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ROLEX BLOG

What Is the Most Affordable Rolex Watch?

February 26, 2021

BY Paul Altieri

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It is no secret that prices for Rolex watches keep going up each year. In addition to Rolex’s own price increases at a retail level, the pre-owned market has also seen significant increases in price over the last several years due to a growing global demand that far exceeds the relatively fixed supply. Certain Rolex models that could be purchased for just a few thousand dollars several years ago are now trading hands for nearly five-figures on the open market, and prices for pre-owned examples of many current-production models are now far greater than their original retail prices simply because there is no way to buy a brand-new one without spending a significant amount of time on a waiting list.

With that in mind, not all Rolex watches have reached stratospheric levels of value (yet), and there are a number of affordable models that can still be purchased for surprisingly affordable prices. While virtually all of Rolex’s sports no longer qualify for the budget-friendly category, there are still quite a few iconic classics that can be added to your collection for just a few thousand dollars.

 

Rolex Oyster Perpetual – Reference 1002

Most Affordable Rolex Watch Oyster Perpetual 1002

Oyster Perpetual 1002 Key Features:

Case Size: 34mm

Materials: Stainless Steel

Functions: Time w/ Running Seconds

Dial: Multiple Options Available

Bezel: Fixed, Stainless Steel, Smooth Style

Crystal: Acrylic

Movement: Automatic, Caliber 1560 or Caliber 1570

Rolex Oyster Perpetual

The Rolex Oyster Perpetual is the brand’s entry-level collection of watches that adhere to a minimalist set of features, while still offering all the hallmark traits that define a Rolex watch. The Oyster Perpetual gets its name from Rolex’s two most important technologies – its waterproof “Oyster” case and its self-winding “Perpetual” movement. The model first made an appearance during the 1930s and the Oyster Perpetual has remained a constant presence in Rolex’s catalog ever since, continuously evolving but never abandoning its clean and classic design.

The reference 1002 is a vintage model from the Rolex Oyster Perpetual line. While there are certain examples of the ref. 1002 that were produced in precious metal configurations, the vast majority of Oyster Perpetual 1002 watches are constructed from stainless steel, and it is these steel models that consistently rank among the least expensive Rolex watches available. Regardless of their materials or year of production, all Rolex Oyster Perpetual ref. 1002 watches are fitted with a smooth bezel, a chronometer-certified movement, and a classic dial that is the definition of timeless design.

Rolex Date – Reference 1501

Cheapest Rolex Watch Date 1501

Date 1501 Key Features:

Case Size: 34mm

Materials: Stainless Steel

Functions: Time w/ Running Seconds, Date Display

Dial: Multiple Options Available

Bezel: Fixed, Stainless Steel, Engine Turned Style

Crystal: Acrylic w/ Cyclops Lens

Movement: Automatic, Caliber 1565 or Caliber 1575

Date

As the slightly smaller sibling to the Datejust, the 34mm Rolex Date represents a classic and highly versatile option that can be worn on virtually any wrist. The Rolex Date first made an appearance during the 1950s, and although it historically has not been offered in quite the same number of different configurations as its larger Datejust sibling, the two watches both feature Oyster cases fitted with chronometer-certified movements that feature automatically changing date displays, so the Rolex Date makes zero compromises when it comes to build quality and performance.

The reference 1501 is a vintage example from the Rolex Date collection that is fitted with a discontinued style of engine-turned bezel that can only be found on older 34mm Rolex watches. While there are some solid 14k gold examples of the ref. 1501, most were produced in stainless steel and you will find examples of this watch fitted with a variety of different dial styles. With the iconic Cyclops magnification lens sitting above the date display at 3 o’clock, the Date 1501 is immediately recognizable as a Rolex, while its engine turned bezel provides it with a unique and inherently vintage overall aesthetic that helps separate it from other Rolex models from the same era.

Vintage Rolex Ladies Cocktail Watch

Most Affordable Rolex Watch Vintage Cocktail Watch

Ladies Cocktail Watch Key Features:

Case Size: 15mm

Materials: 14k Yellow Gold

Functions: Time-Only

Dial: Multiple Options Available

Bezel: Fixed, Diamond-Set (Other Options Available)

Crystal: Acrylic

Movement: Manual-Wind, 17-Jewels

Rolex Vintage Ladies Watches

These days, almost every single watch that Rolex produces is fitted with its waterproof Oyster case, and the brand no longer manufactures anything with a case size less than 28mm. However, this has not always been the case and a quick look at Rolex’s vintage offerings will reveal a number of small and ultra-elegant timepieces that are truly unlike anything you will find in the brand’s catalog today. Known as cocktail watches, these models were originally designed specifically for women and typically feature 14k gold cases paired with unique mesh-style bracelets.

Despite their solid gold construction and 17-jewel mechanical movements, these vintage ladies cocktail watches are some of the absolute least expensive Rolex models available. A budget of just a few thousand dollars is enough to purchase one with a stunning diamond-set bezel, and if you want one of the more simple models with a plain bezel, you can expect to pay even less than that. Although these vintage cocktail watches do not have the water-resistance or instantly recognizable styling that Rolex is known for today, they offer a highly refined and elegant aesthetic that is entirely unlike anything you will find in the brand’s contemporary catalog.

Rolex Air-King – Reference 5500

Cheapest Rolex Watch Air-King 5500

Air-King 5500 Key Features:

Case Size: 34mm

Materials: Stainless Steel

Functions: Time w/ Running Seconds

Dial: Multiple Options Available

Bezel: Fixed, Stainless Steel, Smooth Style

Crystal: Acrylic

Movement: Automatic, Caliber 1520 or Caliber 1530

Rolex Air-King

The Rolex Air-King was first created after Rolex Founder Hans Wilsdorf heard that pilots in World War II were discarding their cheap standard-issue timepieces, and instead using privately-purchased Rolex watches due to their superior precision and reliability. Although the Air-King name first appeared in the Rolex catalog in 1945, it did not become its own standalone collection until 1958. Just like the wristwatches that were favored by pilots during WWII, the Rolex Air-King has always adhered to a minimalist set of features and an affordable price, which has consistently made it one of the most affordable Rolex watches available, both at a retail level and on the pre-owned market.

The reference 5500 was the first Rolex Air-King model that the brand produced when the collection was launched in 1958 and it enjoyed a remarkably long production run, remaining a part of the brand’s catalog until it was finally retired at the beginning of the 1990s. Due to its non-chronometer-rated movement, the ref. 5500 was always one of the least expensive Rolex models while it was in production, and a large number of examples available have helped it maintain its highly-attractive price point all these years later. Celebrated by collectors for its timeless design and rock-solid reliability, the Rolex Air-King 5500 is a fantastic vintage reference with an amazing history that makes a great addition to any luxury watch collection.

Rolex Lady-Datejust – Reference 69173

Most Affordable Rolex Watch Lady-Datejust 69173

Lady-Datejust 69173 Key Features:

Case Size: 26mm

Materials: Stainless Steel & 18k Yellow Gold

Functions: Time w/ Running Seconds, Date Display

Dial: Multiple Options Available

Bezel: Fixed. 18k Yellow Gold, Fluted Style

Crystal: Sapphire w/ Cyclops Lens

Movement: Automatic, Caliber 2135

Rolex Lady-Datejust

The Datejust is often considered to be the quintessential Rolex watch and it is the brand’s best-selling model of all time. Credited as being the timepiece that first set the standard for how a calendar display on a wristwatch should function, the Rolex Datejust has become an industry staple and one of the cornerstone offerings in the brand’s catalog. In 1957, Rolex launched the Lady-Datejust collection, which offers all of the same iconic styling and legendary performance but in a smaller case size, making it perfectly suited for women who want a more compact version of Rolex’s signature date-displaying wristwatch.

The reference 69173 is the two-tone version of the Rolex Lady-Datejust that pairs stainless steel with 18k yellow gold for a durable yet luxurious watch that can be worn every single day and paired with virtually any attire without ever looking even the slightest bit out of place. Offering modern features such as a scratch-resistant sapphire crystal and a quick-set date movement where the calendar display can be adjusted independently from the time, the ref. 69173 is perfectly suited for everyday wear and use and it can be purchased for a fraction of the price of its more modern Lady-Datejust siblings.

Rolex Cellini – Reference 5115

Cheapest Rolex Watch Cellini 5115

Cellini 5115 Key Features:

Case Size: 32mm

Materials: 18k Yellow Gold

Functions: Time-Only

Dial: Multiple Options Available

Bezel: Fixed. 18k Yellow Gold, Smooth Style

Crystal: Sapphire

Movement: Manual-Wind, Caliber 1602

Cellini

The Rolex Cellini is the brand’s dedicated line of dress watches, and it is easily the most overlooked collection in its entire catalog. Only ever crafted from either solid gold or platinum, Rolex Cellini watches trade water resistance in exchange for highly refined styling and the ability to effortlessly slip under the sleeve of a shirt, making them the perfect watches for pairing with formal attire. While their precious metal cases mean that they are anything but affordable when purchased at a retail level, the fact that Cellini watches are often overlooked means that they are actually some of the least expensive Rolex watches available when shopping on the pre-owned market.

Part of the reason why the Cellini collection has historically been overlooked is due to the fact that many of its designs were simply too unconventional for the general public. However, the reference 5115 is one of the more traditional Rolex Cellini models available, pairing an ultra-thin round, the ultra-thin case made from solid 18k gold with a scratch-resistant sapphire crystal and a hand-wind mechanical movement. As is fitting for a refined dress watch, the Rolex Cellini 5115 is fitted with a black leather strap and a matching 18k gold tang buckle. With Rolex prices continuing to climb every year, the fact that you can still buy a solid gold Rolex watch for only a few thousand dollars is somewhat mind-blowing (to say the least).

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