Everything you need to know about buying a Rolex watch, from models to prices.
Let’s be honest, Rolex needs no introduction. It’s the most iconic name in luxury watches, enjoying the single most liquid resale market of any watch brand. Naturally, this means that adding one to your collection is probably the safest and most stylish bet — but the process of actually narrowing down which model and reference is right for you can definitely feel daunting if you’re just getting into the game. As your forever guide to the wild (and at times, alarmingly niche) world of watches, we’ve put together a collection of our best tips and tricks to help steer you in the right direction, and hopefully put a Rolex on your wrist.
Rolex’s History and Significance in Watchmaking
What Makes a Rolex a Rolex?
Key Rolex Models to Know
Should You Buy a Modern or Vintage Rolex?
Bezel’s Rolex Picks
First things first: a bit of history. All things Rolex trace back to Hans Wilsdorf, who founded the now-iconic watch brand back in 1905. Interestingly enough, the brand wasn’t founded in Switzerland, but in London, England, where Wilsdorf ran Rolex until later moving operations to Geneva.
For the entirety of Rolex’s history, the brand has been committed to only producing the best of the best, in terms of both utility and luxury. They’ve set themselves apart time and again through iconic designs, accurate and innovative movements, and the use of ultra-high grade materials, sparing no expense in research and development. Simply put, Rolex sets the bar and standards by which most all other watches are judged. Casual!
If you were born at any point over the last century, you’re more than likely familiar with Rolex. It’s the de facto “nice watch.” For the better part of 100 years, the brand has permeated every last inch of pop culture, now enjoying an unshakeable position in the upper echelon of impossibly iconic brands.
Similarly, the watches themselves have developed an iconic status, thanks to just how hard hitting the brand’s earliest designs were from both aesthetic and technical standpoints, as well as their ability to always stay faithful to the framework set out by those original, proverbial home runs.
Such details include the now-famous “Pepsi” bezel found on the latest GMT-Master II models, which dates back to the original GMT-Master in 1954. Collectors affectionately nicknamed this variant of the pilot’s watch due to the bezel insert’s coloring resembling that of the Pepsi logo. Similar hype surrounds ceramic bezel-fitted Daytona models, given how they resemble early Rolex Daytona references fitted with acrylic bezels. All this to say, nods to the brand’s heritage are always a hit with Rolex collectors.
If you’re looking to pick up your first Rolex watch, it’s important to consider that almost every piece produced by the brand is powered by a mechanical automatic movement. That means that the gears inside the movement are wound and powered by the rotation of your wrist. Yes, you’re basically a Marvel superhero.
That said, keep in mind that an automatic movement needs to be in motion to continue running. Meaning, if you leave a watch like the Rolex Submariner sitting dormant in your watch box for a week, you’ll need to set the time and date again, in addition to giving it a good winding. If that sounds tedious, we’d suggest you take a look at watches with battery-powered quartz movements from other brands.
By the same token, it’s important to consider how many complexities a specific Rolex has, as that will greatly inform what ownership looks like for you. For example, setting a watch like a Rolex Explorer is a fairly simple task, it being a time-only model. At the other end of the spectrum, pieces like the Day-Date and Sky-Dweller have all sorts of additional functions, demanding more in the time-setting department. This isn’t to say you’ll need to take OOO time to set your GMT-Master II, but be prepared to take a few moments out of your day.
No one considers the materials used to produce their watches quite like Rolex does. They go the extra mile to develop unique alloys exclusive to their watches. But just as Rolex has put great thought into different watch materials, you should too, since it’s going to greatly affect your ownership experience.
Materials-wise, the most accessible way into the world of Rolex is also the most advanced and hardwearing: stainless steel. Rolex uses a proprietary alloy known as Oystersteel, a 904L stainless steel renowned for its resistance to corrosion and long-haul durability. This means you won’t have to worry much about upkeep, or deep scratches from casual knocks here and there while wearing a steel Oyster Perpetual. An added bonus: It’s also relatively affordable in comparison to gold and platinum watches from Rolex.
If a bit of glam is what you’re after, Rolex of course has you covered there, too, with a variety options including yellow gold, white gold, “Everose” rose gold, and platinum. As mentioned, these pieces command higher prices than counterparts in stainless steel, but nonetheless, we can’t deny that the Daytona feels great in yellow gold. Just remember that precious metals like gold and platinum are far less durable than stainless steel, so you’ll want to be a bit more careful (read: avoiding flailing your arms at all costs.)
Can’t decide? Ah yes, you’d like one with everything. Not a problem! Rolex produces several models in two-tone, or as they call it, “Rolesor.” Combining precious metals with Oyster Steel is a great bet for a versatility focused approach to watches, thanks to the durability of stainless steel paired with the exclusive style and warmth of precious metals. Case in point: the iconic status of the two-tone Rolex Datejust. We all know someone who wears one of those, and for good reason.
Shop Rolex Sea-Dweller Deepsesa
As always, there’s no right answer when it comes to whether you want a new or vintage Rolex. It all comes down to what you want. If you want the absolute latest and greatest, then the logical answer is clearly to go with a new, modern Rolex. New Rolex watches are built to last and are just about guaranteed to look essentially the same for generations, while also offering the absolute cutting edge of mechanical movement technology.
If you’re after something that’s a little less advanced, albeit with a little bit more personality and unique patina – something that’s already gotten those dreaded first scratches many moons ago – a neo-vintage or vintage Rolex is likely the move. Make no mistake, these Rolex watches were still built to ridiculously high standards, all of which still hold up to this day, the key difference here is the capacity for materials to show age and character.
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