Style / World of Watches (WOW)

Build Your Single Watch Brand Collection

If you are looking to collect a single watch brand, the most popular example would be to start with a Rolex.

Jun 08, 2022 | By Ashok Soman

The renowned watch historian and author Gisbert L. Brunner noted that collecting watches is a passion that can go deep or wide. As far as building single-brand collections go, the realities of 2022 are generally irrelevant except for those who focus on Rolex. This is particularly true for those new to watch collecting who are going with the safest and easiest to understand approach. It goes something like this: buy Rolex and you cannot go wrong. This seems facetious but, in our view, it includes and incorporates what happens if you buy a watch you do not like. Bought a steel Rolex Cosmograph Daytona only to discover a year later that you do not like chronographs? No problem, because you can easily find willing buyers for the watch. We grant that this scenario is improbable, but it applies to any Rolex watch. That is an appealing proposition, but first you would have to be able to buy a Rolex…

As we wrote in our Festive issue, it is still possible to buy Rolex watches. But it is also true that Rolex boutiques only have display pieces now — to buy a watch you have to register your interest at the store with the authorised dealer. If you find this unacceptable, you could try to find so-called new old stock (NOS) from traders who are on a variety of platforms, including good old brick-and-mortar. The main downside here – there are a few but this is the main one — is that you will be completely outside the official retail system, including the recommended retail price. To state the obvious, the price for all NOS current production models will be above the recommended retail price.

If older watches are your game, then these types of traders will not suit you because they mainly try to ride on the hype (and advertising) for current production models. To be sure, by older here we do not mean models from the 1950s or 60s. Even the Submariner Ref 16610 (produced between 1987 to 2010, and probably the most widely available pre-owned Submariner) will not be in these traders’ inventories. Certainly more esoteric models such as the Oysterquartz and the Prince will not be in stock. The larger players such as Peng Kwee may have options for both. As a seasoned collector, you do not need us to tell you what to do. Nevertheless, we have more to say on the general state of the pre-owned market elsewhere, if that interests you.

Returning to current Rolex models, the burgeoning collector must consider what safety is really worth. Wait times are uncertain, and you are not guaranteed a watch just because you have been waitlisted. We can report that authorised dealers may even refuse to waitlist you for popular models in steel such as the GMT-Master II and the Sea-Dweller. For something like the 126600 Sea-Dweller reference, it becomes relevant to consider the Rolesor version, reference 126603. The current retail price is $23,490 while the reference 126600 is selling pre-owned for upwards of $22,000. On the other hand, if you must have the GMT-Master II with the Pepsi bezel then you have to choose between steel and white gold. The price gap is significant so the pre-owned steel reference is still a better deal, and the steel version is arguably more authentic.

With this in mind, let us consider the state of pre-owned for something like the GMT Master II, while also noting that we address the matter of pricing elsewhere; pricing requires its own dedicated space, and we are obliged by a lack of transparency and regularity in the pricing of watches in general to approach this subject obliquely, by looking only at current recommended retail prices and listed secondary market prices. All that aside, traders have a window stretching a few years at most to clear their inventory, which we consider to be sometime within the five year manufacturer warranty; Rolex warranties are between two and five years, depending on the movements in use. When this warranty goes into effect is a big deal, but first, a bit of a disclaimer.

Full disclosure: the principal author of this section is the editor, and he has been on the hunt for a GMT-Master II since the aluminium bezel first got phased out. With regards to price checks on this watch, his personal research has been used for the story. He is also on the hunt for multiple Rolex watches. Readers should be aware of potential biases. On another note, and to be absolutely clear, professional traders and secondary market dealers will certainly need to move products far more quickly than even the shorter two-year window proposed here. No dealer we spoke with for this story wanted to be quoted on exact figures and practises, and we did a considerable amount of research without disclosing our intent to publish. As such, we must be circumspect and even elliptical in our descriptions.

Back on point, you will have to be careful about warranties because you may not be considered the first owner of the watch, should you buy it. Rolex says the warranty is good from the date of purchase, but this presumably only applies to watches bought from authorised dealers. Consequently, any GMT-Master II that has been sitting on someone’s shelf for too long — even if that shelf is in a proper shop — must be considered suspect. We would recommend purchasing the watch from someone who has actually been wearing the watch, and presumably caring for it. You at least know that such a watch works. Remember that once you go pre-owned, you are out of the safe authorised dealer space.

Finally, Rolex collectors need to resign themselves to having to coexist and compete with investment and asset-protection obsessed buyers. This can be frustrating, typically for people who want current production watches, but it can also be a great boon for seasoned collectors who are primarily interested in vintage watches. Look at the pre-owned prices of Rolex Submariners (reference 16610) and compare this to current after-market prices. This point is true for Patek Philippe and Audemars Piguet collectors too, because the new set of buyers are only concerned with existing models. It is also tremendously useful for anyone interested in gold or half-gold watches, for reasons we propose in another segment in this issue.

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