A vintage Rolex is a unique Rolex. While there may be other models and reference numbers out there, the way an individual watch ages throughout the years makes it a totally unique piece that tells the story of the life that it has lived. It’s this uniqueness in its appearance and condition – alongside the possibility of rare variations within a reference – that can make vintage Rolex watches so valuable.
However, because the way a watch will age is different for each model and reference, let alone for each individual piece, it’s pretty impossible to quantify a formula to figure out the value for every single vintage watch. However, there are certain details on Rolex models that will give yourself clues as to the rarity, uniqueness, and possible value that a vintage Rolex may hold.
As a general rule of thumb, the condition is always key. The fewer scratches, dents and overall damage to your vintage Rolex, the better the value. However, when it comes to vintage Rolex watches, there is almost always an exception to the rule. For example, a number of vintage GMT-Master and Submariner watches are actually worth more due to their ‘worn’ faded bezels – which are now known as ‘ghost bezels’ by many of today’s vintage collectors.
This wasn’t a trait Rolex ever expected their bezels to have, but due to a defect mixed with long-term sun exposure and other elements of wear and tear like saltwater exposure, their anodized aluminum bezels have faded to unique colors such as sky blue, fuchsia, and gray. So when looking at a vintage Rolex yourself, carefully consider the condition, and be on the lookout for desirable wear or ‘defects’ like a faded ghost bezel, which actually may prove to increase the overall value of the watch.
The value of a vintage Rolex watch lies heavily on its originality. If a vintage watch has ever been serviced over the years, there’s a chance that parts were replaced with newer ones as the original ones become faulty over the years due to regular wear and the natural aging process. There’s also a chance that the watch was polished, which is a big no-no for those looking to retain the maximum value of their vintage Rolex.
For example, let’s say the owner of a Rolex Submariner with a ‘ghost’ bezel wanted to replace the insert when it started fading. Not only would their watch actually be worth less money because it would not have the faded bezel in the first place, but it would also be worth less money because the replacement bezel insert – even though it is entirely genuine – would be a later-era service replacement part, rather than its original factory-fitted components. So when shopping for a vintage Rolex, always double-check about the details regarding the watch’s components. In many cases, the presence of genuine replacement components will hardly impact the value of a watch; however in certain cases, what may seem like a small change could significantly detract from its resale value.
Vintage Rolex Dial, Bezel & Reference Variations
Many Rolex watches have been around for decades, which means that they have seen various upgrades and changes throughout the years. Rolex has been quite true to their roots in the sense that they don’t drastically change the aesthetic of their watches. however, despite adhering to tradition, their dial, bezel and other reference-specific variations have occurred throughout the years. One great example of this is the ‘meters first’ dial on the Submariner.
On modern Rolex Submariner watches, the depth rating appears with the feet-measurement first followed by meters (1000ft = 300m). However, on the older Mark I, Mark II, and Mark III dials, the order is reversed, and they read with the meters first. The meters-first dials are far more rare and valuable than their feet-first counterparts, making them highly collectible, yet this is a relatively subtle detail that can easily be overlooked by those not familiar with vintage Rolex watches. Being able to pick up on subtle differences will help you spot key, important details when shopping for your next vintage Rolex.