Customize Your Rolex With BeckerTime
Whether it is your first, or number 20-something to add to your collection, it is always a good day when you buy a Rolex.
Whichever model you decide to go with, either from the renowned tool watch collection or one of the more dressy options, you know you are wearing the product of several generations-worth of incremental improvement, with a design that has proved itself timeless.
Eventually however, as with all things, looking at the same face all day everyday can sometimes leave you longing to switch things up a bit—as my wife pointed out to me recently, during an unrelated conversation.
When this happens, you have a couple of choices. You can head out and buy yourself an all-new Rolex, which will grant you another good, albeit expensive, day. The other route is to have your existing watch modified to your specifications, swapping or enhancing one or more elements until you end up with something altogether different but still with the familiar underneath.
It is a decision which has been proving itself more and more popular in recent years, and here at BeckerTime we specialize in providing an outstanding personalization service, tailoring our customers’ watches to their own individual tastes.
That work takes on a number of guises, with clients wanting an assortment of different customizations, and for a variety of reasons.
So below, we have put together a guide to let you know just what can be done, the things to look out for and, crucially, how it affects the value and authenticity of your treasured Rolex.
What We Can Do
Customizing a watch can take many forms. It can be something as simple as changing a bracelet which, although it sounds like a minor alteration, actually has a disproportionately major effect. Replacing it with a bespoke or aftermarket alternative completely shakes up the overall aesthetics and personality of a piece.
At the other end of the scale, we also handle requests to fully ice out a watch with diamonds on every surface, taking it from original factory condition into the realm of glittering superstardom.
In between, any part of your Rolex can be tweaked, fine-tuned or replaced completely. The dial can be professionally refinished, swapped for a different color or design, given jeweled accents on the hour markers or else be blanketed in gemstones entirely. Likewise the bezel, often the most popular target for augmenting with diamonds, can be made a focal point of the watch as a whole with an expert craftsman’s hand.
If that level of bling isn’t your thing, taking the standard smooth surround of a Datejust or Day-Date and fitting a fluted bezel in its place, or vice versa, adds a new dimension to a favorite piece. Or with a model such as the GMT-Master II, substituting its Rolex-issued bezel with one of the other famous two-tone liveries available (the blue and red Pepsi, black and red Coke or blue and black Batman for example), will totally alter the look, and give you a refreshed visual on a watch you may have become overly familiar with.
Does Customization Affect the Value of my Rolex?
In the world of Rolex collecting, few things are prized above originality. That means, comparing like for like, a model fitted with aftermarket parts will generally be worth less than one left untouched.
That is with all other factors being equal of course, including age and, very importantly, condition. A customized watch that has been well looked after, for instance, will likely sell for more than one of the same year and model which has been badly knocked about, whether it’s all original or not.
It leaves those who are contemplating having their watch modified with a few sums to do. As an example, if you wanted to add a diamond bezel to your Day-Date, you can do one of three things:
Firstly, you can purchase the part from Rolex themselves, a factory surround ringed in flawless, handset jewels, which will probably set you back around $14,700 or more.
Secondly, you can seek out a genuine preowned Rolex bezel, likely saving yourself between a quarter and half that price.
And lastly, by far the cheapest option is to bring it to us to fit an aftermarket diamond bezel, an excellent quality example of which would be about $1,500.
The question is; which is the best value move? Will spending $14,700 or more on the factory bezel add a comparable amount onto the price of your Rolex should you come to sell it on in the future?
On the whole, no. Any model on the preowned market sells for between a higher and lower price point, and while fitting a whole heap of diamonds will attract a different type of buyer, it certainly won’t cover the costs of putting them there in the first place. Best case scenario, you might recover up to three quarters of the investment you made in the new Rolex bezel. At worst, about a quarter.
Obviously it will be the same result with the preowned surround, with the buy-in a little lower but still leaving you plenty out of pocket come sale time.
In terms of economic performance, fitting the $1,500 aftermarket diamonds is the most sensible decision. The initial outlay is far smaller, the standard of workmanship is on a par and even if it adds nothing to the value of the watch when you sell it on, you have still lost far less money than with the other two options.
It is a similar issue many homeowners face. Is it worth spending the money on fitting a new kitchen if you are going to be putting the house on the market at some point? Is the work you’re doing going to pay for itself with a higher final asking price, or is it just a financial liability?
It is definitely worth taking the time to work out all the math before you make a decision on just how you want to customize your Rolex.
Why Choose Aftermarket Parts?
When clients come to us to modify their watch or fit aftermarket parts, it is usually for one of two reasons.
We covered the first of them above. Just about any replacement part you buy directly from Rolex, be it a new dial, a bracelet, a bezel or anything else, is going to cost a not insignificant amount of money. Even steel components are pricey, but if you wanted to replace, say, the 18k gold bracelet on your President, you would be looking at the business end of $17,000.
Deciding to go for the aftermarket alternative on something like that can save you enough money to buy an entirely new Rolex watch.
The other motivation people have for customizing their watch is simple; they want something that isn’t available as an official catalog option.
Obviously, many models in the lineup don’t have a diamond-studded version. In fact, of the current tool watch portfolio, only a couple have any real glitz. The Rainbow Daytona is a recent addition, beset with multicolored gems on the bezel and dial. There are also a couple of examples in the chronograph family with diamond accented hour markers. And the Submariner ref. 116659SABR released last year is a spectacular take on the world’s favorite dive watch, with its ring of blue sapphires and eye-watering price tag.
While now discontinued, the GMT-Master II was likewise given a very limited edition blanketed in ice with the ref. 116769TBR—currently a preowned buy at around the half a million dollar mark.
Others in the Professional Collection have been given a touch more decoration, but remain relatively understated. There are a mere handful of Day-Dates with diamond bezels and fully paved dials, along with a few from the Lady and midsize Datejust range. Rolex is still a manufacturer of tough, robust watches designed to accompany wearers to some of the most inhospitable environments imaginable. As such, the jewels are usually kept to a minimum, and reserved for special occasions.
So the only possibility you have of adding a touch of real flamboyance to the majority of the brand’s offerings is to have them fitted as an aftermarket selection. It gives you the opportunity to be as extravagant as you like and can be extremely effective. It is also a lot of fun to be a little rebellious, giving a model never meant for embellishment a blanketing of fine gems. One of the most eye-catching examples I’ve seen recently is a Sea-Dweller Deepsea, the largest watch in the entire Rolex range, covered head to toe in brilliant cut diamonds. It is something that has obviously never been, and I’m confident never will be, available as an official option, but it makes a huge statement.
It is not just to add diamonds that clients trust us with their watches. Many of the sports models in the legitimate lineup come with only a small selection of different dial colors, and some have just one. As the most visible aspect of any piece, changing the face has a huge effect on the general aesthetics and opting for an aftermarket part gives you a limitless choice in how you want it to look. A model you have become accustomed to can be transformed by fitting a non-regulation dial, essentially giving you a completely different watch. Some customers just want to swap a white face for black, others want to really stand out with something luridly fluorescent. Customization is all about injecting your own personality, and a unique dial is possibly the most efficient way of doing just that.
The Difference Between Aftermarket and Counterfeit
It’s very important to define the difference between an aftermarket part and a counterfeit one.
An aftermarket component is one made by a third party, i.e. not by Rolex, which is fitted to a Rolex watch in place of the standard, factory piece. It could be for aesthetic purposes or because it was the least expensive way to replace a certain element. However, critically, it will not have the brand’s name or logo on it anywhere.
By comparison, a counterfeit part is pretending to be something it’s not. That means, even though the component was also made by a third party, it will have the company trademark on it. This is obviously a breach of Rolex’s Intellectual Property, and they famously have absolutely zero sense of humor about it, which is understandable.
The fitting of aftermarket parts is a subject that tends to become something of an argument starter amongst collectors. As we said, to the majority of devotees, originality is the be all and end all, and any watch with a non-Rolex part is considered a fake in some circles.
Others are not so cut and dried, often likening it to the analogy of taking a BMW for repair and the mechanics fitting non-BMW parts. Is the car now not a BMW because one of its components has been replaced by an aftermarket alternative? Of course not.
It comes down to your own sensibilities in the end, but there is a definite difference between an aftermarket part and a counterfeit one, and it comes down to the forgery trying to pass itself off as the genuine item.
Servicing and Maintenance
Whether or not you think a Rolex fitted with an aftermarket part is still a Rolex, there is one important group who are in no doubt that it is most definitely not the real thing, and that is Rolex themselves.
The instant you swap any element of the stock watch for a third party equivalent, in the eyes of the brand, it is no longer authentic.
How does that affect you going forward?
The only time it becomes an issue is when the watch has to go in for maintenance. If you send it to an official service center with any aftermarket part (and it can be something as minor as you having replaced an older style acrylic crystal with a sapphire one), chances are the brand will refuse to service it or replace it with the proper part at an additional cost. If you have swapped a trademarked component, i.e. one that has the Rolex logo on it, such as the winding crown, for a counterfeit piece, it will be removed, confiscated and replaced with a real one, at your expense.
Here again, you have a couple of avenues. Depending on the customization work they have had done, some people are able to reconfigure their modified watch back to factory condition before they send it off. Obviously this only works under certain conditions. If all it takes is putting the original bracelet on or even replacing the regular bezel, then no harm done. If, on the other hand, you have had the entire case engraved or had diamonds set into every inch of it, that clearly is not an option.
In that case, developing a relationship with a good and trustworthy independent watchmaker is key.
A Rolex-trained technician working for a separate company is not bound by the same restrictions as those working for the brand itself. As such, they have both the skills and the freedom to maintain a customized watch. That might entail merely keeping the piece looking good with a buffing and polishing tune-up, fixing or replacing certain elements all the way through to performing a full service to ensure the model continues to perform perfectly.
The trick is finding them. There are no shortage of companies who will sell you a Rolex, either online or with a bricks and mortar store. But those who employ or work with a full time technical specialist are few and far between. Even rarer are those who retain a Rolex Certified Master Watchmaker, someone who has passed the brand’s own daunting requirements to gain accreditation and, vitally, access to the official company spare parts and manuals.
What Else Can A Rolex Certified Watchmaker Do For You?
One of the best things about finding a qualified independent Rolex watchmaker is it gives you the ability to switch up the look of your watch quickly and easily. Many of our customers here at BeckerTime keep a selection of extra dials, bezels or bracelets for one model and enlist our help to swap and change the parts as the mood takes them.
It is the simplest, and cheapest, way of giving one piece multiple personalities and can completely alter the appearance of a watch. For example, an aftermarket diamond dial and bezel can be put in if you want your watch to attract attention, and then it can either be taken back to factory condition or else changed to a more understated option if you want to go incognito. It is the horology equivalent of wearing different color shirts and ties to go with the same suit, switching up the look as circumstances dictate. And it can be done as many times as you like, with minimum effort.
Customizing watches, and Rolexes in particular, is becoming more and more prevalent as people search for that extra touch of exclusivity. It is something of an open field, with a whole host of options to add your own specific tastes to a range of enduring classics.
We are always happy to help and advise on any questions you may have concerning ways to personalize your Rolex, so why not give us a call, send us an email or drop into the store to discuss your choices.
— Featured Photo and Body Photo Credits: Beckertime’s Archive.