Should I Get An Aftermarket “Black-Out” Rolex Or Other Watch?

Chuck D. from New York, USA asks:

What do you think about black coated watches, say from brands such as Rolex? I've recently seen two companies such as Bamford and Black Titans that use a PVD process you mentioned in another review (Physical Vapor Deposit) to black-coat some Rolex, Cartier, and Panerai pieces, etc...

To me, this look is really good and gives a refreshing touch to some classics that may have become too common such as the Rolex Oyster Perpetual Explorer. How fragile is the black coating over time? Do you know how serious these companies are?

By customizing the watch, you lose the brands warranty, how bad is this considering they provide their own 24 months guaranty only? What about the resale value? Any comment about the prices?

A lot of aftermarket retailers offer black-coated or otherwise customized versions of popular watches from brands such as Rolex, Audemars Piguet, Panerai, and others. The Rolex Submariner and Daytona are two particularly popular models that get this treatment. A few years ago we got a hands-on look at some aftermarket Rolex watches from Project X. The focus of these outfits is to offer high-end modified watches that offer something a bit special. This is very much like buying a high-end car from Mercedes-Benz, Porsche, or Audi that has been modified by an aftermarket dealers with special parts.

These modified watches may be more-or-less attractive than the originals depending on your taste. What you should know is that in no instances are these watches being supplied to these after-marketers by the brands themselves. Companies that offer aftermarket Rolex watches (for example) must buy them from authorized dealers or other channels and then modify them. For the most part, the watch brands themselves don't endorse this. There are a lot of reasons for this, but these aren't stamped with a seal approval from the brands that make the watches to begin with. For this reason, one of the down-sides to these watches is that you lose any factory warranty. That isn't a huge deal a lot of the time, but it is something to consider.

Many of these watch aftermarketers began by simply taking popular watches and coating them in black. Rolex for example, has never offered a black-colored watch. The look is pretty cool, so a few people starting buying Rolex watches, coating them black, and then selling them as a specialty piece. This market has expanded so that there are now a few key brands doing this on a full-time basis. Other types of modifications are also available, from special dials, bezels, and even cases.

What you need to know is that the more heavily modified the watch, the less it becomes "original." Each of these companies uses their own techniques and parts, most of which aren't as good as the original parts. For that reason, we tend to not recommend modified watches that have too many aftermarket parts - though in some instances they can be very good.

There are different ways to achieve a black color on a metal watch case. Most of them involve some form of PVD coating. It isn't possible to make a blanket statement on the quality of these processes as many of them are different. They are based on a number of variables such as the machinery, coating, and skill of the shop doing the process. Some are excellent, and some really suck. It really depends on the overall investment made by the aftermarketer.

What we can say is that the reason most of these aftermarket watches are expensive is that the real watches need to be first purchased (at more than wholesale prices) and then modified. For that reason, a black-coated Rolex will often cost a lot more than a standard Rolex. Sometimes a lot more. Also, be careful about whether or not the modified watch is new or used. Some modifiers try to keep costs down by modifying pre-owned timepieces. This isn't a bad idea per se, but you should be aware of what you are getting into.

What do we recommend? If you really like the look of a black-coated Rolex or other watch and the company themselves doesn't offer one, there are a number of really great companies that sell customized black watches. We do however caution people when buying items with too many modified parts as the watches are really no longer "original," and that affects value a great deal. Do your homework and realize that you often get what you pay for. It is often a good idea to see these watches in person or work with brands that will accept them back if you don't like what you are getting. A simple black-coating is probably best to enjoy both a black-colored, and original watch experience.

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  • PatrickDowns

    I wore a Rolex GMT-Master for 16 years, and beat the crap out of it. At the end, it looks great still (I bought it for $600 and sold it for $1000 16 years later). I daresay that wouldn’t be the case with a blackout version, nor would it hold its value. So what do you do … keep getting it recoated? Why not just buy a black watch that comes that way from the factory, and get/keep the Rolex they way it comes? This is just cosmetic, not like getting AMG to supertune your Mercedes. imho.

  • KimChang

    As already mentioned, this is no different than modifying cars with aftermarket parts. The more a car gets modified the less resale value it retains. Many actually retrofit stock parts back on before selling their cars. I don’t know much about PVD but it doesn’t sound like a reversible process to me.

  • MarcTravis

    I wouldn’t spent that much on a watch, only to not get the factory warranty. Plus, I just don’t think it looks all that good on a Rolex.

  • DavidasaurusRex

    Ariel et al, what are the after-market servicing implications for buying a blacked-out watch? I have heard that many brands are very picky about releasing watches back into the wild if you send it in for service-which could be an issue for some brands that don’t have parts-deals with independent watchmakers. 
    Would they toss the PVD case and charge you for a new one? Would they strip the PVD and charge for a new case? Or would someone have the movement removed and just send that to the brand in case it needs an overhaul or specific work?

  • GreatestCollectibles

    I think after market modified watches shouldn’t be purchased as it can lower there values. Also, they have price guides for Rolex Watches for the different models and different conditions like here but I have never seen a guide with prices for modified watches. It would just be too much work. The less information the harder it becomes to sell a watch.