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Pre-Owned Rolex Watches: The Pros and Cons

Paul Altieri

The market for pre owned luxury watches has been booming for years now. In fact, a recent study puts a figure of about $15 billion on the industry as a whole – and it is no secret that Rolex accounts for the lion’s share of the models sold. So why does the brand take such a huge slice of the pie? And is buying a pre-owned Rolex right for you?

Below we explore the pros and cons of pre-owned Rolex watches.

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The Financial Side of Pre-Owned Rolex Watches

The question of whether or not it is cheaper to buy a preowned Rolex isn’t as cut and dried as you might think. For the most part, you can save a significant amount of money going to the secondary market. Brand new watches (like brand new anything) typically suffer some form of depreciation the moment they leave the store. Letting the first owner take that hit, and then buying the model when they decide to sell it, can bring the price down by as much as 20%.

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However, this is by no means the case right across the board. With some Rolex watches, and it is predominantly the stainless steel sports models we’re talking about, the company’s strategy of strictly limiting the supply of new models to their own retailer network has meant that they are essentially impossible to buy without some serious time spent on a waiting list. Those not willing to sit it out soon find out that those same pieces are selling for up to double their original retail prices on the pre-owned market. Supply and demand will always be the main drivers in any economy, and there are plenty of people willing to pay the premiums to get the latest creations on their wrists.

But there is a definite upside. In the entire luxury goods business, nothing retains its value quite like a Rolex watch. Those models you saved 20% or so on probably won’t go any lower. Unlike a car, for instance, which will continue to drop the longer you own it, a Rolex watch will reach a certain point and then level out. This means that if you decide to sell one after owning it for 10-years, you will likely get back what you paid, and you have effectively worn your watch for free for a full decade.

Additionally, if you opt for the right piece, you could easily find that it becomes worth far more than you originally paid for it. You only have to see how much the most sought-after vintage models sell for these days to understand just how good of an investment a well-chosen Rolex watch can be.

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Pre Owned Rolex Availability

Before the 1980s, it was a relatively simple matter to buy a Rolex watch. You walked into an Authorized Dealer, picked the one you wanted, paid for it, and left. However, that all started to change with the quartz crisis, and it has only become significantly more difficult to purchase a brand-new Rolex in recent years as the brand continues to assert itself as the end-all name in luxury watches.

Realizing that it would not be able to compete in terms of price or accuracy with the influx of electronics from Japan, Rolex changed its focus and set about making themselves the definitive name in luxury timepieces and aspirational lifestyles – and a big part of that included the notion of exclusivity. If just anyone could buy the watch that they wanted without any effort, it diluted the whole essence of the brand.

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Therefore Rolex started restricting the number of watches that it produces each year, making them harder and harder to acquire. Today, it is more difficult than ever to buy a brand-new Rolex watch, and anyone who has tried to purchase a stainless steel Daytona, GMT-Master, or Submariner at retail within the last few years is likely still waiting for theirs to be delivered.

This shortage of Rolex watches at retailers is probably the main reason behind why the pre-owned Rolex market has absolutely exploded in recent years. Not being able to get hold of your dream watch at a retailer doesn’t stop you from wanting it, and so turning to the secondary market becomes the only choice.

Models that you would normally have to wait months or even years for from a Rolex retailer can be had almost immediately from independent traders. Of course, some references are now only available on the secondary market. Discontinued or vintage Rolex models have their own appeal, and the fact they are not being made anymore only makes them more desirable, and valuable.

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The curse of having the sort of success of Rolex is that there are now an overwhelming number of fakes making the rounds. Rolex is, by far, the most counterfeited manufacturer in the world, with some people estimating there are actually more counterfeit Rolex watches in circulation than the real thing.

It has become a major problem, with the quality of the copies increasing every year until we are at the situation now where even skilled experts can be fooled by the best of the imitations. If you are going to go the preowned route, then the age-old phrase, ‘buy the seller’ has never been more merited.

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The secondary watch market has been likened to the wild west, with no end of unscrupulous dealers lying in wait to relieve the unwary of fistfuls of dollars. Additionally, with the rise of modern technology, counterfeiters are getting increasingly good at replicating Rolex’s designs, making highly detailed replicas – known as ‘Super Fakes’ incredibly difficult to spot. While there are plenty of good guys out there, it takes a decent amount of research to track them down.

A good place to start is among the many dedicated Rolex forums online, where knowledgeable commenters will happily share their experiences in dealing with individuals or companies. From there, check out the sellers’ credentials and look for things like third-party certificates of authenticity on every watch they sell, and some sort of money-back guarantee. The best dealers will also offer their own warranties and stand behind their timepieces with lifetime authenticity guarantees – just like we do at Bob’s Watches.

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Pre-Owned Rolex or New Rolex?

Buying your next luxury watch brand-new from an official Rolex retail location does have some attractive benefits. For one, just like driving a new car off the lot, there is something special about being the first person to strap on a luxury timepiece.

Secondly, it gives you the chance to develop a relationship with the Authorized Retailer, something that might eventually get you preferential treatment when the latest must-have models come in in the future. You also get a five-year Rolex warranty and the comfort of knowing that there is practically no chance of you buying a fake.

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But against that, you have to deal with several significant (and often deal-breaking) downsides – such as the store’s (usually) very limited selection. Basically, unless you want a Datejust, Day-Date, Oyster Perpetual or something ultra-premium in solid gold, you’re likely to leave disappointed. Additionally, you won’t ever be getting a discount. The brand lays down strict rules on how much money their dealers can take off the price; i.e. none.

If you want any of the really popular models, such as one of the sports watches on which Rolex first built their reputation, or something which has since dropped out of production, then the pre owned market is the only place. Similarly, the pre-owned Rolex market is also where you will need to go if you want to pay below retail or invest in a true vintage classic.

The key to getting a 100% genuine, worry-free luxury watch is to do your research thoroughly and to always buy from a trusted and reputable dealer that will stand behind their products.

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Paul Altieri