Rolex is a specialist wristwatch brand that has transcended its specialism.
Ask a passer-by to name a luxury watch brand and 9 times out of 10 you’ll be told Rolex. The popular press named gangs of luxury watch thieves Rolex Rippers, not Patek Philippe Pinchers, though the thieves weren’t that choosy about brands.
And demand for them ticks upwards as reliably as the company's perpetual watch movements.
Inside the Rolex store on the Champs Elysées, Paris.
New Rolexes are so wanted that waiting lists for popular models run into decades.
The result has been an exploding secondary market. This audience goes beyond watch enthusiasts and collectors to bring in traders and investors. You can make a lot of money with the right watch in 2023.
But for most it's the joy of owning a Rolex, maybe a particular model, perhaps linked to a particular owner.
Sean Connery as James Bond with his trusty Rolex.
Rolexes always tell a compelling story and in 2023, these are the 10 Rolexes that everybody wants.
10 – Rolex Milgauss
Image courtesy of Watchfinder.
Rolex means glamour, fast cars, planes, and.., nuclear physics!
Rolexes fulfil very specific functions, usually better than any other watches. That’s why they’re so special.
The gauss in Milgauss is for Carl Friedrich Gauss, a 19th century German mathematician who was a pioneer in magnetics. These timepieces were famously worn by CERN scientists who explored the universe of time in the Large Hadron Collider.
Carl Friedrich Gauss is the unlikely inspiration for this stylish timepiece.
And it’s magnetic fields, not depths or altitudes that this chunky watch can cope with.
It’s only available in steel – very popular right now – and the orange lightning-bolt second hand on some models is a lovely touch.
The model has been available on and off since 1956 and has been discontinued this year.
If you’re shopping for one, look for a 6541 model number and bring around $10,000 with you.
9 - Rolex Oyster Perpetual
Image courtesy of Watchcentre.
“A heavy Rolex Oyster Perpetual on an expanding metal bracelet.” That’s how Ian Fleming described a vital part of James Bond’s kit in the 1963 novel On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.
Mr Bond liked this model because its heavy bracelet made it a useful, improvised knuckle duster.
Don’t do this with your Rolex Oyster Perpetual, though it will probably survive, as it can withstand depths of 100 metres underwater.
The Oyster Perpetual descriptor describes the case and calendar mechanism so it stretches across the brand’s models.
Rolex is currently selling new Rolex Oyster Perpetual 41 models for £5,400.
8 – Rolex Sea Dweller
Image courtesy of Christies.
Diver’s watches are a key battlefront in watch competition. Rolex’s first really waterproof watch, in its patented oyster case, was swum across the English channel by Mercedes Gleitz in 1926.
Swimmer Mercedes Gleitz.
By 1967, waterproof had become depth resistance, and the Sea Dweller was Rolex’s first ‘ultra water resistant’ timepiece. A valve in some models allows helium to escape during the decompression some deep-sea divers undergo.
Many Sea Dwellers will never go near the 600-metres underwater depth the original 1967 model was capable of reaching, let alone the 11,000 metres a prototype was submerged to in 2012.
They look just dandy at dinner too, with a steel case and a range of very readable but extremely beautiful dials.
You could pick up an owned 1991 Sea Dweller for just shy of £9,000.
7 - Rolex Sky-Dweller
Image courtesy of Watchfinder.
What goes down, must also go up, and Rolex Sky Dwellers will see world travellers landing ready and able to attend to business – or pleasure – in 2 time zones.
A central dial records the hours of your home, while the standard watch hands keep you up to speed locally.
The annual calendar only needs to be adjusted to accommodate February’s leap years. It was another innovation on the 2012 release of this already legendary model.
Sky Dwellers can be pricey, and used models in the best condition will probably lighten your pocket by around £15,000 to £20,000.
6 - Rolex Yacht-Master
Image courtesy of Mark Worthington Jewellers.
In 1992, sailing was added to the set of hobbies the ideal Rolex owner might excel at.
It’s a natural fit for the company, and the Yacht-Master model mixes form and function beautifully. The first generation of the watch had an interval timer. A second iteration added a regatta-specific 10-minute timer.
A pre-owned Yacht-Master II can reach as much as £37,000 in 2023.
5 - Rolex President/Day-Date
President Johnson wearing a "President" Rolex.
In the digital age, displaying a day of the week alongside a date on a calendar is commonplace. When Rolex introduced the Day Date in 1956 it was revolutionary.
The watch, called the President after its iconic bracelet (though it has reportedly been worn by every US President since LBJ), is a classic and Rolex’s flagship. It has remained perpetually popular, and is only made and sold in precious metals.
The relative simplicity of the dial allows for a dazzling variety of decorations. For example, if you have £50,000 to spend you can buy a pre-owned white gold Day-Date with a rare meteorite dial. That diversity also includes the price, and you'll also find a President for close to a reasonable £6,000.
4 – Rolex GMT-Master II
Image courtesy of Zegg & Cerlatti.
Air travel is the theme for the GMT-Master II, a successor model to the original GMT-Master. That was commissioned by Pan-Am in 1955 to allow pilots on its new transatlantic flights to keep track of two time zones.
The GMT-Master II keeps the same features: a two colour, bi-directional bezel with a second hour hand are key to tracking multiple time zones.
Since the 50s, the GMT has been linked with the glamour of international air travel and particularly with airline pilots.
Around £10,000 is a decent price for a GMT-Master II with all-important box and papers intact. For example, a 2005 model in steel with a black dial can be found online for £9,915.
3 – Rolex Explorer
Image courtesy David M. Robinson.
This was not the watch Sir Edmund Hillary took on his triumphant Everest expedition. That was a “standard” Rolex Oyster Perpetual. But, his trip inspired this, which Rolex calls one of its first “professional watches”.
As Rolexes go, it’s relatively low-key. It’s designed to deliver information in challenging conditions, and that means a cut-down design – no date - that’s exceptionally pleasing. Its simplicity helps keep the price down too, and pre-owned explorers usually run under £10,000.
2 – Rolex Submariner
Image courtesy of Christies.
Is this the classic Rolex? Very likely.
The watch was launched in 1953. Today it is certified for three-times the 100m depth the first model promised to survive.
The Submariner is now a family of watches that has been refined, improved, tweaked and perfected in numerous new lines.
That means prices vary enormously depending on the particular version of the Submariner you have – or want to have.
The most valuable was a rare white gold ref 1680 that racked up over £1/2 million in a 2017 Christie’s sale. But that's the top end of the market, and today at Christies you could bid for a 2008 Submariner with a low estimate of just 8,000CHF, which is around £7,400.
1 – Rolex Daytona
Plenty of celebrities (real and fictional) have draped a Rolex onto their wrist. But none is as closely bound to the brand, and to a specific watch, as Paul Newman and the Daytona.
"Many people are saying this is the greatest watch on the planet," Geoff Hess, CEO of Analog Shift said of the Newman Daytona that Phillips in New York auctioned for $17.7m in 2017. It’s still a record for a Rolex.
That timepiece was owned by Newman himself, and carried an inscription from his wife (who gave it to him) Joanne Woodward: "Drive carefully me."
Daytonas feature heavily in any list of the most valuable watches ever sold, often Paul Newman Daytonas, which were made in small quantities. Perhaps as few as 15,000 of the classic 6239 ref.
The Rolex Cosmograph Daytona to give it its full name became the Daytona in 1963, when Rolex became the official time keepers at the race circuit of that name. The watch's 3 dials give the super-accuracy needed for timing very fast cars.
Collectors know that anniversaries mean interest and price hikes. In 2023 Rolex has redesigned the entire range of new Daytonas. The limited quantities of the original three series of watches make them the most desirable Rolexes in 2023.
Why Rolexes? Why now?
Rolex didn’t produce the most valuable watch ever sold. But they are still the watch for collectors.
Their design is, to most eyes, appealing. Their functionality is second to none. They are produced in small numbers. And numerous special editions and bespoke models add even more rarity to the appeal of some watches.
Some are linked to people, places or events that give them meaning as historic artefacts.
Above all, though, Rolex has the ineffable, inexpressible something – call it cachet or cool – that elevates a product to the peak of desirability.
The secondary market in watches is one of the busiest and brightest areas of the collectibles scene.
And experts predict more growth.
Paul Fraser Collectibles can help you get involved. Whether you're buying or selling, just drop us a line on firstname.lastname@example.org or call +44 (0)1534 639 998 to start the process.
I look forward to hearing from you.