Collecting Rolex and how to buy vintage well

Collecting Rolex, vintage or modern, will of course always have many benefits. First off the Swiss giant, with a multi-billion pound turnover and production of around a million pieces a year, is a popular one. Rolex is a currency. Their watches generally retain their value or, if bought right, will in fact give you more return on your initial investment.

Rolex are famed for their stainless steel sport ranges including the Submariner and Sea Dweller, which have had various reincarnations over the years since their 1950s introduction. Certainly the older, rarer pieces command great prices now, as seen in recent months at auctions such as Phillips Auctions in Geneva.

Here’s our take on  buying vintage Rolex well:

Submariners and Sea Dwellers

Deep Sea Dweller Rolex with black dial

The early pieces are especially collectable, with stunning aged patina documenting their lives over the decades. If you’re lucky enough to own or find a 1950s “no shoulders” Submariner (as brought to the fray by James Bond in Dr. No) then you are incredibly fortuitous indeed. These old models are the pinnacle and where new watches have taken inspiration, such as the Tudor Black Bay, and where other companies are now customising newer submariners to reflect these 50s styles.


GMTs with their soft drinks references such as the red/blue bezelled “Pepsi”, or black/red bezelled “Coke” or even the bi gold “Root Beer” are certainly very well regarded within the vintage Rolex fraternity. Patina’d features such as faded dials that have changed from black to grey, two tone bezels where the reds have faded to pale pinks and even the blues have turquoise tinges. Once white indices have now taken on a lovely cream. This is what makes these old timepieces sing.


Explorers are a consideration too, the earlier 39mm versions with white dials and an orange GMT hand or black dials with red hands are always a great everyday wear Rolex. If you strive to own that cool and rare model go for the 1970’s Orange hand Explorer, referred to as the “Steve McQueen”. It’s a myth that McQueen wore this Explorer, a story so perpetuated it is still referred to as such, though he was famed for the Heuer Monaco in the film “Le Mans” in 1971.

Paul Newman Daytona with white panda dialDaytonas

The Daytona is another great from the sports chronograph range in a multitude of models from vintage “pandas” with their black dial and white sub dials, or the reverse. Watch out for the infamous Paul Newman (left) with its exotic dial features that command prices way into the six figure range. You can’t beat a 40mm steel case with either black or white dial. Bi-colour, platinum and gold cases are also available.


It would be impossible for us not to mention the model that started our own collection, the Rolex Datejust. Because of their volume of production they are available in many variations making it an ideal entry level piece. For this reason a vintage Datejust makes an ideal for those who are starting out collecting Rolex or for someone simply looking for something special. They are an integral part of Rolex’s rich history.


While not always possible for many of the older vintage pieces, it’s a nice bonus if you can purchase with box and paper work. This will help authenticate the watch and show its provenance. It will also help if you chose to re-sell your timepiece down the line.

Of course there are several other great models from marques such as the Gérald Genta designed “Royal Oak” from Audemars Piguet, the legendary Speedmaster aka the “Speedy” from Omega and Navitimer from Breitling to name but a few. More on these later…