If you followed the link to this article, you’ve probably reached a point in your heightening interest in horology where you’re nurturing a new-found respect for that watch wunderkind, Rolex. The Swiss watchmaker has for more than a century thrived in a rare triple role of commercial hit, collector’s favourite and industry innovator – all without the added frills of, say, a tourbillon or perpetual calendar. What fans ultimately appreciate about Rolex is the strength in its designs and durability of its watches.
If you count yourself a steadfast member of this massive group, you likely have among your growing trove of timepieces a Submariner or maybe even a highly coveted Daytona. But now you want to take one step further in proving your love for the brand by adding to that collection a genuine vintage model.
No, it’s not a crazy idea. It’s hard to ignore the vintage itch once you’ve seen even grainy images of a Rolex Milgauss from the 1950s or a 1962 Submariner 6538 (better known as the Bond Submariner for being the first identifiable watch worn by James Bond – in the guise of Sean Connery – in Dr. No.) But before you rush out to meet the first vintage watch dealer you find online, I suggest you heed the advice of two experts in high-end horology who gave me some crucial tips for buying a vintage Rolex.
Do Your Homework
It’s said that information is power — and that is no exception when it comes to shopping for a piece of Rolex history. It’s crucial to research not only the brand, but the exact model you are looking to buy. What is its reference number? What year was it launched? How many were manufactured? These seemingly irrelevant questions may save you a whole lot of hassle and heartbreak.
“You should do your homework, which is to know more about the watch,” says Antono Purnono, a long-time horology aficionado, watch collector and executive editor of a Jakarta-based luxury lifestyle magazine. “[This is] especially [important] for a popular brand like Rolex, which is being copied by replica watchmakers.”
One trip to any ITC in Jakarta proves Antono’s point. These so-called International Trade Centres usually have multiple floors dedicated to stalls selling knock-off watches – Rolex being the most ubiquitous. While most merchants will concede to the dubious nature of their products, most will try to pass them off as genuine.
“So the knowledge is not just limited to information about original watches, but also how to identify fake watches,” Antono adds.
Know Your Seller
After doing the necessary homework on your Rolex of choice, shift your research to focus on the dealer. Reputation is key in the vintage world, Antono emphasizes, so choose someone with a reputable history in the business; someone with a list of satisfied customers who can vouch for him/her.
“There are so many aspects [of] vintage watches that you have to understand and check before you decide to buy one,” Antono explains. “A trusted seller will bluntly tell you the story of the watch.”
Transactions done purely online should therefore be avoided at all cost. Meet with your seller face-to-face to ask him the necessary questions as you inspect every inch of the product.
Ask for Papers
With the pervasiveness of piracy showing no signs abating (especially in Asia), luxury watch communities are placing more emphasis on items that may verify the authenticity of a classic timepiece.
“The watch must be with a box and papers,” says Thierry Gasquez, president of Paris-based luxury watch association Passion Horlogère and co-author of “100 Montres Cultes” (“100 Cult Watches”).
Without the original box, a sales receipt and warranty card, the watch can easily be considered a fake or lose 30 percent of its value, Gasquez adds.
Antono, meanwhile, urges prospective buyers to seek a letter of guarantee from the seller that attests to the timepiece’s authenticity.
“Ask the seller to go with you to a Rolex centre to verify the originality of the watch,” he says. “At the Rolex centre, you can [ask for] certification. If [the watch] is legit, they will give you the approval letter.”
Aim for the Best
Strength and durability are key when considering to buy any vintage product. Why spend $15,000 on a 30-year-old watch that would crumble into pieces when you take it out of the case? Of course, Rolex is famous for its resilience, but one particular line stands out to redefine the concept.
“Choose a good target in the Oyster collection,” Gasquez suggests. “Daytona, Submariner, Explorer.”
In fact, Rolex’s Oyster Perpetual famously served as the steadfast companion of Sir Edmund Hillary during his historic summit of Mount Everest in 1953. The record-breaking feat gave Rolex the green light to launch its Explorer I and Explorer II collections in 1953 and 1973, respectively. Both were created for adventurers traversing rough terrains at high altitudes.
The Submariner, meanwhile, is legendary for its strengths as a diving watch and is highly resistant to corrosion and water to a depth of 300 metres.