I’m going to be honest: this is not just a list of my five current favorite Rolex watches. This is a confrontation with a question that has been on my mind for some time. Is buying a new Rolex slowly turning into the itch you can’t scratch? I don’t want to think that way, but who I am kidding? As I was writing it, I knew this list was really a long-overdue goodbye to the idea of buying a new Rolex. Call me a hopeless romantic, but there is more to this than simply availability. So let’s go and close this book for once and for all.

I have been fortunate enough to write several entries in our Sunday Morning Showdown column with my colleague Ben. And over the course of these last few months, we have matched-up several Rolex watches against mostly Omega or Grand Seiko watches. Sometimes Ben is defending a Rolex that he loves, and sometimes it’s my turn to remind myself and some of our readers what the attraction of the Crown is. And we love doing that because you are reminded of the brand’s great history, incredible designs, and technological advancements.

The cloak of unavailability

At the same time — almost every single time — the potential clincher in these discussions is: you can’t get one at list price from an AD. And that’s frustrating in a discussion. It’s not something that should be a factor in these already theoretical back-and-forths we are having about which of the two watches appeals most to you. Still, every time I read a comment that mentions the frustration of unavailability, I can do nothing else but silently agree.

I recognize the frustrations.

Mike also touched upon the subject in his piece about the new Submariner. An ever-increasing number of dedicated Rolex enthusiasts are highly annoyed with the situation. I do not consider myself a dedicated Rolex enthusiast — not at all. But I recognize the frustrations. Reading about them raised the personal question of which of the current Rolex watches I really like, and which I would consider buying new at an authorized dealer (if I could)?

And to my own surprise, for every one of my five favorite current Rolex watches, I have already come up with other Rolex alternatives. So this is basically my list of five Rolexes I will never buy new because there is something better waiting on the horizon.

5. Rolex Day-Date President

I love me some gold when it comes to watches. One of the most impressive releases I had a chance of witnessing up close last year, was the stunning rose gold Breguet Marine Alarme Musicale 5547. That watch still brings a smile to my face, just thinking of it. But when it comes to a full yellow gold watch, there is only one way to go: the Rolex Day-Date President. It’s such an incredible statement, and if you are looking for boss-like status, look no further.

Almost two decades ago, when Fratello founder Robert-Jan and I were in our twenties, we developed a liking for the full gold Day-Date. And we would jokingly say, “When we grow up, we only need a full gold Day-Date.” That notion has always stuck with me. Currently, neither one of us owns one, but our passion for the Day-Date remains unchanged.

And, in a recent chat I had with Robert-Jan, we discussed Day-Dates once more. We both agreed that a vintage piece is the way forward. Aiming for our preferred classic 36mm Day-Date ref. 118238 saves us a lot of money compared to a new one, and in my book, it is cooler than any of the new ones. It’s just a matter of figuring out when we have grown up. As such, the current Day-Date model became the first of the brand to die…

Rolex GMT-Master II 126710

4. Rolex GMT-Master II “Pepsi.”

The first taste of Rolex I actually got was wearing a GMT-Master ref. 1675 when I was in my early twenties. And it was not a bad taste at that! I never really warmed up to the GMT-Master II as I did to the ref. 1675. That was until the first GMT-Master II Pepsi (ref. 116719BLRO) returned in white gold with a Cerachrom bezel. There was one problem: it was in white gold. Like so many, I was waiting for that same watch in stainless steel…but not on a Jubilee bracelet! Oh, how I was wrong. Putting the ref. 126710BLRO on my wrist once was enough to put that complaint to rest for good.

The current GMT-Master II Pepsi is a watch that I would like to own very much. But it is one of those watches you can’t get at an AD, nor for a sensible price on the gray market. Pre-owned prices have risen to ridiculous levels. With prices starting at roughly 16K in Euros and quickly racing past 20K, it is twice its list price. And that is just insane. It is a figure something I would never even consider paying. The alternative? A vintage ref. 1675/16750.

I have grown to love a vintage GMT-Master even when it is pretty beaten up. Our own Fratello team member Balazs owns a ref. 1675 and every time I see him wearing it, I’m reminded how much fun it was wearing that same watch 20 years ago. With prices starting at 10K, both references have become quite pricey. However, it still saves you a significant chunk of change compared to buying a new one.

3. Rolex Explorer II Black Dial

The Rolex Explorer II is a Fratello team favorite. I know Robert-Jan, Ben, and Rob all like the Explorer II a lot. Rob wrote about the Explorer II as one of the three Rolex watches he was considering before ending up with his Oysterdate Precision 6694. One of his difficulties with the watch is its 42mm size, and it’s one of the reasons I love it. I am quite a bit taller than Rob. That’s why his question is my answer when it comes to the Explorer II. And I love the understated presence that has just enough zing with the orange GMT-hand and orange printing to bring it to life.

I also love the Explorer II ref. 216570 because it reminds me of my favorite vintage Rolex, the Explorer II ref. 1655. Yeah yeah, I know the dial of the ref. 1655 is a pain to read because there is so much going on. Just like Rob, I also think that is what makes it such a quirky and cool watch in the first place. And before legibility becomes an actual issue, the chances I’ll be spending the necessary 25-30k on a ref. 1655 are getting slimmer by the day. But that’s a dream I’ll put to rest in a different article.

There is one problem with the current Explorer II, however. The chances of you getting one at your local AD are slim to none. The good thing, however, is that you will not have to look for a different watch. Current pre-owned prices have not skyrocketed, so this might be my best chance of owning a current model Rolex I actually like. It’s a miracle!

2. Rolex Yacht-Master 40 Everose Gold

For many, this is going to be the curveball in this list. But I absolutely love this watch. From the moment the Rolex Yacht-Master 40 in Everose gold (ref. 116655) was released in 2015, I was smitten. The combination of rose gold with the matte black bezel insert and the black dial is brilliant. This is an understated timepiece that can easily be your rose gold daily wearer without being too flashy.

There are quite a few Rolex enthusiasts that say the Everose gold Daytona with the same Oysterflex bracelet is an aesthetically similar watch and the better pick. The only thing I can say is that I strongly disagree with you. There is a reason there is no Daytona in this list and let’s leave it at that. In 2019 Rolex updated the Yacht-Master 40 in Everose gold (ref. 126655) with the new Caliber 3235. And Rolex replaced the easy-link clasp with the glidelock clasp.

Is that reason enough to visit an AD and order one for €26,000? The short answer is no. The longer answer is that this is one of the current Rolex watches that doesn’t sell above list price pre-owned. You could quickly earn a couple of thousand Euros by buying a grey market or a pre-owned one. And a second option would be to go for the first generation ref. 116655 and save even more. Either way, I would not be on my way to my local AD for this gem.

1. Rolex Submariner

The number one cannot be a surprise. Both because it is probably the most popular Rolex watch out there and because I have made it no secret that this is my favorite current Rolex. I actually prefer the new ref. 124060 without a date over the ref. 126610LN you see in this image. And I think Rolex did a great job taking the next step in the evolution of the Submariner. And I would definitely be saving up the cash and be on my way to an AD if I could get my hands on one.  But we know the answer to that. And buying one for far over 10K Euros is also not what I’m interested in. My love for the Submariner is great, but not that great.

No, the answer lies once again in the past. Years ago, I had a Sea-Dweller ref. 16600 on my wrist for quite some time, and I loved that watch. The slightly chunkier profile of the Sea-Dweller fit my wrist perfectly, and that is what sparked my love for the Rolex dive watches. Over the years, I switched to the Submariner because I simply did not like the newer generation Sea-Dwellers for several reasons. The current generation Sea-Dweller is too big, and I’m not too fond of the busy bezel with a full 60-minute scale. It’s why the current Submariner is at the top of my list.

But the ref. 16600 embodies perfectly what I love about both the Rolex Submariner and Sea-Dweller. And the best thing is that the prices of a pre-owned one have not gone up as frantically as many modern-day Submariners and Sea Dwellers. At roughly 8K Euros this is my perfect replacement for the current Submariner and the Rolex watch at the top of my personal wishlist.

Final Thoughts

Some of you might think that some of the watches mentioned are not proper alternatives for the current models because they are not all modern Rolexes. But I would say you are missing the point. I absolutely love all five of the current models mentioned in this Top-5. And I would gladly buy them all at list price except for the Yacht-Master — that is if I had the money. But I am no longer interested in longing for something I can’t buy or am not willing to pay the premium for. And therefore the watches mentioned are the perfect alternative for me to replace the current Rolex models. The Sea-Dweller is my number one, as it simply brings the biggest smile to my face. But what would you choose in the current climate? Let us know in the comments section below.