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Rolex: The King of Luxury and Great Investments
Rolex is the ultimate luxury watch brand. These classic timepieces define the watch industry, and are renowned the world over. Moreover, many models are experiencing eye-popping value appreciation, and have thus become profitable investments.
Timeless Designs With Investment Potential
Many consider Rolex to be the epitome of luxury watches, and not without reason. Rolex's models are iconic in the watch industry, often serving as the blueprint for entire watch categories. Take for example the Rolex Submariner; although it was by no means the first of its kind, this model is deemed the quintessential diving watch. The GMT-Master was just as influential, radicalizing GMT watches with its two-tone 24-hour ring.
Prestige, excellent quality, and timeless designs are all synonymous with Rolex, and demand for timepieces produced by the Swiss giant has been reaching new heights as a result. However, high demand coupled with limited availability leads to one thing: ever-increasing prices. This means that Rolex watches are very likely to appreciate and can, therefore, make for profitable investments.
Over the last two years, virtually every model in the current catalog has increased in value. Top performers include watches from the Daytona, Submariner, and GMT-Master II collections, which have more than doubled in value in some cases. But they're by no means an exception: even exotic models like the Milgauss, Sky-Dweller, and Air-King have appreciated by 50–80% lately. Vintage watches sing the same tune; they, too, are valuable collector's items and make for worthwhile investments with eye-watering returns.
Reasons to Buy a Rolex Watch
- High investment potential
- Ultimate luxury and status symbol
- Timeless designs with outstanding in-house movements
- Top models: Daytona, Submariner, GMT-Master, Datejust
Prices at a Glance: Rolex Watches
|Model, reference number||Price (approx.)||Value appreciation (2020–2022)|
|Submariner "COMEX," 5514||154,000 USD||+166%|
|Day-Date 40, 228396TBR||225,000 USD||+134%|
|Submariner "Hulk," 116610LV||33,500 USD||+127%|
|Daytona "Rainbow," 116595RBOW||771,500 USD||+124%|
|Daytona, 116500LN||46,000 USD||+101%|
|Milgauss, 116400GV||15,500 USD||+89%|
|Day-Date 40, 228238||53,000 USD||+72%|
|Submariner No Date, 114060||15,500 USD||+63%|
|Yacht-Master II, 116688||57,000 USD||+54%|
|Explorer II, 216570||14,000 USD||+51%|
|Daytona "Paul Newman," 6241||243,000 USD||+50%|
|Datejust 36, 116200||10,000 USD||+50%|
|Yacht-Master 42, 226659||40,500 USD||+39%|
|GMT-Master II "Pepsi," 126710BLRO||30,000 USD||+38%|
|Lady-Datejust, 69173||5,500 USD||+37%|
|Cellini Moonphase, 50535||29,000 USD||+36%|
|Oyster Perpetual 28, 276200||6,300 USD||+16%|
Best Rolex Watches for Under 8,000 USD
If you take a look at the current Rolex catalog, you'll find an array of watches with list prices below 7,500 EUR (approx. 8,000 USD). But there's a catch: It's virtually impossible to buy a Rolex from your local authorized dealer. You can easily spend months or even years on a waiting list. It's much easier to get your chosen watch on the free market, once you don't mind a high mark-up. Luckily, there are still plenty of Rolex watches for under 8,000 USD listed on Chrono24.
One interesting timepiece from the current Rolex catalog is the Oyster Perpetual 28 ref. 276200. This model has a 28-mm stainless steel case, and is thus primarily a women's watch. It is outfitted with the state-of-the-art caliber 2232 and comes in several dial variations. Shortly after its debut at the end of 2020, this reference was selling for around 5,500 USD on Chrono24. Today, however, you'll need to invest closer to 6,300 USD. In other words, this watch has appreciated 16% in two years. Rolex lists this model for around 5,100 USD.
The Lady-Datejust ref. 279160, the women's edition of the famous Rolex Datejust, promises an even better return on investment. Similar to the Oyster Perpetual 28, this timepiece is a 28-mm stainless model with a number of different dial variations to choose from. On account of the caliber 2236, the watch features a date display and the characteristic Datejust Cyclops lens at 3 o'clock. In the two-year period between April 2020 and April 2022, the Lady Datejust appreciated 27%. Listings for this reference on Chrono24 come in at around 7,800 USD, while Rolex demands about 6,700 USD for this women's watch.
Chrono24 also has men's watches for under 8,000 USD. One example is the Oyster Perpetual 36 ref. 116000. The value of this 36-mm stainless steel watch increased from close to 5,000 USD to around 7,500 USD during the same period as the Lady-Datejust – some 50%.
So, you don't necessarily have to spend big bucks to make a return on a Rolex watch. Even models in the entry-level segment have the potential to be sound investments, as the previous three examples have shown.
Which is the most affordable Rolex?
Listings for Rolex watches on Chrono24 start from around 1,000 USD. You will mostly find less popular vintage models in this price range, such as the square Precision models from the 1940s and 50s. These watches are mainly collector's items, and don't stand much chance of a significant value appreciation.
The most affordable Rolex models that hold their value start between 3,600 USD and 4,200 USD. Examples include the Rolex Precision ref. 4498 and the Rolex Cellini ref. 4112, both vintage models.
If you are interested in watches from the current lineup that won't break the bank, take a look at the unisex Oyster Perpetual 36 ref. 126000. Rolex lists this timepiece for approximately 5,600 USD. However, due to limited supply and the global delivery situation, this reference costs closer to 10,000 USD on the free market.
Best Rolex Watches for Under 20,000 USD
This price bracket appeals to both Rolex fans and those looking to make a profitable investment. Prices are reasonable, the appreciation potential is tremendous, and you can even get some classics from the Rolex lineup.
The Submariner is without a doubt a Rolex classic, and although certain watches like the Hulk, Kermit, and Smurf cost significantly more than 20,000 USD, you'll still find many Submariner models listed on Chrono24 at great prices. For example, you can buy the current Submariner No Date ref. 124060 for approx. 16,500 USD. Its predecessor, the ref. 114060, even comes in at around 1,000 USD less. If you're interested in a model with a date display, check out the ref. 126610LN, which changes hands for around 18,000 USD. All these models have appreciated on average by 29% in the last 12 months, and this trend is showing no signs of slowing down.
Explorer II: Alternative to the GMT-Master
The Rolex Explorer collection has recently risen to stardom. Fans have been flocking to the Explorer II as a more affordable alternative to the GMT-Master, since it displays two time zones. The ref. 226570 debuted in mid-2021 and sells for around 14,500 USD on Chrono24. Rolex lists this reference for around 9,200 USD, which translates to a value appreciation of just under 58%.
The Explorer I has also become a worthwhile investment, particularly the ref. 214270. The Swiss manufacturer discontinued this model in June 2021 and, like so many other Rolex watches before it, demand snowballed as a result. While you could have purchased this 39-mm watch for just under 8,500 USD in March 2021, you will now need to invest around 12,000 USD.
Milgauss: Will they or won't they?
Another interesting watch for under 20,000 USD is the Milgauss. This collection is often overshadowed by the Submariner, Datejust, and similar models, but unfairly so. First unveiled in 1956, the Milgauss collection has gone the distance in the Rolex catalog, and can thus look back on a history just as rich as its sister collections. The Milgauss also packs a punch with its unique design thanks to wide bar indices, orange accents on the dial, and orange lightning-bolt-shaped second hand. The ref. 116400GV is particularly striking, standing out from the crowd with its green-tinted sapphire crystal.
There is one specific reason why this watch makes for an interesting investment: It is one of the oldest Rolex models still in production. You might have heard rumors alluding to the possibility that Rolex will replace the Milgauss with another model, or simply discontinue it altogether. The watch has become an object of speculation, owing to the fact that prices for Rolex references soar once production stops. This has not gone unnoticed by investors, who have swarmed to the 116400GV. The asking price for this model has almost doubled in the last twelve months. Back in April 2021, the ref. 116400GV cost just over 9,000 USD, but you should now expect to pay closer to 15,500 USD. If the rumors prove true, prices will likely surge again.
We saw this recently with the Air-King. Rolex replaced the 2016 ref. 116900 with a new model in 2022. The watch had languished in the shadows of the more popular models, and was available on Chrono24 for well under 10,500 USD for years. Just over a month after the reference was discontinued, prices have risen to around 13,500 USD.
Rolex Watches for Under 50,000 USD
A large portion of Rolex watches demand between 20,000 USD and 50,000 USD. This price bracket includes most models in the GMT-Master collection, and most notably the current "Pepsi" ref. 126710BLRO. The latter gets its name from its red and blue 24-hour bezel, a staple feature since the very first model in 1954.
Given its resemblance to the original, this watch is particularly popular among fans and collectors alike. Not surprisingly, the value of this reference increased by some 40% between its launch in the summer of 2021 and April 2022. What's more, we're also seeing similar trends for the watch's sister models, the ref. 126710BLNR – also known as the "Batman" because of its blue and black bezel – and the ref. 126711CHNR, the two-tone variant dubbed the "Root Beer."
Rolex Day-Date: The Presidential Watch
From politicians to business tycoons, the Rolex Day-Date has been the gold standard among the world's rich and powerful since its introduction in 1956. After all, there's a reason why it's nicknamed the "President." Let's take a closer look at the ref. 128238: This 36-mm timepiece is made of 18-karat yellow gold and can be found in the current Rolex catalog. The version with a white dial is listed on Chrono24 for around 43,000 USD. In late summer 2021, this watch cost around 30,000 USD, which translates to a 43% increase in value in a little over six months.
The performance of the 40-mm model with the reference number 228238 is similar, with prices climbing from just under 40,000 USD in September 2021 to 52,000 USD in April 2022. Prices are expected to rise even further.
Daytona: Rolex's Chronograph
The Cosmograph Daytona is one of the most popular watches in the Rolex lineup. Stainless steel models are particularly sought-after, such as the ref. 116500LN. You can choose between a black or white dial for this model. Both versions feature a black, ceramic bezel with a tachymeter scale.
Both models saw a value increase of more than 50% in the twelve months from April 2021 to April 2022. The ref. 116500LN with a black dial costs around 45,500 USD, while the model featuring a white dial demands closer to 51,500 USD.
You can still get a good deal on two-tone Daytona models such as the ref. 116503. You can buy one of these watches on Chrono24 for about 31,000 USD (as of April 2022). However, prices are steadily rising here too, which is evident when you consider that this watch cost significantly less one year prior – around 20,000 USD less to be exact.
Which is the most expensive Rolex watch?
The most expensive Rolex watch ever sold is the Cosmograph Daytona ref. 6239 once owned by the Hollywood legend himself, Paul Newman. In 2017, Phillips auction house sold this timepiece for a staggering 17.75 million USD after just 12 minutes. The watch features a rare "exotic dial." These dials have at least two colors, a contrasting minute track, and Art-Deco-style numerals on the subdials. Another remarkable detail on this watch is the small squares topping the indices on the subdials.
The auction had a knock-on effect: a run on Daytona models with exotic dials. Particularly popular models include the references 6239, 6241, and 6264. Asking prices for well-maintained timepieces start at around 240,000 USD and soar well above 310,000 USD.
But make no mistake, vintage Daytona references are not alone among the most expensive Rolex watches, even younger models have been raking in six-figure sums. Search for the platinum ref. 116506 on Chrono24 and you'll be greeted with prices floating around the 200,000 USD mark. When it comes to the Pavé editions under ref. 116576TBR, the dial and bezel of which are completely studded with diamonds, you'll need to dish out over 780,000 USD. The current Rainbow-Daytona ref. 116595RBOW demands a similar price. This gold watch's main attraction is the rainbow of baguette-cut sapphires that adorn its bezel.
There are many more interesting Rolex models to be found in the 100,000 USD to 250,000 USD price range. Other timepieces include the Submariner 5514 COMEX, the platinum Day-Date 228396TBR with a diamond bezel, and the GMT-Master II 126755SARU, which boasts a GMT bezel punctuated with blue sapphires and red rubies.
Rolex's 2022 Releases: Worth the investment?
At Watches & Wonders 2022, Rolex unveiled their newest models: a new-generation Air-King, several new versions of the Day-Date in platinum, a Datejust with a floral dial motif, and a 42-mm Yacht-Master in 18-karat yellow gold on an Oysterflex strap, to name a few. While all these watches have a good chance of appreciating in value, they most likely won't experience the same glory as the GMT-Master II 126720VTNR.
For starters, this watch is a traditional GMT-Master II in stainless steel and features the current-generation caliber 3285. There are two elements which set this watch apart from its sister models, the first being the black and green bezel. This is the first GMT-Master to feature this color combination, and many nicknames are being thrown into the ring. The most promising are probably "Green Lantern," which was put forward by superhero fans, and "Sprite" from the soft drink devotees. The second distinctive characteristic is that this is Rolex's first left-handed watch. The crown is on the left of the case and the date display is positioned at 9 o'clock. The watch is one of a kind, and it's very likely we'll see the recommended retail price of 10,250 USD for the ref. 126720VTNR rapidly multiply on the secondary market. Initial listings on Chrono24 come in at around 60,000 USD. However, time will tell whether such prices are sustainable.
A Unique Logo: The Five-Pointed Crown
Rolex's history begins back in 1905, when German entrepreneurs Hans Wilsdorf and Alfred Davis founded the watch wholesaler Wilsdorf & Davis in London. Davis oversaw the production of watch cases, while Wilsdorf obtained the necessary movements from the Swiss company Aegler. In 1908, they trademarked the name Rolex. The catchy name most likely comes from "rolling export," but there is no solid proof of the origin.
Gradually, the company began to add their name to the dials – an unusual practice at the time. It was customary to only include the retailer's name on the dial, if anything at all. The short brand name allowed enough space for the name of the retailer, enabling Wilsdorf to bring more watches bearing the company name into circulation. It would be 19 years before Rolex was the sole name featured on the dials, cases, and movements.
The five-point crown became a symbol of the brand in 1925. The story behind the development of the logo remains a secret. Experts suspect that the five-pointed crown stands for the five fingers of a watchmaker or the letters in Rolex. The crown logo and the name Rolex have appeared on every dial, crown, and clasp since 1939.
Revolutionaries Che Guevara and Fidel Castro also recognized and appreciated the qualities of Rolex. It's not known whether the robustness of the watch helped the Cuban Revolution of 1959, but Che and Fidel certainly contributed to the brand's myth. No other watch manufacturer has managed to appeal to such a wide variety of customers, including those in power, the Dalai Lama, and the model Elle Macpherson.
Chronometer Certification Since 1910
In-house Rolex calibers are considered especially precise. Each watch comes with a certificate from the Official Swiss Chronometer Testing Institute (Contrôle officiel suisse des chronomètres, or COSC). COSC measures the precision of a movement in five different positions and at three different temperatures based on a standardized testing method. The entire process lasts 15 days. In addition to COSC's tests, Rolex reexamines all of their watches in-house once the movement is in its case. Rolex has even stricter requirements that only allow for a maximum deviation of +/- 2 seconds per day.
Rolex founder Hans Wilsdorf was already emphasizing the importance of precision back in the early 20th century. In 1910, he sent a watch to a local watchmaking school in Biel for evaluation. The movement was subjected to 14 days of testing, which it passed. At the end of this two-week procedure, the testers issued the world's first wristwatch chronometer certificate and sent it to London.
The next sensation followed only four years later: Wilsdorf sent an Aegler movement to the National Physical Laboratory in London. The caliber passed their tests with flying colors. It was subjected to three different temperature conditions and five different positions: crown facing up, left, and right, and dial face down and face up. After 45 days, the watch, with its golden case and blue enamel bezel, was named the first wristwatch in history to receive class A certification. This type of certification was previously only awarded to clocks such as navy chronometers.
Social Commitment: The Hans Wilsdorf Foundation
Whoever buys a Rolex is simultaneously doing a good deed. Wilsdorf never had any children of his own, and after his wife's death, he left all of his Rolex shares to the newly established Hans Wilsdorf Foundation. The foundation belongs to Rolex and receives a large proportion of their annual profits. This money is used to support social initiatives; environmental protection programs; and scientific, artistic, and cultural projects.