Welcome to the world of vintage Rolex. Interested in buying a vintage Rolex? Considering Rolex’s undeniable luxury appeal and the ability of its watches to hold value, this obviously makes a fine choice. The Rolex brand is second to none when it comes to reputation.

The 2022 Global RepTrack report placed Rolex as the No.1 most reputable brand on the planet and the only watchmaker in the top 100. The brand achieved this position through dependable products and shrewd marketing since 1905 when Hans Wilsdorf went into partnership with his brother-in-law Alfred Davis, creating the watch brand that would eventually become the world-famous Rolex.

Modern Rolex watches are highly sought-after with many models unavailable to buy at retail without being added to a long waiting list, but this is only one good reason to buy a vintage Rolex.

Here are a few others:

  • Variety
    With 118 years of history, the sheer range of watches that Rolex has produced is staggering. Vintage is considered anything older than 20-30 years, but Rolex has been around so long, you could even go antique and look at watches over 100 years old. Amongst these millions of options, there will be something to suit you.
  • History
    Buying a vintage watch is a very different proposition to buying at retail. Buying new means that you are the first, and potentially only, owner of the watch. Buying a vintage watch means that you are buying a piece of history, a watch with a backstory which may be known, or possibly only to be imagined. Select carefully and you could own a watch that represents a significant milestone in watchmaking history.
  • Character
    Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. If you value perfection, vintage is not for you. But if you appreciate how objects can age beautifully over time then you will find much in the world of vintage Rolex watches to delight you. Each watch is unique, with its own history told in the marks on the case and dial, unlike the sterile feeling of a brand-new watch.
  • Value
    The most expensive Rolex watches ever sold at auction have been vintage. The current record is $17.8m for a Rolex Daytona ref. 6239 belonging to the Hollywood actor Paul Newman. There is enormous value to be found in vintage Rolexes.

Most older Rolex watches will be lower in price than their new counterparts, unless they are particularly rare collector’s items. Buying a watch because you believe it will increase in value is always a risky proposition. However, with Rolex, you can be sure that it will retain value better than almost any other watch brand, even if that means a degree of depreciation over time.

Factors to Consider Before Buying a Vintage Rolex

There are many factors to consider when choosing a vintage Rolex watch. Some may be practical, others more driven by personal taste. Do you want something really historic? In that case, an early ‘trench’ style watch in gold or silver from the original Wilsdorf & Davis company would be good.

You could even indulge your inner dandy and go for a pocket watch.

The Rolex Prince, a rectangular watch produced in the 1930s and often referred to as a ‘doctor’s watch’ used to be the collectors’ darling, but fashions have moved onto steel sports models now and so the Prince is a relatively affordable watch. All of these above-mentioned pieces would be special occasion pieces, as they’re too delicate for everyday wear.

For a daily watch you need something in an Oyster case, the robust construction able to withstand the odd bump or knock whether you choose steel or gold. The Datejust, first launched in 1945, offers everyday appeal and can be dressed up or down. From the utility of a plain dial with a steel case on an Oyster bracelet to more flamboyant examples with diamonds on the dial and bezel. The Rolex Day-Date on its ‘President’ bracelet has been a symbol of success for decades and stepping back a few decades for your purchase can make that success a lot more affordable.

Size is an important detail to bear in mind when buying a vintage Rolex. In the 1940s and 50s case diameters of 30mm were not uncommon for men, a size that would now be seen as a small ladies’ watch. However, Rolex’s Oyster case is an asset as the chunky sides and lugs, make them appear larger on the wrist. Even in the smaller case dimensions.

Vintage Rolex sports models, especially in stainless steel, are an area of particular interest to collectors. Prices can quickly go from expensive to eye-watering with barely any visible difference. Understanding the relevant rarity of specific model references and knowing if they are original and correct requires either years of experience or specialist advice.

While the Rolex silhouette is instantly recognisable, there are options for those looking for something a little more offbeat. The Oysterquartz has its own distinctive shape and represents one of the most finely engineered quartz movements ever made, affordable, and relatively rare. The Cellini collection is Rolex’s dress line and has thrown up delightful oddities such as the angular Midas watch, as well as more classically styled formal pieces.

How to Buy a Vintage Rolex Watch

When venturing out to buy a vintage watch, be honest with yourself about your level of knowledge. How much about the subject do you actually know? It is very easy to make errors in the field of ‘unknown unknowns’. Take advice from a reputable dealer, someone who has years of trading history, and some standing in the industry, so that you have recourse if something should go wrong.

Watches are machines, and all machines require a little love and attention from time to time as they get older. Make sure that you have the necessary support should servicing or repairs be required as Rolex themselves may be unable to help with very early watches.

Here are some things to look for when buying a vintage Rolex watch:

  • Condition is everything. It is a false economy to buy a poor example of a ‘sought-after’ watch in the hope that it can be improved. The cost of the necessary parts, even if they are available, would quickly make the exercise uneconomic. Buy the best example you can afford. Vintage pieces in good condition will always be desirable, while a project watch will not.
  • Beware of after-market additions. Restoration is a controversial topic, and much emphasis is put on originality. That said, a watch needs to be legible and functional. If that requires sensitive restoration with as much originality as possible, so be it.
    A professional, high-quality refurbishment of a dial, on the original plate can breathe new life into an otherwise unattractive watch, giving pleasure to a new generation of wearers.All restoration should be disclosed especially when it comes to dials and movements. Older watch dials are not as resilient as their modern counterparts; coatings can discolour, and printing can disintegrate.
  • Try watches on in person if possible. Case size, as mentioned, is very difficult to judge from an online picture. Some small watches wear much more impressively than their dimensions would suggest. Once you know which model suits your wrist, you are better equipped to shop online.
  • There are few bargains in the world of watches. There is just too much information available for sellers to be uninformed. If a watch appears too good to be true, you can be sure there will be a problem. People occasionally find a rarity in a charity shop, but people also win the lottery every week.

Collecting vintage Rolex can be an absorbing and rewarding hobby. This storied brand offers a wealth of heritage with each purchase. Just make sure that you do your research, ask lots of questions and if you are in any way unsure… there will always be another watch.

Buy From the Best

At Vintage Gold Watches, we are passionate about using our expertise to help people find the perfect vintage watch. All of our watches are 100% genuine, authentic and completely original. We acquire the very highest quality watches we can find, before then restoring them to the highest possible standards. Take a look at our extensive Rolex collection.

If you have a clear idea of the Rolex you are looking for, but your search is not proving very fruitful, why not let us do the searching for you? We would love to work with you to find the perfect watch.

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Alan Wood
Alan Wood, founder of Vintage Gold Watches, is a trusted vintage watch dealer with 35+ years of experience. His passion and expertise have earned him a respected reputation in the industry. Vintage Gold Watches, established in 2011, is known for Alan's knowledge and skilled restoration team. With a love for vintage watches since his youth, Alan is thrilled to share the finest timepieces from the 1950s, 60s, and 70s with others, fueling his obsession.