Your Ultimate Guide to Buying a Vintage Rolex
Posted on November 10 2020
When considering high-end luxury watches, the first brand that comes to mind is Rolex. There is a certain status that is synonymous with the Rolex brand.
However, when it comes to purchasing a vintage Rolex, it can be challenging to know where to begin because it’s an area fraught with potential pitfalls. We at Twain Time will try to be your guide on finding the perfect vintage Rolex for you.
No one can question the glorious aesthetic appeal of vintage Rolex watches, and owning one is an aspiration of many Rolex aficionados and watch collectors worldwide. But finding the right one is something which is much easier said than done. There’s no doubting the fact that Rolex is an icon in the industry. Its collections, such as the Rolex Daytona, Submariner, Rolex GMT Master, Sea-Dweller, Air-King, and Rolex Explorer and Explorer II, are famous not only for their luxury and prestige but for their quality that transcends time.
We at Twain Time go back as far as the 1930s to find vintage Rolex models that will surely catch your attention. Now let us dive into the details of buying a vintage Rolex.
Pricing a Vintage Rolex
We already know that Rolex has played considerable roles in pop culture with its cameos in various movies. We’ve seen the Rolex Submariner (Ref. 6358) accompany the first-ever James Bond (Sean Connery) in taking down Dr. No in 1962. Timothy Dalton also famously wore a Submariner in License to Kill in 1989. If these Bond movies are just not enough to convince you, use the watches as references as the production of each watch certainly adds up to its market value.
From the research to design to its assembly, every detail is as precise as the timepiece itself. There is a lot of effort that goes into producing a Rolex watch. The materials, for instance, make a huge difference already. Also, any Vintage Rolex buyer should know that their watch is manufactured only by experts. Even with robots in some phases of production, experts still do the most crucial parts. Vintage models are no stranger to this, but there’s more to them than your criteria - let’s have a look at them one by one.
1. Previous Ownership
Vintage Rolex watches get to enjoy top-of-the-line production even if they’re made in the ’30s. Most vintage Rolexes in the market play vital roles not only in history but in the lives of significant people. From celebrities to royalties, a vintage Rolex gained fame for their previous owner. You’ll see familiar names in their registries with the likes of Paul Newman and Marlon Brando, as well as Steve McQueen and Eric Clapton. In essence, names may play a significant huge part in hiking prices up.
While most watches are made in bulk, some watches are just rare in themselves. They’re either made in small batches or are simply limited-edition pieces. But this is not the only thing that indicates rarity. Some watches have become rare for various reasons, which could be because of the negligence of previous owners or the many struggles these Rolexes have witnessed. Some vintage Rolexes become rare when they slowly fade into a frequent buy-and-sell cycle. Still, the peculiarity of certain features may also be an excellent reason for rarity because, as you might have heard - the devil is always in the details.
Like many other collector’s items, vintage Rolex watches rely on the condition to indicate their price. They may not be in mint condition, but they should always uphold the classic Rolex quality, which people love and adore. However, you may find vintage watches with cracked or faded dials. Some of these features are prominent in the collector’s conventions. Some watches can also be over polished, which could negatively impact its price.
The authenticity of a Vintage Rolex
Some aspects of the watch should also be significantly examined and considered. What specifically are we looking for in every part? Read on to learn more:
Inspecting the Parts
Reassuring a vintage Rolex’s authenticity is important, but let’s get down to the nitty-gritty details. All the parts of the watch are highly crucial in telling its value as well as added authenticity. These are the places that we tend to miss due to negligence or misinformation. So before buying a vintage Rolex watch, do your homework and research. Take a plunge into Google or Bing and learn about the watch you’re about to buy before inspecting one. If possible, try to be the expert yourself; we’ll help you to become one. Here are some things to take into consideration before buying a Vintage Rolex Watch.
1. Dial’s Age and Condition
As mentioned before, the condition of the watch can be one of the price indications of a vintage. Again, not all dials age equal. Dials, especially those present in a vintage Rolex, can turn dark brown, which isn’t because it’s badly aged but only because of sun exposure. We call these dials “tropical dials.” Some also have cracks on them called spiders as they look like webs on the dial.
Many collectors either love or hate them and nothing between them. Consider whether the patina on the hands of your watch corresponds to the lume of the indexes. It should either be a match (or incredibly close) or a contrast. If it contrasts, it’ll probably be due to a differently aged service part or replacement.
We at Twain Time provide replacement parts for Rolex watches. Its abundance in the market is probably a good thing. But there’s one explicitly stated part to look out for: the lume. Yes, you just have to check what luminous material is used on the Vintage Rolex watch you’re planning to buy.
Rolex specifically used different luminous materials for different eras. Until the early 1960s, Rolex used radium for its lume, and it was tritium until about 1998. Luminova was the primary luminous material used from 1998 to early 1999. Rolex used the Super-Luminova after that started applying Chromalight on watches in 2008.
Moreover, inscriptions on dials tell us what luminous material is on its markers. Try finding the word “SWISS” for radium-illuminated watches and “T SWISS T<25 or T SWISS T” for tritium. Transitional Luminova also has “SWISS” written on it on the underside of the dial. After that, we find the word “SWISS MADE” on the lower part of the dial.
2. Engravings on the Watch
There are specific places to look for the right engravings in a vintage Rolex watch. First of all, the lugs, at the top lugs or 12 o’clock, you’ll find the reference number of the watch. Second of all, at 6 o’clock or the bottom lugs, the serial number of the watch. Since 2011, Rolex has been using random serial numbers to indicate the watch’s production date. More importantly, the model number or the appropriate case back stamp relating to the caliber movement of the watch is also engraved on the case back.
However, serial numbers of service cases started with the number “44” until exhaustion; then they began with the number “47”. Replacement cases may affect the price and alter the originality of the timepiece; this is why Rolex made them unique and will not use a serial number that has been previously used on any production watch. Some rare models have the reference number and serial number on other parts, such as the Oysterquartz. You can find the engravings on the outer side of the case back or underneath the lugs.
Moreover, the bracelet of the watch indicates its appropriateness and production date. On the first link near the top lugs, you will find an engraved reference number, and you can also find a number on the external side of the end links, which indicates the model of the watch the bracelet is for.
The case back of a Vintage Rolex can tell you a lot about the watch more than you’d think. Besides the engravings on the inside of the watch case, you can tell how somebody previously treated the watch. Improper openings cause illegibility of the engravings as well as scratches and nicks on the outer groves, and that is why Twain Time, as a responsible seller of vintage Watches, only uses proper Rolex tools to open the case back.
People usually miss checking the crown because of its simplicity. Rolex crowns indicate the water-resistance for all its watches. For your reference, a Triplock crown has better water-resistance than the Twinlock. To know if the crown is authentic, try finding the word “brevet” on the underside of the crown. Similarly, you can also find a Triplock & Twinlock symbol over a line (or trio of dots for stainless steel watches) for famous water-resistant models such as the Submariner and the Sea-Dweller.
A new bracelet is stiff, but you can bend the links to check for yourself. When removing the bracelet with a push pin before polishing, it’ll leave trace marks on the case. That is why the lugs are often sealed with tape before removing the band. But you can see it on the inside of the lug where the pushpin goes into the hole; there, you’ll see scratches made by the pushpin. A clear sign of a service polish is the drilled lug hole, or perhaps the sharpness of the lug hole edges. Once polished, these lug holes tend to lose the original sharp edges.
Moreover, if you’re not sure how a specific reference should look like unpolished, take a closer look at the matte part of the watch with a magnifier. The matte parts will tell you if a timepiece has been polished or not. And generally, from a collector’s point of view, the fact that the watch is all original or not matters more than if the case is unpolished or not.
6. Original Box or Papers
You do not necessarily need the original box & papers to sell your watch, but these documents can add a lot of value to your vintage watch. Vintage watch collectors care about original parts the most. The value of your vintage Rolex watch will significantly rise if it has its original dial, bezel, hands, and movement. Many people believe that if they infuse their old watch with new parts, it’ll increase in value. Well, that’s just not true!
There are no written rules regarding this, but within the vintage watch world, a watch is only considered “vintage” when it is at least 25 years old. These watches hold greater value because, with time, only a few of them still remain in existence.
What’s more exciting is the fact that vintage models are sometimes worth three, four, or five times more than new pieces because of their excellent condition despite their age. They possess many features that people desire, like patina, and if you’re fortunate, there’ll be a paper trail of its purchase and ownership as well.
Final Thoughts on Vintage Rolex Watches
Rolex watches rule the vintage luxury watch market. Some might argue that vintage Patek Philippe watches are at best. Still, the limited availability and a relatively higher price point of most models only allow a smaller group to collect them.
Moreover, many vintage Rolex models compete with Patek Philippe watches for both value and desirability. An incredible and varied range exists among vintage Rolex models, making them intriguing targets for Rolex lovers to pursue and collect.
Of course, there are also rare & discontinued features on some particular vintage models that increase their worth. Some vintage traits that make it worth more are the coveted ‘Red Sub’ text, an exclamation point dial, or meters first dial, but there are many more. You can keep these outdated features in mind, but most importantly, they’re vintage and rare.
Apart from that, a vintage Rolex watch paves a way to a whole new world for watch enthusiasts to enjoy thanks to a plethora of price points and a wide variety of different models available. Whether you’re an amateur watch collector with a smaller budget or a seasoned collector with ample cash to spend on vintage timepieces, there are many different vintages Rolex watches to choose from at Twain Time.
Ultimately, what measures you take to guarantee your Vintage Rolex’s authenticity and the condition is up to you. Always communicate with us, and don’t be afraid to ask. After all, this tells you if you’re putting your money to good use or not.
Also, there might be some concerns in people’s minds before investing in Vintage Watches. But all our timepieces at Twain Time come with guaranteed 100% authenticity. And don’t be concerned about anything; Twain Time brings over 30 years of experience in caring for timepieces and jewelry, with its best-in-class repair, maintenance, and restoration.
Also, reinforce and develop our expertise in choosing the best vintage pieces out there, and consider all the factors mentioned in the blog (authenticity, condition, and rarity).
We at Twain Time also offer in-person shopping at our retail store and private appointments conducted on our 3rd-floor concierge level. Book an appointment at 212.256.0303, and experience a one-of-a-kind Vintage Rolex buying experience.