If you were to ask anyone to name a luxury watch brand, most people would answer “Rolex”.
Since 1908, the Swiss makers have produced some of the world’s most recognisable watches, always maintaining their reputation for quality craftsmanship and precision movements.
Rolex: an affordable symbol of success
Rolex watches have become symbols of luxury and success, frequently finding themselves strapped to influential celebrities and powerful world leaders.
And it’s this brand affinity and recognition that fuels a thriving collectors’ market.
A common misconception is that all Rolex watches will command a high price. But that’s simply not true.
A vintage stainless steel Rolex Precision from the 1940s and 1950's can be picked up at auction, in good condition, with a starting price of £400–500 (+ fees).
Rolex Airking, ref. 5500, a stainless steel bracelet watch, circa 1977 | Sold for £600 (hammer price), 3 December 2015
Starting a Rolex collection
Starting your Rolex collection may be more affordable than you first thought, but knowing exactly what to buy can still be a little intimidating.
To help you explore the exciting world of Rolex collecting, Dreweatts’ Watch Specialist, Nick Mann, has put together this guide of the five most important things to look for when buying a Rolex at auction.
Check for the Rolex original features
Savvy collectors look for the watch’s constituent parts to be as original as possible.
If anything has been replaced, this can affect the price drastically. More often than not collectors prefer an aged original dial to a newly replaced or restored dial.
Closely inspect the dial, hands, movement and strap for any signs they have been replaced or modified.
Any reputable auction house should be able to provide a detailed condition report. If you can’t view the watch in person, the condition report is the best place to start.
Rolex ref. 2021, a rare Rolex 18 carat gold single pusher chronograph bracelet watch, with an unsigned dial | Sold for £12,000 (hammer price), 14 July 2016
Check the overall condition
The overall condition of the watch can be key when considering a Rolex purchase, and applies to both vintage and current models. Some collectors will simply just want to own an example of a particular model, where others will only want the best examples for their collections.
Things to look for are:
- Is the watch face clear and legible?
- Are there any scratches on the glass or casing?
- Does the clasp close properly?
Lot 341: Rolex, Oyster Perpetual Datejust Turn-O-Graph, ref. 1625, a bi-metal bracelet watch, no. 3068363, circa 1972 | Est. £1,500-2,000 (+fees), Coming up for sale on 8 December 2020
Check the Rolex reference number matches the watch
Rolex watches are stamped with a reference number which helps to identify the model.
You can research these numbers on the internet, or double check them with some of the standard Rolex reference books, helping you make sure that the watch matches other watches of the same number.
The popularity of Rolex watches means there they are one of the most commonly faked and copied brands of all. One way unscrupulous sellers attempt to trick unwary buyers is by altering the reference number.
To ensure you don’t fall foul of the fakers, be sure to ask the seller plenty of questions and get hold of the standard Rolex reference books mentioned above.
Rolex Pre Daytona, ref. 6238, a rare stainless steel bracelet watch, circa 1965. This example is stamped to the case back for the Peruvian Air force | Sold for £20,000 (hammer price), 24 November 2016
Ask to see the paperwork and box
If you are lucky enough to find a watch with a box and paperwork this can be a great bonus. These interesting extras often add value as they help to complete the history of the watch.
Be sure to check that the box is of the same period as the watch, and that the serial number on the watch and the paperwork correspond.
Lot 352: Rolex, Oyster Perpetual Air-King, ref. 116900, an unworn stainless steel bracelet watch | Est. £4,000-6,000 (+fees), Coming up for sale on 8 December 2020
Does the watch have a story?
The story or provenance of a Rolex is another factor that can hugely affect the value.
Knowing who the previous owner of a Rolex is, or how it came into their possession, is always of interest to a collector.
Military watches usually carry a premium. The idea that a watch may have been used in military operations adds to its appeal. As these military watches are usually ordered by the military in small numbers, this makes them rare and hard to come by.
A great example of this was Lot 120 from Dreweatts Fine Jewellery, Watches & Silver auction on the 15th March 2017. The watch was a Military Submariner double reference 5513/5517 that belonged to a Scientific Officer at the Admiralty Underwater Weapons Establishment.
This fine example achieved a hammer price of £90,000 against an estimate of £40,000-60,000 (+fees).
Rolex Military Submariner, ref. 5513/5517, a rare stainless steel double reference wrist watch, circa 1977. This example was accompanied with a receipt supporting the provenance | Sold for £90,000 (hammer price), 15 March 2017
Finding the right Rolex
Whatever your reasons for wanting a Rolex, the best way to find the right one is to keep your finger on the pulse of all our auctions.
Rolex’s popularity means there’s often fierce competition in the saleroom, especially for modern models which buyers can often pick up for about a third of the retail price.
But don’t let the competitiveness put you off. Set yourself a limit and keep track of a large number of watches.
If you’d like to see what we have in our upcoming sales, search our website for our next upcoming Jewellery, Silver, Watches, Pens and Luxury Accessories sale.
Lot 345: Rolex, Cellini, ref. 4084, a white gold coloured wrist watch, no. 4292754, circa 1976 | Est. £700-1,000 (+fees), Coming up for sale on 8 December 2020
Tuesday 8 December 2020 | Fine Jewellery, Watches and Silver
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