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Should You Ever Customize Your Rolex?

Paul Altieri

It’s hard to imagine that adding diamonds – one of the world’s most coveted and valuable gems – could actually decrease the value of your Rolex. But to be honest, anytime you customize or modify a Rolex watch, it is kind of like putting lipstick on the Mona Lisa. Yeah, maybe she’ll look cooler, but you just altered a perfectly good (and priceless) painting for the sake of aesthetic indulgence.


Maybe I’m being dramatic, but I’m not alone in this philosophy. Rolex intentionally and selectively places every part and component of their watches with purpose and meaning. Purist collectors won’t even consider purchasing a watch that’s been polished, let alone one that’s had aftermarket diamonds inserted or a colorful new face added.

With that being said, I can honestly say that I understand the appeal of customizing your Rolex. Watches are a part of fashion, and I think fashion and style should be fun and personal. At the same time, I don’t think you can modify a Rolex and expect it to age well – as the value will, in all likelihood, decrease, especially as it reaches vintage collectable status. But for the sake of seeing both sides and starting good conversations within the community, I’m going to explore it all – the good, the bad, and the costly.


Customize Your Rolex: The Good

I’m not a total square – I do understand why you’d want to customize your Rolex. Steeped in tradition, Rolex is not the kind of brand that is willing to go out on a limb for the sake of fashion. So, if you’re the kind of person who gets bored of the same old stuff, wants something bespoke, or just generally wants to take a risk, I think customization can be a good option for you.

Today, there are a lot of options out there for aftermarket modifications. You have companies that will totally overhaul your watch to make it look like a long-lost vintage treasure, while others will give you the clear caseback on your Rolex that you have always wanted. You can even get PVD coating on your Rolex case and bracelet for an ever-cool matte-black look. Of course, you also have the option of switching out the dial for the color of your dreams. When you customize your Rolex, you’re going to have a totally unique or pretty unique piece that is sure to catch eyes and start a few conversations.


Customize Your Rolex: The Bad

While customization offers seemingly endless possibilities, it also caps value potential. For serious collectors, this is a big turn-off. Yes, we all got into watch collecting for a love of the objects themselves. But, a big part of the fun is collecting pieces that already hold great value or that will appreciate over time. The minute you start replacing genuine Rolex parts with aftermarket parts – no matter how well-made they are – you are literally taking value from the watch.  

Plus, the chances of reselling the watch also decrease when you customize it. Your customizations may appeal to you, but they might not appeal to other buyers. Plus, you can bet any purist collector will quickly and swiftly walk out the door the second they spot these modifications. If you’re in the market for a watch and the seller mentions custom work or modifications, be extremely weary of this risky investment, or simply avoid it altogether. That is, unless you understand that the watch will be more for fun and fashion than value.


Customize Your Rolex: The Cost

I think I’ve made it pretty clear that customizing your Rolex can decrease its value. I mean, just imagine if you replaced your new Polar Explorer II with an icy blue face, only to find out years down the line that there was another ref. 16550 situation on our hands. A watch that would have aged gracefully and uniquely is now worth pennies compared to its counterparts. Now this is an extreme situation, but I think you get the point.

But there’s another side to this, too. Really good, top-tier customized Rolex watches are going to cost you a heck of a lot. One example is Les Artisans de Genève, who despite being relatively newcomers to the watch customization game, are charing tens of thousands of dollars for aftermarket modifications.


The inspiration for this article actually came from their ‘Tribute to 6240 Tropical,’ which was released and sold out in a matter of weeks for a whopping $35,000. Yeah, its inspiration comes from a $200,000 vintage Daytona – but still. Can you really justify spending all that money on a watch that (technically) isn’t totally a Rolex anymore?

That’s up to you. If you realize that it’s for fashion and fun, sure. But if you’re looking to build a collection with steadfast value and investment potential, then this really isn’t the best option for you.


Paul Altieri

Cate Misczuk is a luxury lifestyle writer for us here at Bob's Watches. With a relatively new adoration for watches, Cate's curiosity has fueled her extensive writing on Rolex and other brands. She is particularly interested in how the market's embracing millennials, has a soft spot for unisex watches and is on a mission to inspire more women to wear mechanical watches.

  1. People get their Rolex watches polished all the time . It’s a common practice to help smooth out scratches . These pre owned watches are still selling very well .

    • Polishing a watch is not considered a customization and Rolex will do it as part of their routine service and repairs. However, should you alter the finish of your watch by having the case custom engraved or PVD coated, the value will likely be significantly impacted.

  2. Still trying to find financing for a used submariner two tone Rolex.

    Affirm not giving me much to move forward with.

    When I do , I will contact you to close the deal


    • In my opinion, if you have to find financing for a watch, you may want to get your priorities on a different path. Buy what you can afford, not what you want, eventually you will have the money to buy what you want. INHO.

  3. Not to mention once modified if you try to use Rolex to service your timepiece if they are willing to touch it at all they will include in their estimate what it will take to restore the timepiece to it’s original configuration and will not usually do any work unless you approve changing it back. Per Rolex once an item is altered they no longer consider it to be a Rolex and if they find it for sale in it’s altered state will say it is fraud if it is still advertised as being a Rolex.

    • Super old comment, but the prevalence of the myth that the warranty canceling nonsense by Rolex is legal deserves a response. Someday Rolex is going to run afoul of an owner who isn’t less connected than the lawyers Rolex employs and the pattern of violation of the Magnuson-Moss Act is going to be very expensive.

      Steamrolling the couple behind La Californienne and the like had given our watch manufacturing friends undeserved confidence that they don’t have to meet their warranty promises when cosmetic changes are made. Skeletonize the movement and movement breaks? Legal. Plate the case and bracelets in DLC or PVD and the movement breaks? Not a valid basis for warranty refusal.

  4. Cate,

    Your article was most interesting (thank you) — however I found out the hard way that there one more very important reason why not to knowingly purchase or alter a Rolex. The manufacturer itself has changed it’s repair policies a year or two ago, and will not repair any watch that contains a non Rolex part … including a non Rolex dial.

    When my spouse’s Rolex was stolen a few years ago – our insurance carrier helped us find a replacement – but unknown to us – the blue dial it contained was not original to the watch. Rolex’s repair facilities in Dallas initially refused to repair it. I called Bob’s as I had purchased my own Rolex President from you all, and for different reasons they would not repair it either.

    Fortunately I had a certificate of authenticity from the seller, several inspections by Rolex certified watch repair people, certified appraisal reports from Rolex dealers who had not detected the foreign part, and the original warranty certificate and thus was able to document that we did not alter it, nor had knowledge it had been altered. Rolex did make an exception for us and the watch is currently under repair in Dallas, to include the removal of the non Rolex dial and replacement with an original part.

    Thank you for the article – and I thought you would be interested in the above additional reason why not to alter one’s Rolex after purchase.

    Dave Rittman

    • Thanks for the additional info Dave!

      Yes, after-sales service is one of the biggest reasons not to alter a Rolex. In the past, Rolex would still service a watch if parts had been customized (to a certain extent) – they would just charge you to replace all of the customized components, but Rolex’s have become increasingly strict. For major cosmetic components such as the case or dial, a non-genuine alternative on a watch will result with Rolex declining the service of the timepiece, regardless of whether or not the owner of the watch is willing to pay for its correct replacement.

  5. I have a GMT #1675 with original black bezel. Would changing to Batman bezel effect it’s value? Thank you.

    • Rolex does not make a black/blue ‘batman’ bezel that will be compatible on your ref. 1675 GMT-Master. They only produce the Batman bezel in ceramic for the new GMT-Master II watches, so it will not be able to installed on your watch.

  6. Rolex installed a green date wheel on my black bezel GMT. I do have the centre links of this bracelet foe this model satinised. Hence, these alterations can be reversed to normal.

    • Should you choose to modify your watch – and assuming the modification is something that can be reversed – holding onto the original components in crucial. In some instances, Rolex will simply to decline to service a watch due to its modifications, so having a way to go back in incredibly important.

  7. My job requires I be able to read my watch in the dark, but my Rolex Datejust 41mm diamond hour marker watch does not come with luminated hands. If I have an authorized dealer change out the hands to luminous Rolex hands how badly will that hurt its value to collectors?


    • There are luminous hands that will fit on your watch, but we would recommend trying to keep your original non-glowing handset should you choose to have your hands replaced, so that you would still have a way to return you watch to its original intended condition.

  8. I agree with retaining collector / vintage value, but some modifications are tastefully done and may appeal to a potential buyer. Artisans de Genève modifications are works of art in my opinion and would achieve collector status if you were fortunate enough to reserve one.

    As far as modifications, I recently took my 18038 President to Rolex in NY for service. The champagne dial was dull, the hands needed to be replaced, along with all other service requirements, so I opted to have the dial swapped out for a white roman numeral dial along with the service. Since this is no where near collector status, the dial upgrade being done by Rolex should at least retain present value if I decide to trade in on an upgrade at a future date. Do modified watches loose value if upgrades are performed by the factory with genuine parts and paperwork to support?? It would be interesting to find out…

    • Parts that are replaced by Rolex at an authorized service center at the time of maintenance or repairs are not considered a modification or customization, but they can still sometimes decrease the value of your watch.

      For your 18038 President, your dial will now be photo-luminescent (rather than having tritium lume that doesn’t glow anymore), but the impact to value will be minimal (if at all). If you had a vintage Submariner from the early 1960s that still had its original dial and you had that dial replaced – even by Rolex, the value would decrease substantially because it would be a newer generation of dial and would impact its value to collectors. With that in mind, things may change in the future, but at the present time, Rolex replacing your dial during service does little to impact the value of your ref. 18038. Hope this helps!

  9. Acquired a ten year old 14060 for a very affordable price. Was original except for crystal, bezel, insert, and had been polished at least once. Now have a sub 2K Kermit wannabe that I can wear every day without worry.

  10. Cate,
    I have a model 116234 I bought last year from Bob’s and is absolutely flawless with provenance, box, papers, books everything even the jewelry store it resided from 2010 to 2012. Forth Rolex
    I’ve purchased.

    Can I be confident this one is pure?

    I’m going to acquire a Submariner or President soon from Bob’s and your article inspired me to do that soon.


    • Thank you for your business! You can rest assured that any watch you buy from us is 100% genuine and backed by our lifetime authenticity guarantee. You won’t find any aftermarket-customized Rolex watches on our site, so feel free to shop worry-free!

  11. Have a SS datejust with an engine turned bezel. Can you put me a 18k white gold bezel in it?

    • Although the part itself would fit on your watch (provided that it is for the same generation of Datejust), it would not be correct for your watch’s reference number. Additionally, we do not perform any modifications – all of the watches we sell are in their original factory-intended configurations or in the exact same configuration in which we receive them. Also, it is worth mentioning that should you choose to modify you watch, there is a chance that Rolex will decline to service it unless it is restored to its original factory-intended configuration.

  12. “Maybe I’m being dramatic,” should read: I’m about to be hella dramatic about other people’s watches: like no one outside the Rolex factory (or their lawfirm) ever has before. Or, “let’s set the bar for dramatic about Rolex watches.”

    A big part of the fun for me is not that my watch may increase in value. First, representational value in objects had a limited half-life. It isn’t going to be long until no one can tell the difference between the real deal and a copy Rolex (or a copy Ferrari for that matter). Buying objects as investments is a bad long-term strategy. Buy something else as investment.

    Second, the only reason I bought my watch–an AdG abomination I paid too much for long before I ever saw it, is because I wanted the watch. It makes me happy. It’s cool to look at. I don’t give two bits about the likelihood that it will not hold the value of the money I paid for it. If someone else wants to stick a twelve cent sticker on the dial of a day date 40 or spray paint the bracelet in pink Rust-Oleum, great, Rust-Oleum it up.

    Why watch collecting has so many people angry about customizations is beyond me. I don’t have 22in wheels on my car, I don’t like the look, and I totally endorse them for anyone who does like them. Plus, every sub or Daytona that a custom shop hacks up is one less competitor in the marketplace. Seems like watch investors should be glad when customizers help create scarcity.

  13. Firstly – if you’re half smart you can make personalisations from reputable Swiss outfits and you can always go for a nice Swiss made custom dial and you can always easily replace it if you wish to sell it as an original later.

    Not everyone buys a watch for resale value. Get real… There’s many better investments than a watch.

    • Resale value certainly isn’t everything, but Rolex will no longer service watches that have custom dials. A custom dial can always be swapped back to an original dial (provided that the owner of the watch retains their original dial), but there are many other customizations that are entirely irreversible. Beyond anything to do with monetary value or collectability, there are many instances where customizing a Rolex may affect its performance and/or its ability to be serviced by an official Rolex Service Center.

  14. Paul, just a really great and informative piece. As a former customer (DateJust) thank you for a great store and support to the community in Newport Beach.

  15. I have a Submariner (w/date) that I purchased new in 2000. This was relatively early in the switch from Tritium to Luminova, and now the hands and dial barely glow any longer. It appears that newer generations of sport watches use an improved/brighter version of Luminova. I have no intentions of ever selling my watch, and would like it to glow so I can tell time in the dark…would I be able to get it “refreshed” with the new materials if I sent it in for service?

    • The current-generation of Rolex Submariner watches features Chromalight for their luminous material, which glows blue in the dark. If you were to get your dial and hands replaced by Rolex, they would likely glow more than your current set, but they would be of the green-glowing Super-LumiNova variety, rather than the later-era Chromalight ones, as this feature was not introduced until the subsequent generation of Submariner watches.

      • Thank you, Paul. Would I be able to request the Chromalight dial/hands….? Or would they not make that kind of upgrade/modification? I have no illusions that my Sub will ever have any collector value, so the improved daily use for me would be a big improvement…

        • Rolex replaces parts on watches with the most current iterations of their direct replacements. However, the dial fitted to your watch is not the exact same as the one fitted to the subsequent generation of the Submariner (the more modern ones are ‘Maxi” dials that feature larger hour markers), so there is a strong possibility that Rolex would just replace your dial with a newer version of the one your already have.
          With that in mind, there is a chance that Rolex has started using Chromalight on its more recently-produced service dials, so our best advice would be to contact your nearest authorized Rolex retailer to inquire about the latest service replacement parts for your particular Submariner reference.