Original article found on forbes.com
Rolex is perhaps the most well-known name in the luxury watch world, an esteemed manufacturer famous for turning out iconic timepieces. Despite the acclaim, the vintage Rolex market is not always easy to traverse. One way to get a hold on things is by assessing price. With a range of budgets in mind, here is an essential guide to inform buying any vintage Rolex.
Hitting the market in 1945, the Datejust has become the most iconic Rolex model. For new collectors, the Datejust offers classic appeal and more importantly, reliability you can trust. When you are considering your first watch investment, there is no need to hedge your bets. You can wear a timepiece like the Rolex Datejust Reference 1601 in stainless steel at any occasion and not have to worry about day-to-day wear. I even like to call the movement bulletproof because of its durability and simple sleek design.
If you are looking to score a gold timepiece without having to break the bank, the vintage market is your best bet. Rolex introduced the Date Reference 15037 during the 1980s, featuring a 14 karat yellow gold case, crown, and caseback. Gold means this timepiece will fit in swimmingly at formal events, but what I like most is that the 33 millimeter case ensures the wristwatch remains elegant, not loud.
If you are looking for something more distinctive, this price range boasts timepieces fom pivotal moments in Rolex history. One of these watches includes the Rolex GMT-Master with a rotating two-tone “Pepsi” bezel. This watch often featured a luminous dial, which contained radium in the early 1920s and 1930s. Due to the adverse effects of radium exposure, Rolex switched to using tritium, marking luminous dials with an underline for a short period of time. Although the underline once indicated the watches were safe to wear, it is now a coveted aesthetic detail.
The Rolex Milgauss is another watch with an interesting twist. Made for engineers, the utilitarian time piece was designed to be highly antimagnetic, but it did not end up selling well. During the 1980s one could purchase the watch easily without any qualms about pricing. Now the Milgauss is not only very rare, but collectors also love its acutely modern size, coming in at 37 millimeters.
What start out as tests or trials, become eccentricities for the Rolex brand. On a quick pass one mightnot even notice, but some vintage Submariner feature text written in red, not white. The price of a “Red” Submariner can also increase if it has a black lacquer dial in gilt printing rather than the standard silver printing. When buying on the secondary market an interesting facet is that the colors change, fading and turning into new hues over time. For instance, when a black dial turns brown it is called tropical, implying the turning of the sun.
If one goes back further in Rolex history, the eccentricities increase— and so do the prices. This next tier includes older watches that often fetch higher prices on the secondary market. For watches made over fifty years ago, Rolex manufactured some surprisingly complicated timepieces. Case in point: theRolex Reference 2508 ‘Antimagnetic’ chronograph, which boasts a surprisingly stylish 36 millimeter 18 karat yellow gold case. A blue inner spiral tachymetre scale and a telemetre outer track for calculating approximate speed adorn the dial, a unique Rolex detail that has not been reproduced since the early 1950s.
The vintage Rolex chronographs of the 1950s also fall into the coveted pre-Daytona category, manufactured before the release of the Cosmograph Daytona in 1963. The pre-Daytona era marks a time when Rolex production was slightly less uniform, releasing watches with more variations than we are accustomed to seeing today. Just take a look at the Rolex Oyster Chronograph Reference 6034, a pre-Daytona watch that comes with different colored tachymeter and telemeter rings. Keeping track of all the slight variations is no easy task, a difficulty that is compounded by the fact people used to trade their Rolex watch parts, especially dials and bezels through official Rolex dealers. The predilection for an untouched Rolex watch with all its original parts is only a recent development.
A $50,000 timepiece is a serious investment, but the story about how an everyday watch became a sought-after rarity may be the most intriguing part of buying at this level. A watch like the Rolex GMT-Master Reference 6542 comes with a bi-color, so-called “Pepsi” bezel made out of Bakelite plastic. Rolex quickly terminated its experiments with Bakelite in the late 1950s to little fanfare. Since the run of production was so short, Rolex watches with Bakelite bezels have become exceedingly rare. What once seemed like a manufacturing error has roused dealers and collectors on the secondary market. For me, these small cosmetic intricacies do not stand up to the mechanical prowess of Rolex watches. But if the ins and outs of watch collecting seem daunting, let the Bakelite story offer something to be optimistic about: with the right luck, today’s ordinary timepiece can be tomorrow’s treasure.