With 2022 already in full swing a lot of people have already purchased the Rolex watches they wanted to add to their collections this year. However, some are still holding out and waiting for their names to come up at local authorized retailers, while countless others are still debating about which models they want to purchase. We always recommend that people should buy what they love and that personal preference should be the number one determining factor when choosing a watch. However, the fact remains that watches can often serve as investments, and the potential future value of a watch is something to consider while you make your decision. So, what are the best investment watches for 2021?
Before we get started, it is important to clarify what we mean by an “investment watch” and let you know that there is no “get rich quick” scheme to be found here. Instead, this guide is meant to highlight some currently undervalued Rolex watches, references that have recently become discontinued, and models that will likely be more expensive to acquire should you delay your purchase by another year. Now, without further ado, here are the best Rolex watches to invest in for 2022.
Table of Contents:
Submariner Models to Invest in for 2021:
– Ref. 116610LN
– Ref. 16610
– Ref. 14060
– Ref. 16613
There are few luxury watches in existence more widely regarded as blue-chip investments than the Rolex Submariner and 2020 was a huge year for the collection, with Rolex discontinuing all existing 40mm models and rolling out a whole new line of models with 41mm cases. Like with any recently released stainless steel Rolex sports model, open market prices for the new Submariner watches are incredibly high; however, this means that the previous generation now represents a highly appealing value proposition.
Despite the 1mm difference in size and some slightly altered proportions, the current ref. 126610LN wears incredibly similar to the previous ref. 116610LN. While the older model lacks the updated Cal. 3235 movement, it can now be purchased for a few thousand dollars less than the brand-new version, while still offering the vast majority of the same features like a Cerachrom (ceramic) bezel, blue-glowing Chromalight lume, and a solid-link bracelet with Glidelock clasp.
Additionally, the older generations with 40mm cases and aluminum bezel inserts, particularly the ref. 16610 and ref. 14060 also offer strong investment potential for 2021. Not only are they among the least expensive Rolex Submariner models available, but they are also the last generation to feature the classic proportions of the watch before the introduction of Super Cases and Maxi dials. These watches saw nearly a 20% increase in value over the course of 2020, and prices continue to stay on the rise for them as we enter the second half of 2021.
Lastly, two-tone watches have been experiencing a resurgence in popularity in recent years, so if it’s a two-tone Submariner that you’re interested in adding to your collection, you can snag the stainless steel and 18k yellow gold ref. 16613 for nearly the same price as the all stainless steel model. For those that are looking for the steel and gold aesthetic, this is a deal that is incredibly hard to pass up, and you will even have the option of either blue or black dials and bezels when choosing a two-tone Submariner.
Rolex Oyster Perpetual
Oyster Perpetual Models to Invest in for 2021:
– Ref. 124300
– Ref. 126000
– Ref. 114300
– Ref. 116000
The Oyster Perpetual is one of the oldest names in Rolex’s catalog and for the last several years, it has occupied the position of being Rolex’s entry-level collection of watches. While there has historically not been all that much hype surrounding the line, 2020 marked a huge year for the Rolex Oyster Perpetual, and the updates to the collection even stole some of the headlines away from the brand-new Submariner.
Along with new movements and a range of vibrant dial colors came a brand new 41mm version of the Oyster Perpetual, which took the place of the largest model in the lineup. The vibrant dial versions of both the 41mm ref. 124300 and 36mm ref. 126000 are both extremely popular and are currently trading hands for anywhere between 50% to 150% above their brand-new retail prices on the open market.
Outside of the current catalog, the recently discontinued Oyster Perpetual 39 ref. 114300 also offers a lot of investment potential as we enter the back half of 2021. In addition to a rather short period of production (given that it was only part of Rolex’s catalog from 2015 to 2020), 39mm is considered to be somewhat of a sweet spot in terms of case size for many collectors, and open market prices for the ref. 114300 have continued to stay on the rise in the time since it was discontinued.
Lastly, with prices for the current-production Oyster Perpetual 36 being as high as they are now, the previous 36mm generation suddenly now offers collectors a lot of value for the money. While they may lack the new generation of movements, timekeeping performance will be identical at -2/+2 seconds per day, and the lugs of the case on the older ref. 116000 are slightly larger than the current model, giving it a slightly larger and more sporty feel on the wrist.
Rolex Explorer & Rolex Explorer II
Explorer Models to Invest in for 2021:
– Ref. 14270
– Ref. 214270
– Ref. 16570
– Ref. 216570
The Rolex Explorer is the brand’s original collection of sports watches, and the Explorer II first appeared in 1971, meaning that this year marks its 50th anniversary. To celebrate the occasion, Rolex released an updated Explorer II and also brought back the classic 36mm sizing for the time-only Explorer, along with introducing a new two-tone version of the watch. Although the new Rolex Explorer II reference 226570 features a new movement and a number of other small refinements, it is largely the same watch as its reference 216570 predecessor, which now represents a strong value proposition compared to the current production model that costs a few thousand dollars more on the open market.
Additionally, due to the fact that the new Explorer II 226570 is so similar to the previous generation, the older reference 16570 is now all the more unique. In addition to featuring smaller 40mm cases, the Explorer II 16570 also features a different GMT hand and a significantly different bracelet design, resulting in a substantially different watch and a favorite among many collectors. Given that the current Rolex Explorer II collection seems to be continuing to head in the direction set by the previous ref. 216570, the older 40mm models such as the ref. 16570 and ref. 16550 are now the go-to options for those seeking a slightly more compact Explorer II watch.
One of the more surprising moves from Rolex in 2021 was the return of the classic 36mm case size for the new Explorer 124270 and the introduction of a two-tone Explorer 124273. While many collectors are happy to see the return of the 36mm case size, there are some who feel that it is too small and prefer the sweet-spot size of the previous 39mm edition. The reference 214270 is now the only 39mm Explorer ever produced but prices haven’t yet spiked to reflect this, so now is the time to buy one should you want to add one to your collection. Additionally, the increased awareness of 36mm Explorer watches has resulted in prices for older models rising, and the reference 14270 has seen a steady increase in price over the course of the last year.
Rolex GMT-Master & Rolex GMT-Master II
GMT-Master Models to Invest in for 2021:
– Ref. 16750
– Ref. 16760
– Ref. 16710
– Ref. 116710LN
The Rolex GMT-Master II is one of the most popular watches in the world and while you can immediately turn a quick profit should you be lucky enough to purchase one of the stainless steel models at a retail level, some of the best investment opportunities among GMT-Master watches in 2021 are the older and discontinued models.
Vintage Rolex prices can be notoriously high, and the ref. 1675 GMT-Master has been rather expensive for a number of years now. However, the subsequent ref. 16570 offers much of the same vintage look and feel with a similar case and acrylic crystal – you can even find older examples with matte dials, but you can typically find ref. 16750 watches for several thousand dollars less than matte dial ref. 1675 watches and nearly half the price of the older gilt dial examples.
In terms of GMT-Master II models, some of the best value for the money exists in the first two generations of the watch, the ref. 16760 and the ref. 16710. The reference 16760 (aka “Fat Lady”) holds the distinction of being the very first iteration of the GMT-Master II, yet it sells for only a very slight premium above the similarly-styled ref. 16710. With that in mind, both models are among the least expensive Rolex GMT-Master II watches available and offer classic styling and case proportions that are becoming increasingly popular among today’s collectors.
Almost equally affordable to the 5-digit series of GMT-Master II watches is the first of the 6-digit models, the ref. 116710LN. While it does not feature a split-color bezel insert (which is probably why it often gets missed), the reference 116710LN does hold the distinction of being the first stainless steel Rolex watch to feature a ceramic bezel and also the only time that the color green has ever made an appearance on a stainless steel Rolex GMT watch. Given its unique appearance and its important role in the context of the history of the brand’s legendary pilot’s watch, it is not likely for prices to stay low forever.
Datejust Models to Invest in for 2021:
– Ref. 1601
– Ref. 16013
– Ref. 16233
– Ref. 116233
To the average person, it is the classic two-tone Rolex Datejust that is model most emblematic of the brand. The Datejust is Rolex’s best-selling watch of all time and the 36mm model in stainless steel and yellow gold became an absolute icon during the peak of its popularity in the 1980s. Instantly recognizable, and arguably one of the most important watches that Rolex has ever created, the classic two-tone Datejust 36 remains shockingly affordable on the pre-owned market relative to the brand’s other mega-famous models.
Because it is such a staple of Rolex’s catalog, the classic two-tone Rolex Datejust with a fluted bezel has been continuously available over the years, and it can now be found in a number of different forms on the pre-owned market. This availability has historically helped to keep prices down; however, as the values for all of Rolex’s other watches continue to increase over the years, the classic two-tone Datejust has suddenly become an undervalued option for those searching for a used Rolex.
Whether you choose the ref. 1601 with its pie-pan dial and acrylic crystal, the ref. 16013 with its flat dial and acrylic crystal, or the ref. 16233 with its flat dial and sapphire crystal, you can add one of these classic Rolex designs to your collection for anywhere between $5k and $8k on the pre-owned market, and this represents only a minor premium in price compared to their stainless steel counterparts.
On the modern side of things, the ref. 116233 offers much of the same look and feel as the current-production model with its solid-link bracelet and redesigned case with thicker lugs. However, with an open market price of several thousand dollars less than the current version, the Datejust 36 reference 116233 represents a relatively small increase in cost over the previous 5-digit generation and a highly attractive option for buyers on the secondary market.
Rolex Day-Date President Watches
Day-Date President Models to Invest in for 2021:
– Ref. 1803
– Ref. 18238
– Ref. 118238
– Ref. 218238
With prices for stainless steel Rolex models on the rise for a number of years now, gold Rolex watches have suddenly started to offer strong relative value on the secondary market. Likely helped along by surging gold prices and the economic uncertainty that accompanies a global pandemic, gold watches have been experiencing a resurgence in popularity and one that is most obvious when looking at the Rolex Day-Date collection.
Just like the Datejust, the Rolex Day-Date President is an iconic design and a true industry staple that is instantly recognizable all over the world. To many individuals, the Rolex President is the quintessential gold watch, and models such as the ref. 1803 and ref. 18238 are older iterations of a timeless classic that will always be in style and guaranteed to never be worth a cent less than their weight in 18 karat gold.
For a more modern look and feel, the ref. 118238 offers a similar overall wearing experience to the current-production 36mm model due to its solid-link 18k gold bracelet and updated case with thicker high-polished lugs. With prices currently hovering around $23k, the ref. 118238 does represent a significant step up in price compared to the previous 5-digit generation, but this is still more than $10k below the retail price of the current model and we anticipate this gap to narrow if gold prices continue to remain high.
Many collectors forget about the Rolex Day-Date II – the biggest Rolex President ever created. Only produced between 2008 and 2015 and offering a design that is bolder and more sporty in its overall appearance, the Day-Date II has a 41mm case, making it 1mm larger than the current Day-Date 40 model. Much of the current Rolex collecting world is focused on the brand’s various vintage sports models and at the present time, Day-Date II watches sell for similar prices to their 40mm siblings. With that in mind, not all that many Rolex Day-Date II watches were made, and there’s a good chance that these super-sized Presidents may become the next hot model for tomorrow’s collectors.
Date Models to Invest in for 2021:
– Ref. 1503
– Ref. 1507
– Ref. 15037
– Ref. 15238
The 34mm Rolex Date has always existed as a slightly smaller and more affordable alternative to the classic 36mm Datejust but just this year, Rolex finally discontinued it entirely from its catalog. Prior to being discontinued, Rolex only offered the 34mm Date in either stainless steel or White Rolesor (stainless steel with a white gold bezel); however, it has been the older full yellow gold models that have seen the greatest surge in popularity in recent years.
Initially produced in 14k and then later 18k gold, these premium versions of the Rolex Date offer significant savings compared to their 36mm siblings. Generally speaking the 14k models like the ref. 1503 and ref. 15037 are less expensive than their 18k counterparts such as the ref. 15238; however, prices for all of these solid yellow gold Rolex Date models currently hover around the $8k to $12k price range. While this still represents a significant step up from the price range of similar stainless steel models, it also represents about half the price you might expect to pay for a yellow gold example from the 36mm Rolex Day-Date President collection.
It is also worth noting that you will find a fair number of interesting design details and quirks when it comes to these unusual 34mm gold Rolex watches. Models like the ref. 1503 and ref. 15037 feature 14k gold (all modern Rolex watches use 18k, regardless of color), while the reference 15238 features a gold rivet link bracelet despite not being released until the very end of the 1980s, which was long after the rivet-style had been replaced on other models.
Given the costly nature of their raw materials, there exists somewhat of a price floor for solid gold watches, and one that can fluctuate with the current price of gold. However these 34mm models represent some of the least expensive solid gold Rolex watches available, and collectors have been taking note of these often overlooked models in more recent years. Furthermore, due to the fact that the Rolex Date is now discontinued entirely, it is likely that interest will continue in these models throughout the rest of 2021, especially if gold prices continue to stay high as they have been during the last several years.
Sea-Dweller Models to Invest in for 2021:
– Ref. 1665
– Ref. 16660
– Ref. 16600
– Ref. 116600
As an entire collection, the Rolex Sea-Dweller is relatively undervalued. Due to the massive notoriety of the Submariner, the brand’s other series of professional dive watches often gets overlooked by collectors. Despite the fact that the Sea-Dweller offers superior performance and is less common than the Submariner, you can often purchase a Rolex Sea-Dweller for roughly the same price on the secondary market.
Given that it was the very first Rolex Sea-Dweller and the model that helped pioneer the helium escape valve, it is slightly surprising that the ref. 1665 is not more expensive than it is today. The ultra-collectible Double Red (DRSD) and Single Red (SRSD) watches are certainly quite expensive, but the “Great White” ref. 1665 is remarkably attainable for being the first iteration of one of Rolex’s premier tool watch collections, and the only Sea-Dweller reference to ever be fitted with an acrylic crystal.
The two subsequent generations of the Rolex Sea-Dweller, the ref. 16660 “Triple Six” and ref. 16600 both feature 40mm cases with flat sapphire crystals and aluminum bezel inserts. Unless you want a matte dial version of the transitional ref. 16660, you can expect to pay somewhere in the neighborhood of $9k to $11k for one of these watches, which is roughly the same as the point of entry for the Submariner collection, despite the Sea-Dweller’s superior performance metrics.
Just like the rest of the Rolex Sea-Dweller collection, the ref. 116600 is a truly special watch that often just gets overlooked by many collectors. The reference 116600 was only produced between 2014 and 2017 and it represents both the last 40mm Sea-Dweller and the first one to feature a ceramic bezel insert. Additionally, it was the last Sea-Dweller model that Rolex produced with a Cyclops-free crystal before one was added with the arrival of the next generation. Not that many examples of the ref. 116600 were produced, and although prices are still relatively affordable at this time, they will likely only continue to increase as they have been for the last several years as more collectors become aware of this unique reference.
Air-King Models to Invest in for 2021:
– Ref. 5500
– Ref. 14010
– Ref. 114200
– Ref. 114234
We have been saying it for years, but the older 34mm Rolex Air-King watches represent some of the best value for the money in all of watch collecting. While the current production 40mm model may now be trading hands for more than its retail price on the open market, the older iterations of the Air-King are some of the most affordable Rolex watches available.
The ref. 5500 is the quintessential vintage Rolex Air-King, and due to its long production period of approximately 1958 to 1989, examples are plentiful on the pre-owned market with prices starting out between $3k and $4k. Classic, minimal, and instantly recognizable as a Rolex, the reference 5500 has historically been one of the most affordable Rolex watches and as demand for the brand continues to grow, it is only natural for the value of this entry-level model to also increase.
For a slightly more modern and intricate take on the classic 34mm Air-King, the ref. 14010 offers an updated movement, a sapphire crystal, and a unique engine-turned bezel. Some collectors may prefer the classic smooth bezel of the ref. 14000 but the engine turned version on the ref. 14010 gives the watch a slightly larger wrist presence and helps set it apart from other models, as this style of bezel was never made available on Rolex’s various 36mm watches. Prices and demand for this generation of Air-King have been on the rise for a few years now, and it is a trend that we anticipate will continue as we enter the second half of 2021.
Lastly, the discontinued 34mm models with 6-digit reference numbers, such as the ref. 114200 and ref. 114234 offer arguably the most value for the money among the entire Rolex Air-King collection. In terms of price, they are negligibly more expensive than the 5-digit generation, but that extra money gets you a chronometer-certified movement, a solid-link bracelet with a redesigned clasp, and access to a number of unusual and colorful dial styles. With the popularity of the current production Air-King now bringing a greater amount of attention to this often overlooked Rolex collection, it is only natural for prices to increase across the board as an increasing number of people try to add them to their collections.
Ladies Rolex Watches
Ladies Rolex Models to Invest in for 2021:
– Ref. 69173
– Ref. 69138
– Ref. 169622
– Vintage Cocktail Watches
For women’s Rolex watches, some of the best investment pieces for 2021 come from older, discontinued models that are only now starting to experience a resurgence of appreciation. For many years, modern trends were all favoring larger watches for women, which has helped keep prices low for the classically sized 26mm models and other smaller watches from the brand’s history.
Models such as the two-tone Lady-Datejust ref. 69173 and solid 18k gold with diamond bezel Lady-President ref. 69138 offer all of the same quality and iconic styling that defines the brand today, just with 26mm cases that are slightly smaller than the current 28mm models that Rolex now produces. Both of these 26mm watches sell for roughly half the price of their newer 28mm counterparts on the pre-owned market, and women have taken note of the fantastic value that they offer. We have seen a big increase in the overall popularity of older 26mm ladies’ watches, and we only expect this to continue throughout the rest of 2021.
While the current smallest sports model is the \ Yacht-Master 37, Rolex previously produced both 35mm midsize and 29mm Lady Yacht-Master models, such as the ref. 169622. With a very managable case diameter, the Rolex Lady Yacht-Master is an obvious choice for women who desire a model with a sporty design, but who do not want to wear a large or oversized watch. While it only represents a small premium in price compared to a standard two-tone Lady-Datejust from a similar era, the Lady Yacht-Master will likely only become more expensive in the coming years as it remains the only women’s sports watch Rolex has ever created during the modern era.
Before Rolex started using its Oyster case as the basis for all its watches outside the Cellini collection, the brand produced a number of incredibly small and elegant women’s timepieces that are today collectively known as Rolex ladies cocktail watches. Blurring the lines between timepieces and jewelry, these models are typically crafted from solid gold and often set with diamonds. However, due to their small size, inherently vintage aesthetic, and relative obscurity, you can pick up a solid yellow gold example with a diamond bezel for under $3k on the pre-owned market and we don’t expect that to be a value proposition that lasts forever.