Buying Guide — How To Buy A Pre-Owned Rolex Watch
Buying a Rolex is not easy. That applies to new and pre-owned Rolex watches. With a new Rolex watch, the problem is availability. If you don’t want to become a victim of the entire waitlist scheme, there’s the pre-owned market, for example. But buying a pre-owned Rolex watch isn’t easy either. I experienced that as recently as the last few weeks while I was hunting for one…
In this buying guide, you will find some tips on what to look for, where to look, and how to prevent you from ending up with something you don’t want. If you are in the market for a used Rolex watch, there are a number of important things you need to know before you make the purchase.
Pre-Owned Rolex Buying Guide
“Do your homework”. That actually sounds easier than it is. It is the most commonly given advice to people who are looking for a used Rolex watch. But where does one start? With this Buying Guide for pre-owned Rolex watches, we hope to give you some guidance in this process. In the past two decades, I have purchased a pre-owned Rolex watch more than once. In fact, I have done so very recently. I noticed it took me quite some effort to find all the things I needed to know. It also made me realize that we don’t have a pre-owned Rolex buying guide on Fratello. With my own experiences fresh in my mind, I thought now was a good time to change that.
Where to look for a pre-owned Rolex?
The good thing is, there’s an incredible market out there for pre-owned Rolex watches. Whether you’re looking for a Rolex Datejust 16234, Submariner 116610LN, Yacht-Master 116622, or Daytona 116520, there are a number of possibilities out there for you. It is important that you buy from a trustworthy source. If you have a local pre-owned or vintage Rolex dealer nearby, it is a matter of checking references and going see the watches in person. But, as always, most searches start online. Chrono24 is an easy and accessible source to use for finding pre-owned Rolex watches. But it is essential to realize that websites like Chrono24 are a market platform and do not sell watches directly. There are also initiatives like Mondaniweb, that have a network of trusted (Rolex) dealers.
Buy from a reputable dealer
On Chrono24 and other online market platforms, you can narrow your search down to Rolex watches offered in your country or region (European Union, for example), enabling it for you to visit them in their shop and to ensure you don’t have to bother with customs. Shops like Bob’s Watches or Amsterdam Vintage Watches are specialized in pre-owned Rolex, have tremendous expertise on the subject, and also offer you some kind of securities. Chances are incredibly little you end up with a watch that is faulty, they will surely take it back. The wheeling and dealing in used Rolex watches has become a game that everyone wants to play, so we advise you to stay away from private sellers. Unless you really know what you’re doing and are able to have the watch checked before you buy it.
What should be offered?
Depending on the age of the Rolex, you should always try to get a complete package. This is often referred to as a “full set”. This means that besides the watch, there should be the Rolex box, instruction booklet, service booklet, warranty cards etcetera. Often, the Rolex box consists of the actual box with a pillow or little stand that holds the watch and an outer box. Always ensure that the accessories, boxes, and booklets belong to the specific watch you are looking for.
Now, if you are planning to wear the watch on a daily basis and don’t care about anything other than the watch, you can skip a few paragraphs below. Just make sure that you understand that a Rolex without all of its accessories and paperwork, will be significantly cheaper on the market. The good news is, that when you purchase one without all those things, you also have to pay less. In that case, it is a matter of focusing on the right Rolex model and the condition it is in.
Pre-owned Rolex watches pre-1980s
For Rolex watches before 1980, getting a full set is much more difficult. Often, people didn’t care about these things and even left those items behind at the jeweler store where they bought it. Here, it is a matter of finding a Rolex that is authentic or at least uses original parts.
Condition of the pre-owned Rolex watch
To each his or her own, but I rather buy a Rolex that is in superb condition than a watch that looks like it has been hit by a train with all boxes and papers etc. there. In the end, you wear the watch, not the box. The difficulty, though is making a proper analysis based on images only. That is why I suggested that you go see the watch in the flesh, and even then, it is not always easy. Comparing images is one thing you can do yourself. How a Rolex watch should look and how the offered watch actually looks should be clear enough. The images that a dealer or seller provides are therefore super important. You want to see all the details.
Are there scratches, dings, blemishes, and so on? These should be identified in the pictures and not surprise you upon receiving the watch. The small polished facets on the lugs of a Rolex are an easy give-away. Are they still visible and looking sharp or have they been polished off? Are the crown guards still thick, or have they been polished to sharp pointy sticks? With a Yacht-Master or Daytona, for example, it becomes even more difficult, as these models have more polished surfaces than other Rolex sports models.
Original and authentic parts
Perhaps even more important is the use of original and authentic parts. With original, I mean time-correct parts. The parts that were used for that specific watch at the time of production. With authentic parts, I mean the genuine Rolex parts. Especially with vintage Rolex watches, you want to be careful. An early service bezel on an old Submariner 5508 is not half as bad as an aftermarket bezel. Identifying these parts is very tough, and here you need to rely on expert knowledge. As indicated above, look for reputable dealers that know what they are doing. Don’t just buy a vintage Rolex watch based on the blue-eyed seller.
There are a number of important things when buying a pre-owned Rolex watch. One of them is the condition of the bracelet. And, whether this bracelet actually belongs to the Rolex watch you are looking at (more later).
Whether it is a Rolex Oyster, Jubilee, or President bracelet, these are prone to show some wear over time. With older Rolex watches, you often see that the bracelet has been replaced at some point. It is not a bad thing, as using a worn-out bracelet is kind of dangerous and you will risk losing your watch. But, in the best-case scenario, the bracelet is original to the watch you are buying and doesn’t show much stretch.
Check for stretch
Easy to identify in the flesh, as soon as you pick up the watch, hold it sideways and vertically. The bracelet is now hanging horizontally in front of you. If the bracelet bends too much downwards (clasp side is facing down), it suffers stretch. It is just a sign of wear and tear. People who have worn their Rolex for many years in a row, never had it cleaned (externally), will have a bracelet that shows some degree of stretch.
This is of course difficult to see in pictures, so you need to focus a bit on the distance between the links of a bracelet. Are there gaps showing between links, and how big are these?
Box and papers
If you’re after a full-set, you want to have a box and papers and possibly other accessories. Some people even want to have the plastic bezel protector, price and Chronometer tags, etc. But not all watches have been sold like that in the first place. Some of these things were already removed by the authorized dealer. Older Rolex watches come with a paper, showing the serial number of the watch (which of course should match the serial number on the watch). Later and current Rolex models come with a credit card-sized warranty card.
Today, most Rolex watches are all delivered in the same green box. In the past, the Rolex models had different boxes. A Rolex Datejust box was different from a Day-Date box, and sports models like the Submariner, GMT-Master, Daytona, and Yacht-Master had their own box. On the backside of the box is a number, that’s the reference of the box. There are a number of lists floating around that indicate which box number corresponds to which Rolex reference. You can find one of those lists here.
Beware of fake Rolex papers
Not only the Rolex watches are being copied, but also the papers that should go with them. Just a little warning here that if you buy from a non trusted source, you need to be aware of these things. In the pictures above, you can see the difference in quality between authentic papers and copies.
The instruction manual and service booklets are generic for a watch, meaning they do not belong to a certain serial number or whatsoever. A Submariner booklet for the 16610 or 14060 is the same. You will find different years on the back of those booklets, referring to their printing date. If you buy only a Rolex watch without a box and booklets, you can easily find a spare box and booklet on eBay or Chrono24. Just make sure you pick the box and instruction books that belong to your Rolex reference (and production year).
Rolex serial numbers and bracelet clasp codes
It has been mentioned a few times here, but your Rolex watch comes with a serial number. Each Rolex has its own unique number. Rolex watches produced before 2007, have their serial number engraved between the lugs at 6 o’clock. Starting in 2007, the serial number is in the rehaut of the watch, also at 6 o’clock. From 2010 onwards, Rolex uses random serial numbers and codes. There’s no help online on how to determine the production date of a watch produced after 2010 based on the serial number. That said, if a post-2020 Rolex watch does not have its original warranty card, something is off. On the clasp, you will also find an engraved code. This code will also indicate the production year (and month) of the Rolex bracelet. This way, you know whether a bracelet is original or has been replaced at some point during service or repair. You can find an overview of all Rolex serial numbers (up to 2010) and clasp codes on this page on Fratello.
This applies to all watches basically, but make sure that the seller offers insured shipping and with a tracking code. Also, be very careful with buying watches that need to go through customs. It is the reason why I filter to “European Union” on websites like Chrono24. For example: Importing a watch from outside Europe, with our Dutch 21% tax rate + duty and fees add up to more than 25% of the purchase price. For us Europeans, buying a watch from the USA or Japan might seem very attractive, but the import duties and VAT will make it an awful experience in most cases.
When you buy a pre-owned Rolex from a dealer, always make sure to ask about the warranty and their terms and conditions. Especially when you can only purchase online, the pre-owned Rolex watch might not be up to your standards. If the watch shows more stretch or damage than on the pictures, agree upfront that you can return the watch to the dealer at no cost (other than shipping). In certain countries and regions, laws regarding warranty are very clear, but might not apply to used goods. So always ask about the warranty period you will receive with the watch.
Also, ask whether the watch has been serviced (recently). A Rolex service does not come cheap, and if you’re tight on budget, it is something to consider. If the watch is serviced, there will be a Rolex service warranty card.
Let us know what you find important when buying a pre-owned Rolex watch. You can share it with us in the comments below.