The 3 Most Undervalued Vintage Rolex Watches
When the majority of the headlines concerning vintage Rolex center around the record-breaking sums now being paid for them, it can seem unlikely we would be describing any as ‘undervalued’.
However, away from the high profile auctions and ultra rare oddities, there are still a number of references out there which have somehow slipped under the radar.
It can be for a number of reasons. Some have always been among the brand’s dark horses, never reaching the same heights of recognition as those icons we can all recite the names of. Others are literally the opposite—incredibly popular and in production so long there are now massive numbers of them on the market keeping the prices low.
Whatever the explanation, it is good to know there is something out there for everyone but as is the way with these things, it is unlikely to last forever. Enthusiasts are always drawn to the more obscure pieces eventually to round out collections, and today’s undervalued watch could well be tomorrow’s must-have.
Below, we have highlighted three superb vintage Rolex models which are still a relative snip.
The Rolex Submariner ref. 16610
The last of the classically styled Subs is the perfect illustration of the points we made above.
Debuting in 1988 and not retired until 2010, it is the most plentiful steel example of the world’s favorite dive watch in circulation, and generally represents the gateway into Submariner ownership.
However, the shiny new ref. 126610 Sub was released just last year, and everyone wants one. But, as this is Rolex, getting ahold of one through an Authorized Dealer is extremely difficult, meaning most people are trying to source them through the preowned market, leading to massive premiums.
With that pricing many out of the hunt for the brand new model, more and more are turning to the ref. 16610 as a great, and cost-effective, compromise. And of course, that hike in demand is now increasing the price of the vintage model too.
Last year, some dealers report a 20% rise in the value of the ref. 16610, and it is not expected to calm down anytime soon. If you were keen on joining the Submariner fraternity, speed is of the essence.
The Rolex Turn-O-Graph
This is a real head scratcher. If there is one thing Rolex’s fan base likes more than anything else, it is a watch with a pedigree; something which gives it its own unique little place in the brand’s history books.
By that measure, the Turn-O-Graph, with at least four ‘firsts’ under its belt, should be approaching iconic status by now, with prices to match.
It was the first serially-produced Rolex with a rotating bezel, beating both the Sub and the GMT-Master to the punch in the early ‘50s.
That bezel also sets it out it as the first real tool watch from the manufacture as well, and their first pilot’s model.
On top of that, it was the first from Rolex to be released in two-tone Rolesor, a mix of steel and yellow gold.
Quite the résumé, but even with all those qualifications, plus the fact it was genuine military issue too, having been the official timepiece of the USAF Aerobatic Squadron, the Thunderbirds, the Turn-O-Graph has spent its life underrated and underappreciated.
To that, we can now add undervalued.
There were six generations of the model, and all of them can be had for surprisingly reasonable amounts.
The debut reference, the ref. 6202 for example, costs from around $25,000 or so. Which sounds like a lot, but if you compare it to the first ever Submariner, the ref. 6204, it is an absolute steal. Prices there start at around twice that and the two watches are virtual clones of each other.
Later versions, after the Turn-O-Graph was shoehorned into the Datejust collection, are still remarkably affordable for such an important watch. Scarcer than a standard DJ, you can still find excellent examples of the four and five digit references for under $5,000.
And the final iteration, the beautiful ref. 1162XX, with fluted bezel and roulette date wheel, cost less than $7,000 for a steel model.
The Rolex Oysterquartz Datejust
Another one which makes no sense.
Rolex’s only foray into quartz technology, which actually lasted over a quarter of a century, produced just 25,000 watches.
That paltry number was split between two Oysterquartz models; the Day-Date and Datejust. Both of them were radically different in styling to anything Rolex had made before or since, with their archetypal ‘70s looks borrowing heavily from the Gérald Genta playbook, complete with integrated bracelets. Powered by in-house quartz calibers, the Cal. 5035 and Cal. 5055, both are still recognized today as some of the best and most accurate of their type ever made.
So we have an irrefutably rare watch, with unrepeated aesthetics, powered by world-beating movements, produced by the leading timepiece manufacturer of all time. By all logic, they should be up there with the likes of vintage Daytonas in the value stakes, but it isn’t even close.
You can pick up a yellow Rolesor Oysterquartz Datejust (ref. 17013) for about $4,500. Full steel versions (ref. 17000) go for not much more. Even if you fancied the even scarcer white Rolesor piece (ref. 17014) you would still get change out of $7,000.
It’s likely the bargain basement pricing is down to perception. The idea of quartz is linked in most people’s minds with cheap, disposable watches, without the artistry and heritage of mechanical pieces. In many ways, that is true, but with Rolex being Rolex, their contribution to the genre was typically impressive.
The models themselves are as fastidiously built as anything else to emerge from the brand, the Oyster cases ensuring 100m water resistance and are crafted from the finest metals. They were also the first mass-produced Rolex watches fitted with sapphire crystals.
And the calibers, although battery-powered, share most of their components with the manufacture’s traditional movements. The bridges, gear train, pallet assembly and the entire drive mechanism are pretty much identical to those used in the conventional Datejust engine of the time, the Cal. 3035. The only real difference is the Cal. 5035 adheres to the COSC’s quartz standards for precision of +/-0.2 seconds a day versus the Cal. 3035’s -4/+6 seconds a day.
Added to all that, the resurgence in popularity of the luxury sports watch, and the whole Royal Oak/Nautilus Genta-esque retro design means the Oysterquartz is absolutely in vogue right now.
It seems likely the model will only get more expensive to buy as time goes on, so if you fancy one, it makes financial sense to act sooner rather than later.
— Featured Photo: BeckerTime’s Archive.