Rolex is the most recognisable wristwatch in the world. I’m fairly sure that every self-professed expert at the bar or at your table knows what the brand is about, and whether or not it it is the real McCoy. Without hesitating, I cannot think of any other brand of wristwatch which polarises opinion, and generates a conversation in the same way a Rolex does.
It’s personal really, for the lion’s share of my childhood and early adulthood, spotting those who wear a Rolex, with that reassuring crown at 12 o’clock, was the ultimate portable sign of achievement and success, whether on screen, in the movies or on one of my family friends’ wrist. I’ll caveat: being a child of the ‘80s, steel or occasionally gold and steel were the regular spot but all gold really was the king.
The investment market and waiting lists were, until the mid 1990s, utterly unheard of, with “big red” Daytonas and non date Submariners languishing unsold in the authorised dealers’ window for years in the ‘80s.
The Daytona changed all that in the 1990s: with clever marketing, restricted supply and unprecedented collector demand, Rolex became the most sought after watch in the world.
Fast forward to 2019 and the dramatic price rise of all Rolex. Any sports variety attracts a waiting list (demand far outstripping supply) and therefore the secondary market charges more for unworn examples than the high street authorised dealer does when they were bought new.
Commonly rumoured (and true, based on our recent sales) that steel Datejust models and attractively dialled Perpetuals are similarly commanding a premium, given there are none available in the gold and green displays on the high street.
So where would the wise money go for an affordable Rolex? Above and beyond the recommended retail price? No. Instead, I’d suggest a search for the smaller, overlooked and elder siblings of the Batman and Hulk. Lamentably, the days of a £1000 Air-King are long gone, however, given £3850 (at time of writing) buys the cheapest new 34mm Oyster Perpetual without a date, I’d suggest looking at a vintage alternative with a bit of cash left in your pocket.
For starters, the polarised opinion of the brand is more likely to slant to favourable, if the watch you wear is the same age (or a little older than) the wearer. Secondly, like all investments, if they don’t make them any more, then the supply can never possibly exceed the demand.
I’m not alone in citing the Rolex Air-King as the only watch that anyone ever needs, and that covers ladies or gentlemen. A 34mm case means you have the widest audience (should you ever choose to sell) and a practical watch for the beach or black tie. A Datejust is the Rolex that made Rolex globally renowned and picking a good one means a watch for life. Choose a jubilee bracelet for elegance or an Oyster bracelet for rugged usability. Neither an Air-King nor a Datejust will look out of place in Piazza San Marco or in Central Park, and will be equally at home in your local.
Prices on both references are on the ascendance. However if you pick a good one, ideally with an attractive dial, box and papers, and you’ll benefit from everyday usability combined with a cast iron (well, steel /steel & gold) investment on your wrist. Likely as not, if it has been working for many years then it will continue to do so for years to come.
What would I buy? My choice would always be a steel Datejust with a steel Oyster or Jubilee. The first Rolex I ever bought new, for the princely sum of £1980 in the early 2000’s. Good ones retail for £4000 and more now. Thats an investment I never expected when I bought my indulgence. I’d also look at an Air-King or Air-King Date. They don’t make these anymore, not like they used to.
Andrew , Vintage & Prestige
Vintage & Prestige consult on investment in watches, and are launching the V&P Watch Concierge in Q4 2019. Please see our current selection of curated Rolex for sale.