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3 Great Vintage Watches To Start Building Your Collection

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Paul Altieri

Starting a vintage Rolex collection can sometimes be a bit daunting. When you start off, it’s hard not to have your eyes set on the awesome, big money pieces you hope to own one day. You dream of digging one up at a thrift store and getting it for a steal, or just consolidating your collection and investing big in something truly iconic like a James Bond Submariner or a Paul Newman Daytona.

But the fun part of watch collecting, particularly vintage watch collecting, is investing in pieces you truly love – ones that you can wear daily, and that are going to hold their value (and if you’re lucky, even increase in price). Here, we’ve carefully chosen a few vintage Rolex watches from the Bob’s vault that are great pieces for starting a collection, and that aren’t just your humble entry-level models. While you can get yourself a vintage Rolex for just a few thousand dollars, there’s also something to be said for spending a bit more and starting off your vintage Rolex collection with one of the models that will truly make you happy. Here are a few classics that have universal appeal, with models ranging from stainless steel to solid gold, and everything in between.

Vintage Rolex President 1803

Vintage Rolex President 1803

This vintage Rolex Day-Date 1803 is the perfect starting place for anyone with their heart set on Rolex’s flagship collection. Also known as the Rolex President, this classic dress watch can be a staple in any collection, and for many people, it could easily be the only luxury watch that they will ever need. But, what we really love about this Rolex 1803 is that ‘pie pan’ dial. The unique face is what makes this watch a great piece to have in your collection, as it provides this particular model with an inherently vintage look and feel, and visually separates it from all subsequent Day-Date references. The Rolex President 1803 is a staple model with an iconic retro twist that’s sure to add value to your watch box and always have a meaningful place in your collection.

What we also love about this watch is the 36mm case crafted from solid 18k yellow gold, along with its instantly-recognizable fluted bezel, which perfectly highlights the model’s signature pie-pan dial. Given that the Day-Date is Rolex’s flagship collection, the reference 1803 is powered by an in-house, COSC chronometer-certified automatic movement that features automatically changing displays for both the date of the month and the day of the week (spelled out in-full and available in multiple different languages). It’s often said that the Rolex Day-Date is the world’s most famous gold watch, and the reference 1803 is the quintessential vintage example of this iconic and instantly-recognizable Rolex model.

Vintage Rolex Date 1503

Vintage Rolex Date 1503

A timeless watch in an unexpected luxurious execution, this yellow gold vintage Rolex Date 1503 is another great starting point for collectors who are looking for a more premium offering. In its normal stainless steel form, the Rolex Date is one of the absolute most affordable vintage Rolex watches currently available. However, the reference 1503 swaps out stainless steel for solid 14k yellow gold in order to create a highly luxurious take on a familiar classic.

The versatile 34mm case wears wonderfully on a wide variety of wrist sizes and it gives the yellow gold Rolex Date 1503 a universal appeal and a slightly more compact profile compared to similar famous Rolex models such as the Datejust and Day-Date. With that in mind, rather than being crafted from 18k gold, the reference 1503 is made from solid 14k yellow gold, and it can be found with either Oyster or Jubilee bracelet styles in matching 14k gold. We love how this model is fitted with Rolex’s ionic fluted bezel, compared to the more traditional smooth bezels that are fitted to the majority of the stainless steel Rolex Date models, and it offers a luxurious element that makes it immediately identifiable as one of Rolex’s designs. 

We can’t fail to mention that just like its larger Datejust sibling, the Rolex Date 1503 is powered by the COSC chronometer-certified Caliber 1575 self-winding movement, which drives the trio of yellow gold hands and the automatically changing date display at 3-o’clock. Finally, while the ref. 1503 offers all of the hallmark traits of a Rolex and is crafted from solid gold, the simple fact that it is made from 14k gold rather than 18k gold makes it significantly less expensive than its slightly larger 36mm siblings from either the Datejust or Day-Date collections.

Vintage Rolex GMT-Master 16753

Vintage Rolex GMT-Master 16753

You don’t have to start off your vintage Rolex collection with a traditional three-handed watch; you can also just as easily invest in one of the brand’s legendary innovative tool watches. What we love about this two-tone GMT-Master 16753 is that this watch is just as cool and functional today as it was decades ago when it was first produced. Originally built for pilots in conjunction with Pan Am Airlines, the GMT-Master collection features an additional 24-hour hand and a rotating 24-hour bezel, which allows it to simultaneously display two different time zones. While the Rolex GMT-Master is ideal for pilots, it also makes a perfect travel watch and has become one of the brand’s most popular models.

The reference 16753 is the stainless steel and yellow gold version of the GMT-Master, and the look of this watch is absolutely killer. We love the two-tone case and bracelet pairing warm yellow gold against durable stainless steel. Available with either brown or black dials and matching bezel inserts, the Rolex GMT-Master 16753 exudes vintage style and it offers a luxurious twist on the brand’s original utilitarian pilot’s watch. Lastly, arguably the best thing about the two-tone GMT-Master 16753 is that you can often find examples available on the pre-owned market for roughly the same price – or sometimes even less than their standard stainless steel counterparts, despite the fact that these steel and gold models were significantly more expensive when they were originally sold at retailers.

BONUS: Vintage Rolex Submariner 5513

Vintage Rolex Submariner 5513

If you want to start your collection off with a watch that has some real provenance and doesn’t have a whiff of gold or precious metals anywhere on it, then we suggest a collectible vintage Rolex sports model such as the Submariner 5513. A Submariner model like this will cost you a little bit more than a newer example of Rolex’s iconic dive watch, but it’s a great investment piece because the reference 5513 is often considered to be the quintessential vintage Submariner.

The ref. 5513 was produced from 1962 all the way through the 1980s, and it can be found with all three different styles of Submariner dials (gilt, matte, and gloss with white gold hour markers) simply depending on the year that it was produced. This variety makes the Submariner 5513 a favorite among many vintage Rolex collectors, and prices can range significantly, which means that there is a ref. 5513 to suit almost any budget. Crafted entirely from stainless steel and powered by a non-chronometer rated movement, the Rolex Submariner 5513 is the definition of a no-frills tool watch. However, now that Rolex has become the single most famous luxury manufacturer in the world, the utilitarian nature of the ref. 5513 is exactly what makes it so special.

As you embark on the exciting journey of vintage watch collecting, remember that the key to a truly remarkable collection lies not just in the pieces you choose but in the stories they tell and the history they embody. Whether you’re drawn to the timeless elegance of a Rolex President or the adventurous spirit of a GMT-Master, each watch adds a unique chapter to your personal story. If you’re inspired to discover more about the world of Rolex watches and find the perfect addition to your collection, explore our extensive selection at Bob’s Watches. Here, you’ll find an unparalleled array of Rolex watches, each with its own tale of craftsmanship and legacy, waiting to become a part of your vintage collection.

Paul Altieri
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