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Words by Remy Julia

Remy Julia, Watch Specialist and Director, head of watches for the Middle East, India, Africa, and Russia at Christie’s breaks down the basics

It is probably the slipperiest slope in the world of watch collecting but as most seasoned experts will tell you, collecting vintage Rolex timepieces can be an immensely rewarding experience – when done right. Yes, when done right. I will emphasize this bit again because this is a world that will present a lot of ambiguities to those willing to venture in. With that in mind, here are some pointers that will help you navigate this landscape.

Buy the seller first

Given that Rolex does not provide archives or even comment on their vintage models, it is important that you trust the seller because there are too many unscrupulous traders who will either sell you a fake or a watch with swapped parts. So do a little homework, and check store or website ratings and reviews. Open a conversation and make sure the seller is able to answer all your queries. If you are not comfortable with the information you have received from the seller, don’t venture any further.

Remy Julia

Condition is everything

It’s a given that a Rolex GMT Ref 1675 from 1964 will carry more than a few scratches, unless it’s spent the last six decades in a bank safe. Having said that, always look to find a watch in the best condition you possibly can, even if it means you have to pay a premium. Don’t give in to the hype and buy a “hot ticket” watch at a low price and bad condition, you would rather spend your hard-earned money on a Rolex in excellent condition.

Look for tell-tale signs on the lugs – rounded edges are a clear indication that the case has been polished. If a watch has a rotating bezel, check if it turns. The serrated edge of the bezel should feel sharp, the bracelet shouldn’t be jangly and loose either.

Remember to check if the dial and hands have been re-lumed (lume plots that have been reapplied). If you are worried about parts not being period-correct, find out the production year of the watch by checking the serial number engraved on the caseband between the lugs. There are databases on the internet against which you can check this serial number and determine the age of the watch. Seek the advice of experienced collectors and build relationships with specialists at auction houses whom you can turn to for guidance and advice.

Don’t be scared of service parts

Before we go any further, it is important to understand the definition of the term “original” in the context of the vintage Rolex. A watch is considered genuine or “original” if it still has all the original parts that it left the factory with. A watch is considered genuine if it still appears as it did in the product catalogue of the year of its launch.
Vintage Rolex collectors are known to sometimes treat their watches like Lego components – often mixing up parts, it’s not uncommon to find vintage Rolex watches with swapped bezels and parts sourced from donor watches.
And even if these are all genuine components, non-period-correct parts in a vintage watch will affect its resale value. However, it’s also important to know that Rolex often changed original parts – hands, bezels, dials etc. – when the watch was sent in for service. For example, in some markets, watches with radium lume plots were replaced with service dials made with tritium (a less radioactive luminescent material) in the mid-1960s because of existing regulations.
And although these “service” parts were still made by Rolex, collectors tend to disregard watches with service hands and dials. However, increasingly we will see the collecting community becoming more accepting of watches with service parts simply because it’s that much harder to find watches with all their original parts still intact. It’s also important to remember that service parts are sometimes inevitable in the lifecycle of a watch because these objects need to be serviced. It is part of the watch’s history and as long as it is communicated clearly, I don’t see this as a problem.

Go beyond the obvious

Most vintage Rolex collectors tend to focus on the fan-favorites like Submariners, Day-Dates and Daytona’s. But if you look beyond these obvious options, there are some very exciting and rare references that are going to be extremely collectible in the future. An example is the Rolex Dato Compax, a triple calendar chronograph that remains the most complicated wristwatch made by Rolex. At the recently concluded Watches Online: The Dubai Edit, a steel Dato Compax Ref 6036 in excellent condition sold for $350,000. In my opinion, this a reference that can one day become as hotly traded as the “Paul Newman” Daytona.

Focus on what you want to collect

Pick a reference or model that you like – for example a GMT reference from your year of birth – and learn as much as you can about this watch before you pull the trigger. I would always recommend investing in the right books that will inform you better before you actually buy these timepieces. Study the reference and follow auction results so that you understand why some examples command a higher price than others. Once you have your pulse on the market, you will feel a lot more confident about wading into these waters.

The Hero Buy

Pre-owned Rolex 1980 Oyster Perpetual Datejust 26mm

Vintage Rolex

AED 44,947 Rolex available at FARFETCH

Emirates Man – ‘The Summer Escape Issue’ – Download Now

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