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Rolex: World-Renowned Luxury and Precision
Rolex has been leading the world of luxury watches for more than 100 years. Timepieces from this independent Swiss manufacturer are synonymous with top performance, prestige, and precision. Moreover, they also make fantastic investments.
The Definition of Quality and Stability
Rolex watches are the ultimate symbol of luxury, power, and prestige. Founded by Hans Wilsdorf in 1905, the company has since become the world's most famous watch brand. Their big breakthrough came in the mid-1920s with the introduction of timepieces housed in the "Oyster" case. Thanks to its then-revolutionary construction, it made waves as the world's first water-resistant watch. Almost a century later, the design of the Rolex Oyster series has barely changed. Improvements to minute details are often only noticeable upon second glance. This strategy has allowed the watches to become classics, making them easily recognizable and coveted collector's items.
These watches retain their value in large part due to their timeless and consistent designs. The situation is similar for other beloved Rolex models, such as the Daytona, Day-Date, Datejust, and Submariner.
Rolex's reputation is also supported by the fact that they've remained independent and their watches are almost fully crafted in-house. Many other well-known watch manufacturers belong to large corporations; for example, Omega is a member of the Swatch Group. Another secret to their success is their discreet company policy: Tours of their workshops are rare, the CEOs seldom give interviews, and their annual profits are kept private.
Reasons to Buy a Rolex
- Exquisite high-end watches with in-house calibers
- Many models with the potential to appreciate in value
- First choice of celebrities, CEOs, and heads of state
- A symbol of luxury and prestige
- Recognizable designs
- Popular, legendary models: Submariner, Daytona, Datejust
Prices at a Glance: Rolex Watches
|Daytona Rainbow, ref. 116595RBOW||315,000 USD||Everose gold, bezel with 36 colorful sapphires, diamond-studded case|
|Submariner, ref. 6538||137,000 USD||Bond watch, big crown, no crown guard, caliber 1030|
|Day-Date, ref. 228238||36,000 USD||Yellow gold case, date, day, caliber 3255|
|Daytona, ref. 116500LN||26,000 USD||Chronograph, stainless steel case, black ceramic bezel, caliber 4130|
|Cellini Date, ref. 50515||17,500 USD||Pointer date, rose gold case, caliber 3165|
|Sea-Dweller, ref. 126600||15,500 USD||Water-resistant to 1,220 m (4,000 ft), date, stainless steel case, caliber 3235|
|GMT-Master II "Batman," ref. 116710BLNR||16,500 USD||Second time zone, date, stainless steel case, blue and black GMT bezel, caliber 3186|
|Submariner Date, ref. 116610LN||12,500 USD||Water-resistant to 300 m (984 ft), date, stainless steel case, black diving bezel, caliber 3135|
|Submariner No Date, ref. 114060||11,000 USD||Water-resistant to 300 m (984 ft), stainless steel case, black diving bezel, caliber 3130|
|Milgauss, ref. 116400GV||9,300 USD||Anti-magnetic to 1,000 gauss, stainless steel case, caliber 3131|
|Datejust, ref. 126300||9,800 USD||Date, stainless steel case, caliber 3235|
|Air-King, ref. 116900||7,800 USD||Stainless steel case, caliber 3131|
|Explorer, ref. 214270||8,500 USD||Stainless steel case, caliber 3132|
|Oyster Perpetual 39, ref. 114300||6,500 USD||Stainless steel case, caliber 3132|
How much does a Rolex cost?
If you would like to avoid long wait times when purchasing your Rolex, be prepared to spend well over the list price. For example, a stainless steel Submariner Date ref. 116610LN costs about 12,500 USD on Chrono24 – that's more than 2,300 USD above its official list price. You'll have to dig much deeper in your pockets for a Daytona ref. 116500LN or stainless steel GMT-Master II ref. 126710BLRO. At 26,000 and 19,000 USD respectively, they cost nearly double the manufacturer's recommended retail price.
There are also more affordable options. Prices for vintage models from the 1930s and 40s, such as the Oyster Sport Aqua ref. 3136 or the women's Precision Super Balance ref. 4211, start under 1,200 USD.
Rolex as an Investment
Rolex watches are so much more than a statement of power, prestige, and luxury – most also make fantastic investments. If you ever decide to sell your Rolex, you can generally assume you will at least get your money back. In fact, watches in good condition often sell for a profit. This applies to both current models and rare vintage timepieces. The latter often achieve five, six, or even seven-figure prices at auction.
A Pioneer Among Diving Watches: The Rolex Submariner
Rolex's watch designers first expressed their passion for the sea in 1953. That year, the company presented one of the world's first diving watches: the highly sought-after Submariner. The original watch, nicknamed "the diver's friend," was water-resistant to 100 m (328 ft) thanks to its Twinlock crown. It features a matte black dial and bidirectional bezel that enables divers to time their dives to the minute.
Former Rolex director René-Paul Jeanneret was an avid recreational diver and gave valuable input regarding the design of the hands, dial, and case. The watch survived various tests and a total of 132 dives. Supposedly, it was even dropped from a height of just over six-and-a-half feet (two meters) onto a concrete dock and still functioned. As the story goes, the drop only caused a piece of the luminous material to fall off one of the hands. The successor to the first Submariner was water-resistant to 200 meters (656 ft) and served as the official watch of the English, Canadian, and Australian navies.
How much does a Rolex Submariner cost?
Those looking for a modern Submariner based on the original should turn to the Submariner No Date ref. 114060, which debuted in 2012. It offers a relatively affordable entry point into the world of Rolex diving watches. Like the very first Submariner, this stainless steel watch lacks a date display. It pairs a black dial with a matching black Cerachrom bezel and costs around 11,000 USD in mint condition. Pre-owned pieces demand about 950 USD less. A never-worn Submariner Date with a date display (ref. 116610LN) costs around 12,500 USD new and 11,500 USD pre-owned.
Watch collectors are also keen to get their hands on the two green Submariner models known as "Hulk" and "Kermit." The Hulk ref. 116610LV has a green bezel and green dial. It costs about 16,500 USD in mint condition and 16,000 USD used. On the other hand, the Kermit ref. 16610LV combines a green bezel with a standard black dial. Be sure to set aside around 23,500 USD for a never-worn Kermit model. Used watches are more affordable at about 16,000 USD, though this is still much more expensive than the stainless steel Submariner Date with a black bezel.
New Submariner Releases for 2020
In late summer 2020, Rolex introduced several new Submariner models. Shared features include a smaller, 41-mm case, narrowed lugs, and a more cohesive relationship between the case and Oyster bracelet. What's more, Rolex equips these timepieces with the latest generation of calibers. One example is the caliber 3230 with an anti-magnetic Chronergy escapement and 70-hour power reserve.
Rolex fans are sure to enjoy the new stainless steel editions, including the Submariner No Date ref. 124060 and Submariner Date ref. 126610LN. Both feature black dials and black Cerachrom bezels. The no-date version has a recommended retail price of 8,100 USD, while the date model demands 9,150 USD. The ref. 126610LV is yet another new stainless steel Submariner. It pairs a black dial with a green Cerachrom bezel inlay. Aficionados will recognize this as the latest take on the popular Kermit watch. This timepiece has a list price of 9,550 USD.
Prices for Vintage Submariners
In addition to stainless steel, Rolex also presented new two-tone models, as well as several in white or yellow gold. The ref. 126619LB is a white gold watch with a black dial and blue Cerachrom bezel. It officially sells for 39,650 USD. There are two new watches in 18-karat yellow gold: There's the 126618LN with a black dial and bezel and the 126618LB with a blue dial and bezel. Both have a list price of 36,950 USD. Rolex also offers two-tone editions with black (ref. 126613LN) or blue (ref. 126613LB) elements. These timepieces combine Oystersteel with yellow gold and cost 14,300 USD.
Fans of vintage watches will be pleased to hear that the Submariner offers a wide variety of options. One of the very first models was the reference 6204. Depending on its condition, this watch can sell for anywhere between 23,000 and 142,000 USD. The ref. 5513 from 1962 changes hands for similar prices. The "James Bond" Submariner ref. 6538 occupies the upper end of that price range, with well-maintained pieces costing around 137,000 USD.
Another beloved vintage Submariner goes by the name "Red Sub" and bears the reference number 1680. It demands prices of about 34,000 USD pre-owned. The COMEX edition, developed by Rolex for the French company Compagnie Martitime d'Expertises, is also highly sought-after. Prices for this model often reach sums of 49,500 USD.
For Racing Drivers and Actors: The Rolex Daytona
When it was first released in the 1960s, the Rolex Daytona was something of a dud. However, actor and race car driver Paul Newman and Formula 1 driver Jackie Stewart helped propel this sports chronograph into superstardom. Today, it is one of the Swiss company's most popular and successful automatic watches. Models with a contrasting second scale on their dials received the nickname "Paul Newman" in the 1980s. These timepieces are now especially valuable collector's items.
The Daytona gets its name from the legendary Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, FL. The town has been dubbed "America's Speed Capital" – and rightfully so. Between 1904 and 1935, fourteen land speed records were set there, including five by proud Rolex wearer Sir Malcolm Campbell.
Investing in the Daytona
The stainless steel Rolex Cosmograph Daytona is one of the best investments you can make in the watch sector. Released in 2016, the model with the reference number 116500LN is so popular among watch fans that long wait times are par for the course when purchasing from offline retailers. Purchasing online is faster, though also more expensive. The official list price is 13,150 USD, but a never-worn stainless steel Daytona on Chrono24 demands around 26,000 USD. Pre-owned models are only slightly less expensive, making them a solid investment. The ref. 116500LN has a black Cerachrom ceramic bezel. Thanks to its use of the in-house caliber 4130, it also boasts a 72-hour power reserve.
Its predecessor (ref. 116520) has a stainless steel bezel and is powered by the same in-house caliber, the 4130. Rolex officially listed this timepiece for 13,500 USD. By 2020, prices for a pre-owned version of this sports chronograph had climbed all the way up to 21,000 USD. If you're looking for a never-worn model, plan to spend over 28,000 USD.
Baselworld 2018 saw the introduction of an especially colorful Daytona: the ref. 116595RBOW, aka the "Rainbow" Daytona. While it also uses the caliber 4130, its case is made of Everose gold and its bezel features 36 sapphires in every color of the rainbow. If that wasn't enough, an additional 56 diamonds adorn the lugs and crown guard. All this opulence can be bought for the equally jaw-dropping price of 315,000 USD.
Prices for Vintage and Gold Daytonas
The ref. 16520, which premiered in 1988, is also highly sought-after. Its power comes from the caliber 4030, a movement based on the Zenith El Primero. The price for a used El Primero Daytona comes in at over 34,000 USD. Mint-condition pieces cost even more at around 43,500 USD.
The so-called "Paul Newman" Daytona Daytona is especially rare. The only difference between this model and other Daytonas from the 1960s and 1970s is the dial. In terms of technology, watches from this era are all identical. You will need to have at least 176,000 USD on hand for a Paul Newman Daytona ref. 6241. However, that price is nothing compared to what Paul Newman's personal Daytona sold for at auction in 2017: It went to the highest bidder for the record price of 17.75 million USD. If you're not particularly interested in the famous dial, you can get a Daytona from the 1960s starting at 88,000 USD.
Models in 18-karat yellow, white, or rose gold — also called Everose gold by Rolex — bear the reference number 116508 and generally have higher list prices than their stainless steel counterparts due to their material value. That said, they are not as in demand and, therefore, command a smaller premium than you might expect. A gold Daytona with an official list price of around 40,000 USD will only set you back between 41,000 and 46,000 USD on Chrono24. Two-tone models in stainless steel and gold are something of an insider's tip. You can find pre-owned watches with the reference number 116503 starting at 18,000 USD, while those in mint condition cost about 19,500 USD. The entry point for older models from the 1990s is even lower and starts below 10,500 USD.
Rolex's Professional Divers: Sea-Dweller and Deepsea
On January 23, 1960, the deep-diving bathyscaphe Trieste reached the bottom of the Mariana Trench's Challenger Deep with a special passenger on board: Rolex's Deep Sea Special. The watch had been specially designed for the dive and was attached to the outside of the bathyscaphe. It handled the extreme conditions of the ocean floor impressively well, functioning perfectly even at a depth of 35,814 feet (10,916 meters). This proved the Swiss watch manufacturer's extraordinary engineering capabilities. Rolex repeated this test in 2012, attaching the experimental Deepsea Challenge diving watch to the robotic arm of the Deepsea Challenger. The mission saw the timepiece and the submersible reach a maximum depth of 35,787 feet (10,908 meters), well within the watch's limits. In fact, the Deepsea Challenge is water-resistant to 39,370 ft (12,000 m) and can withstand up to 1,500 bar of pressure.
The consumer version of the Deepsea (ref. 126660) has a depth rating of "only" 3,900 m (390 bar, 12,795 ft). You can choose from two options: one with a black dial and black Cerachrom bezel or one with a "D-Blue" dial. The latter features a beautiful gradient that fades from dark blue to black. Prices for a new Deepsea depend on the model and range from 15,000 to 17,000 USD.
Prices for a Sea-Dweller
Like the Deepsea, the Rolex Sea-Dweller was designed with professional divers in mind. It also has a helium escape valve and is water-resistant to 1,200 m (122 bar, 4,000 ft). Anyone who has bought a Rolex Sea-Dweller in the last few years can look forward to appreciating prices. This is due to the fact that certain reference numbers are no longer in production, thus making them harder to find.
The ref. 16600 was manufactured for a relatively long period of time, from 1988 to 2008. Prices for this model have been on the rise over the last decade. The same used watch that cost just 4,700 USD in 2008 now demands about 9,400 USD. Never-worn pieces are much rarer and, therefore, cost around 15,500 USD.
In 2014, Rolex released yet another 40-mm model, this time under the ref. 116600. Its production run lasted only three years, resulting in an abrupt spike in prices. Prices for a never-worn edition quickly rose from 10,500 USD prior to Baselworld 2017 to over 16,500 USD.
The most recent Sea-Dweller debuted in 2018 and features a Cyclops lens over the date display – a characteristic usually associated with the Submariner. This timepiece costs almost 15,500 USD in mint condition. If you'd rather buy your watch online and avoid long wait times, be prepared to spend a good 2,400 USD more.
GMT-Master and GMT-Master II
Of the many iconic watches Rolex has released over the years, the GMT-Master and its successor, the GMT-Master II, occupy a special place in the hearts of watch enthusiasts. The Genevan manufacturer first created this timepiece for Pan Am's long-haul pilots. Its case and dial design bear a strong resemblance to the Submariner. However, unlike the beloved diving watch, the GMT-Master features an additional central hand and a two-tone bidirectional bezel with a 24-hour scale. This enables the watch to display the time in multiple time zones at once.
Rolex outfitted the original GMT-Master with a red and blue bezel, making it easier to tell the time of day in a second time zone. This color scheme is also the source of the model's nickname, "Pepsi." Since then, several other color schemes have made their way to the market, including the black and red "Coke," brown and beige "Root Beer," and the fan-favorite black and blue "Batman."
Rolex released the latest version of the stainless steel Pepsi (ref. 126710BLRO) at Baselworld 2018. More specifically, this model is a 40-mm GMT-Master II with the in-house caliber 3285. You can call this timepiece your own for roughly 19,000 USD. If you'd prefer the white gold edition (ref. 116719BLRO), you should be prepared to spend some 40,000 USD. There's also the popular black and blue "Batman" ref. 116710BLNR on an Oyster bracelet. This watch costs around 16,500 USD. In 2019, Rolex released the same timepiece on a Jubilee bracelet (ref. 126720BLNR), which demands about 120 USD more.
Well-maintained vintage models like the ref. 1675 and 16750 from the 1970s and 80s generally sell for between 14,000 and 17,000 USD. The most expensive GMT-Master is the original, the ref. 6542, which requires an investment of around 50,500 USD.
Datejust and Day-Date
The Datejust has been a cornerstone of Rolex's catalog since 1945. Ever since the introduction of the 40th-anniversary edition, this timepiece has defined what it means to be a sporty dress watch. Its simple design with a narrow bezel, trim baton hands, and date with Cyclops lens at 3 o'clock has remained nearly untouched since the very first model, the ref. 4467. The Jubilee bracelet, which debuted alongside the Datejust, also remains part of Rolex's portfolio to this day.
Over the course of its more than 70-year history, the Datejust has appeared on the wrists of some of the world's most powerful individuals, including Dwight D. Eisenhower, Martin Luther King, Jr., Winston Churchill, and Ronald Reagan. However, this timeless classic's popularity isn't limited to political figures. Other fans include Michael Jordan, Roger Federer, Jennifer Aniston, and the Dalai Lama.
Compared to other classic Rolexes, Datejust prices are relatively affordable. For example, you can find current models like the 41-mm ref. 126300 with a gray sunburst dial and flat bezel for as little as 9,800 USD on Chrono24. The ref. 126334 with a blue dial, diamond indices, and fluted bezel requires a slightly larger investment of 11,500 USD. Vintage versions from the 1960s and 70s are much less expensive, with many watches only demanding between 4,000 and 5,500 USD. However, prices for the very first Datejust (ref. 4467) are significantly higher at 12,500 USD.
Since 2020: Available in White Gold and Stainless steel
Rolex added a new line of 31-mm watches in White Rolesor to the Datejust collection in September 2020. These timepieces combine white gold and stainless steel. New models with fluted bezels bear the reference number 278274, while those speckled with diamonds have the ref. 278344RBR. The most exclusive of the new White Rolesor editions boasts 46 brilliant-cut diamonds on its bezel. You can find this timepiece under the reference number 278384RBR.
While the Datejust 31 ref. 278384RBR is only available with an eggplant dial, the other watches come with a wide variety of dial color options. You can also choose between a Jubilee or Oyster bracelet. Prices for these models range from 7,800 to 16,050 USD, depending on the exact edition.
Day-Date: The Presidential Watch
In 1956, Rolex made history once again with the release of the Oyster Perpetual Day-Date, aka the Rolex President. It was the first wristwatch capable of displaying both the date and day of the week written out in full. Like the Datejust, its date display sits below a Cyclops lens at 3 o'clock, while its additional day window arcs above the famous Rolex cornet at 12 o'clock. Rolex also created a unique bracelet for the Day-Date, namely the President bracelet.
To this day, the Day-Date has only ever been available in gold or platinum and with a 36 or 40-mm case. Prices range from around 9,700 USD for the 36-mm yellow gold Day-Date ref. 1803 to just under 57,000 USD for the 40-mm ref. 218206 in platinum.
Rolex Milgauss: Unaffected by Magnetic Fields
Starting in the 1950s, Rolex put a greater focus on producing robust movements and watch cases. An impressive example of this is the Milgauss from 1956. The name "Milgauss" is a combination of the abbreviation for the French word for a thousand, "mille," and gauss, a unit of measurement named after German physicist Carl Friedrich Gauss used to describe magnetic field strength. Thus, the "Milgauss" is able to withstand 1,000 gauss of magnetism.
The European Center for Nuclear Research (CERN) officially confirmed the Milgauss' magnetic resistance on August 10, 1970. Thanks to the automatic caliber 1065 M, with its soft iron inner case and other anti-magnetic components, the watch functioned well despite the presence of magnetic fields. The watch was a blessing for engineers, power plant operators, and many others who worked in close contact with magnetic fields.
This highly-coveted collector's item features green shimmering sapphire crystal, a red triangle on the bezel, and a distinctive lightning bolt-shaped second hand.
Other New Rolexes from 2020
Other collections to receive an update in 2020 include the Oyster Perpetual and Sky-Dweller. In the Oyster Perpetual collection, the 41-mm ref. 124300 has replaced the Oyster Perpetual 39. However, its design is nearly identical to that of its predecessor. Beyond the size, this newer model has more dial color options, including red, green, yellow, and turquoise. Another small difference is the two bars that mark the hours at 3, 6, and 9 o'clock. The biggest changes took place inside the case, where you will find the in-house caliber 3230 with a Chronergy escapement and 70-hour power reserve. The new Oyster Perpetual has a list price of 5,900 USD.
If 41 mm is too large, the Oyster Perpetual is also available with a 28, 31, 34, or 36-mm case. These versions have the same design and come in the same dial colors. The 36-mm editions get their power from the caliber 3230, while the smaller models use the caliber 2232. Prices depend on the size and fall between 5,100 and 5,600 USD.
The Latest Sky-Dweller
The Sky-Dweller's update was limited to a new bracelet option, with Rolex introducing this model on an Oysterflex bracelet for the first time in the collection's history. The Oysterflex Bracelet has a core made of thin metal plates, which are then coated in black Elastomer. This synthetic material is highly durable and hypoallergenic.
The Oysterflex bracelet lends the Sky-Dweller a decidedly sporty feel. The yellow gold version (ref. 326238) has a recommended retail price of 40,000 USD. The same watch in rose gold (ref. 326235) costs 41,500 USD.
Overview: Rolex Models
- Cellini Time, Cellini Date, Cellini Dual Time, and Cellini Moonphase
- Cosmograph Daytona
- Datejust, Datejust II, and Datejust 41
- Explorer and Explorer II
- GMT-Master and GMT-Master II
- Oyster Perpetual
- Sea-Dweller, Sea-Dweller 4000, and Sea-Dweller Deepsea
- Submariner and Submariner Date
- Yacht-Master and Yacht-Master II
A Unique Logo: The Five-Pointed Crown
Rolex's history begins back in 1905, when German-born Hans Wilsdorf and Alfred Davis founded the watch wholesaler Wilsdorf & Davis in London. Davis oversaw the production of watch cases, while Wilsdorf obtained the necessary movements from the Swiss company Aegler. In 1908, they trademarked the name Rolex. The catchy name most likely comes from "rolling export," but there is no solid proof of the origin.
Gradually, the company began to add their name to the dials — an unusual practice at the time. It was customary to only include the retailer's name on the dial, if anything at all. The short brand name allowed enough space for the name of the retailer, enabling Wilsdorf to bring more watches bearing the company name into circulation. It would be 19 years before Rolex was the sole name featured on the dials, cases, and movements.
The brand adopted the five-point crown logo in 1925. The story behind the logo remains a secret. Experts suspect that the five-point crown stands for the five fingers of a watchmaker or the letters in Rolex. The crown logo and the name Rolex have appeared on every dial, crown, and clasp since 1939.
Revolutionaries Che Guevara and Fidel Castro also recognized and appreciated the qualities of Rolex. It's not known whether the robustness of the watch helped the Cuban Revolution of 1959, but Guevara and Castro certainly contributed to the brand's myth. No other watch manufacturer has managed to appeal to such a wide variety of customers, including those in power, religious leaders like the Dalai Lama, and supermodel Elle Macpherson.
Chronometer Certification Since 1910
In-house Rolex calibers are considered especially precise. Each watch comes with a certificate from the Official Swiss Chronometer Testing Institute (Contrôle officiel suisse des chronomètres, or COSC). COSC measures the precision of a movement in five different positions and at three different temperatures based on a standardized testing method. The entire process lasts 15 days. In addition to COSC's tests, Rolex reexamines all of their watches in-house once the movement is in its case. Rolex has even stricter requirements that only allow for a maximum deviation of +/- 2 seconds per day.
Rolex founder Hans Wilsdorf was already emphasizing the importance of precision back in the early 20th century. In 1910, he sent a watch to a local watchmaking school in Biel for evaluation. The movement was subjected to 14 days of testing, which it passed. At the end of this two-week procedure, the testers issued the world's first wristwatch chronometer certificate and sent it to London.
The next sensation followed only four years later: Wilsdorf sent an Aegler movement to the National Physical Laboratory in London. The caliber passed their tests with flying colors. It was subjected to three different temperature conditions and five different positions: crown facing up, left, and right, and dial face down and face up. After 45 days, the watch, with its golden case and blue enamel bezel, was named the first wristwatch in history to receive class A certification. This type of certification was previously only awarded to clocks such as navy chronometers.
Social Commitment: The Hans Wilsdorf Foundation
Whoever buys a Rolex is simultaneously doing a good deed. Wilsdorf never had any children of his own, and after his wife's death, he left all of his Rolex shares to the newly established Hans Wilsdorf Foundation. The foundation belongs to Rolex and receives a large proportion of their annual profits. This money is used to support social initiatives; environmental protection programs; and scientific, artistic, and cultural projects.