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ROLEX BLOG

The Best Rolex Watches as Investments for 2021: Ultimate Buying Guide

December 28, 2020

BY Paul Altieri

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With 2020 drawing to a close, a lot of people have turned their sights to next year and are already contemplating what Rolex watches they might light to add to their collection in 2021. 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 2021.

Rolex Submariner

Submariner Models to Invest in for 2021:

– Ref. 116610LN

– Ref. 16610

– Ref. 14060

– Ref. 16613

Rolex Submariner

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 near-identical to the previous ref. 116610LN. While the older model lacks the updated Cal. 3235 movement, it can now be purchased for several thousand dollars less than the brand-new model, while still offering the vast majority of the same features like a Cerachrom (ceramic) bezel, 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 have already seen nearly a 20% increase in value over the course of 2020 and will likely continue to remain desirable as we enter 2021.

Lastly, two-tone watches have been experiencing a resurgence in popularity in recent years, so if its 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.

Rolex Oyster Perpetual

Oyster Perpetual Models to Invest in for 2021:

– Ref. 124300

– Ref. 126000

– Ref. 114300

– Ref. 116000

Rolex Oyster Perpetual

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’ 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 around 50% to 70% 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 2021. In addition to a rather short period of production, only remaining 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 already increased in the months since it was discontinued.

Lastly, with prices for the current-production Oyster Perpetual 36 being as high as they are now, the previous generation of 36mm models suddenly offers collectors a lot of value for the money. While they may lack the new generation of movements, timekeeping performance will be identical and the lugs of the case on the older ref. 116000 are slightly larger than the current model, giving it a larger and more sporty feel on the wrist.

Rolex Explorer & Rolex Explorer II

Best Investment Rolex Explorer II Polar 16570

Explorer Models to Invest in for 2021:

– Ref. 14270

– Ref. 214270

– Ref. 16570

– Ref. 216570

Rolex Explorer

The Rolex Explorer is the brand’s original collection of sports watches, and the Explorer II first appeared in 1971, meaning that 2021 marks the 50th anniversary of the follow-up collection. Rolex loves releasing new models to celebrate the anniversaries of its watches, and with the current-production ref. 216570 now a full 10 years old, it is highly likely that we will see a new Explorer II in 2021.

As a whole, the Explorer II collection is undervalued, so the launch of a new model (and the corresponding retail price increase), will almost guarantee that older models will also increase in value on the secondary market. Already trading hands for slightly more than its brand-new retail price on the open market, the current ref. 216570 will likely only become more expensive if it becomes discontinued. Similarly, prices for the older 40mm ref. 16570 have already been on the rise for several years now, and they are only expected to increase further should Rolex release a 50th Anniversary Explorer II watch in 2021.

Lastly, while we anticipate new Explorer II models in 2021, many of the classic time-only Rolex Explorer references are currently undervalued with today’s prices. Vintage examples have been expensive for quite a few years now, but the older 36mm models like the ref. 14270 and ref. 114270 offer strong value on the pre-owned market. Additionally, the 39mm ref. 214270 is currently among the least expensive Rolex sports watches and prices for the model are only likely to increase as the values of all the other steel sports watches continue to rise.

Rolex GMT-Master & Rolex GMT-Master II

Best Investment Rolex GMT-Master II 116710LN

GMT-Master Models to Invest in for 2021:

– Ref. 16750

– Ref. 16760

– Ref. 16710

– Ref. 116710LN

Rolex GMT

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 retail level, some of the best investment opportunities among GMT-Master watches in 2021 are the older 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 than matte dial ref. 1675 watches and nearly half the price of the 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 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.

Rolex Datejust

Best Investment Rolex Datejust 116233

Datejust Models to Invest in for 2021:

– Ref. 1601

– Ref. 16013

– Ref. 16233

– Ref. 116233

Rolex Datejust

To the average person, it is the classic two-tone Rolex Datejust that is 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 models 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 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’ other watches have increased over the years, the classic two-tone Datejust has suddenly become undervalued when 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 $4k and $7k 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 of 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 reference 116233 represents only a small increase in price over the previous 5-digit generation and a highly attractive option for buyers on the secondary market.

Rolex Day-Date President Watches

Best Investment Rolex Day-Date President 18238

Day-Date President Models to Invest in for 2021:

– Ref. 1803

– Ref. 18238

– Ref. 118238

– Ref. 218238

Rolex Day-Date

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 in 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 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 lugs. With prices currently hovering just above $22k, 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 less than the retail price of the current model and we anticipte this gap to narrow, especially 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.

Rolex Date

Best Investment Rolex Date 15037

Date Models to Invest in for 2021:

– Ref. 1503

– Ref. 1507

– Ref. 15037

– Ref. 15238

Rolex Date

The 34mm Rolex Date has always existed as a slightly smaller and more affordable alternative to the classic 36mm Datejust and over the years it has been produced in a number of different materials and configurations. At the present time, Rolex only offers the Date collection in either stainless steel or stainless steel with a white gold bezel (White Rolesor), yet it has been the solid gold models from the brand’s past 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 Date offer a 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 siblings like the ref. 18238; however prices for all of these solid yellow gold Rolex Date models currently hover around the $7k to $10k 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 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 – 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 recent years. It is likely that interest will continue in these models as we enter 2021, especially if gold prices continue to stay high as they have been during most of this year.

Rolex Sea-Dweller

Best Investment Rolex Sea-Dweller 1665

Sea-Dweller Models to Invest in for 2021:

– Ref. 1665

– Ref. 16660

– Ref. 16600

– Ref. 116600

Rolex Sea-Dweller

As an entire collection, the Rolex Sea-Dweller is relatively undervalued. Due to the massive notoriety of the Submariner, the brand’s other professional dive watch 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 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 $10k 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 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 affordable as this time, they will likely only increase in 2021 as more collectors become aware of this unique reference.

Rolex Air-King

Best Investment Rolex Air-King 114200

Air-King Models to Invest in for 2021:

– Ref. 5500

– Ref. 14010

– Ref. 114200

– Ref. 114234

Rolex Air-King

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 at under $3k. 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, 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 we anticipate will continue as we enter 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 machined 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

Best Investment Rolex Lady-Datejust 69138 Diamond Bezel

Ladies Rolex Models to Invest in for 2021:

– Ref. 69173

– Ref. 69138

– Ref. 169622

– Vintage Cocktail Watches

Ladies Rolex

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 in 2021.

While the current smallest model in the range in the midsize Yacht-Master 37, Rolex previously produced both midsize and Lady Yacht-Master models, such as the ref. 169622. With a 29mm 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, the brand produced a number of incredibly small and elegant women’s watches 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.

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3 Responses to “The Best Rolex Watches as Investments for 2021: Ultimate Buying Guide”

  1. Alan michaels says:

    In the latest discussion of the sea dweller there was no mention of the James Cameron and it’s collectably

  2. ermanno Magnanini says:

    vERY INTERESTING ARTICLE ON SEA DWELLERS

  3. Neildano says:

    Rolex made a mistake, error making the new explorer 36mm. I like the watch but would not purchase one at that size. Bad idea. Won’t sell

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