction of the current retail price, and again, they are very much the same watch.
With Rolex (as with many things is life) I am a classicist and I like things simple. My vote for first Rolex purchased is the steel and white gold Oyster Perpetual Datejust with a black dial. I think this model suits either men or women.
An ideal first Rolex watch would be an all-time classic, like the Submariner or GMT-Master. It will fit most people perfectly, not only in terms of appearance but also in terms of 'requirements'. These iconic watches will keep good value as well. Although you will lose a bit of value in the first few years, after the annual indexing by Rolex, the prices of pre-owned models also go up. After a few years you will at least get back what you paid for it and from that moment on, everything extra is a bonus. However, I wouldn't think of a (Rolex) watch as an investment. There are better and easier ways to earn money. Another advice is to stick to stainless steel. The gold/steel combination is very sensitive to scratches, especially the polished gold surfaces. The satin brushed bracelet of the Submariner will keep its good looks forever if you properly take care of it. Now, there used to be a difference between a Rolex Submariner Date and No Date in the past. The No Date wasn't chronometer certified and the Date version was. However, Rolex took care of this a couple of years ago and now all Submariner models have been chronometer certified. So, the difference between a Date and No Date Submariner is merely one of convenience or aesthetics. What do you like best? Do you need a date feature on your watch? A Rolex Submariner with Date also means you get the magnifying lens (or cyclops) on top of the crystal. This is not to everyone's liking. In the end, you decide! I would either pick a Submariner NoDate because of its clean looks or a pre-owned Rolex Sea-Dweller 16600 because of the date feature - but without the cyclops. Best of both worlds! Buying vintage is a whole different chapter. You might not want to go there if this will be your first watch.
The ideal first Rolex is the one you have to have and can't live without. You should not buy your first Rolex because the price is right, or because of the status. You should never compromise, and should get exactly what you want. This brings up the second part of your first question, about whether or not to buy a new or used Rolex. Typically, if you buy a pre-loved Rolex you will save money and not bite the depreciation bullet. However, there is something to be said for the experience of going to an AD and picking out a brand-new watch and knowing everything about the watch is authentic.
In 1983, when I was 16 I bought my first Rolex Submariner, A year later when I was 17, I bought my first Apple Mac. I actually pre-paid for my first Mac and picked it up the first day it was available to the public. I paid $2500 plus tax for the Mac, and also bought the Apple dot-matrix printer for $500. So basically, in 1984, a state-of-the-art Mac was three times as expensive as a stainless steel Rolex Submariner, which was $1000. Fast forward to 2012, and the same Mac retails for between $1300 and $4000 depending on how you get it equipped. A stainless Rolex Submariner is about $8000 today, which makes it seem like it has increased in real dollar price over the years by 2-3 times. But, that original Mac computer I purchased 30 years ago is useless and worth almost nothing, and the Rolex Submariner I purchased has significantly increased in value and is now worth around $5000!
It has pretty much remained a rule, that with every Rolex I have owned over the last 30 years, and I have owned many, that I am always able to purchase them, and when it comes time to sell them, I have never lost a penny, so I basically got to wear the Rolex watches for free, and that speaks volumes.
Easy: Rolex Stainless Steel Submariner with Black Face model 16610 – this iconic model is everything you need for your first Rolex. It is stylish enough for work and everyday wear yet classically elegant for any occasion. Everything is perfect about this model from the size, the dial, the bracelet and the brushed steel. It is one of the most popular luxury sport watches in the world and has consistently held its value over the years.
Many first time Rolex buyers that I know, chose a Datejust or Submariner. It seems that other models are usually for the more seasoned watch collector.
Safe bet: Sub no date 14060 (used) or 214060 if you want the flashier ceramic bezel. Stick with the stainless/black dial unless you REALLY like gold.
Small wrist or no love for sporty designs: Date Just
The individual: Millgauss 116400, maybe even the GV with the green tinted cyrstal.
My pick: Rolex Explorer II 16570 "Polar" - 40mm, bright white dial with black bordered hands and markers, GMT complication. Interesting, gorgeous on bracelet or nato, the design does not scream Rolex. I prefer the 16570 models that don't have the signed rehut and all of these versions over the 216570 which, while sporting a 42mm case, looks wonky with its maxi dial (large hands and markers). These will have to be sourced pre-owned but will likely hold their value if treated well and serviced occasionally.