New Collectors Beware: Keep This In Mind Before Buying A Vintage Datejust
For many collectors, the Rolex Datejust is the luxury watch that got them started in this hobby. I hear stories from vintage watch dealers around me that can never have enough Rolex Datejusts in stock. Seemingly, everybody wants one, probably because it’s more or less the most affordable way of getting your hands on a Rolex watch. I also bought one about two years ago. But not long after it arrived, I decided to sell it. I expected a lot from the wearing experience, but it was a big letdown. Let me tell you why.
The vintage Rolex Datejust was the third watch I bought. After an Oris Art Blakey and a Zodiac Sea Wolf Topper Edition, I thought it was time to buy a Rolex. After all, every respected collector owns a Rolex, right? But because my funds weren’t unlimited, I had to look into the vintage Datejust department. I also looked at the 36mm Explorer, but I tried both on, and I liked the Datejust better. But which Datejust to pick? There are so many different references.
A blue-dialed Rolex Datejust 1603 from 1974
As I was charmed by the step dial, I knew it had to be a four-digit reference. I also liked the engine-turned bezel better than the fluted one as it looked a little less shiny. Oh, and it needed to have a blue dial because blue is my favorite color. At one of the vintage dealers in Amsterdam, I had actually seen a blue-dialed 1601, the one with the fluted bezel, and its soft dial was really beautiful. So I decided to look for the 1603 version of that one with the engine-turned bezel. I found one from 1974 on Instagram from Oliver and Clarke, a respected vintage watch dealer in the US.
I was a bit hesitant because this would be my first vintage watch, and I would rather have bought it at a store in my hometown. But as it was a respected dealer, I decided to take the jump. I sent the payment through PayPal, and a few days later, the watch arrived at my house. The whole experience was a bit underwhelming. It arrived in a transparent plastic box with nothing else in the bubble envelope. The watch itself looked very good, though. It was exactly the blue dial I’d seen before on the 1601 and the lume was very well preserved with a nice yellow patina. The coffee-bean Jubilee bracelet it came on was a bit stretched and long for my wrist, though, so I decided to have it restored.
Unexpected added costs
I looked around on forums and watchmakers’ websites, but in the end, I sent the bracelet to Michael Young’s Classic Watch Repair in Hong Kong. It would take around 4-6 weeks to get it refurbished and it would cost around $200. To tide me over, I bought a few leather straps from Molequin so I could still wear the Datejust in the meantime. When the Jubilee bracelet came back, it looked fantastic, and all of the stretch was gone. The watch fit me a lot better, and it looked great on its original bracelet. But I also noticed that the seconds hand wasn’t running very smoothly…
At some point during each sweep around the dial, the seconds hand would make a little jump. I took the watch to a watchmaker in Amsterdam, and he told me he could service it. In the end, that service cost me around €500, and it wasn’t really something I expected when I bought the watch. All in all, the experience of owning the Rolex Datejust I longed for wasn’t as satisfying as I expected it to be. Yes, of course, it was still a beautiful watch to look at. However, I noticed I was wearing it less and less, both because of the negative experiences in the first months of ownership and the fact that it felt a lot more fragile than the other two watches I owned at the time.
A fragile vintage Rolex Datejust
Especially around my two little ones, I noticed that I was taking extra care. Even though the Jubilee bracelet had been restored, it still didn’t feel like the most sturdy bracelet in the world. The Plexiglass crystal didn’t inspire much confidence in me either. Again, it was still a very nice watch to look at, but it didn’t provide the wearing experience I’d hoped for. It felt too fragile on my wrist. I also wasn’t really sure about its water resistance, so taking it swimming or doing the dishes was a big no-go. I had thought about all these things before I bought the vintage Datejust, but I didn’t think they would influence my wearing experience so negatively.
In the end, the extra costs and the negative wearing experience sapped all of the enjoyment out of owning the watch. I waited another few months just in case, but eventually, I decided to sell it. Luckily, the Datejust market is steady, and I was able to sell it without a loss, even covering the extra costs for the restoration and the service. With the money I got back, I decided to look for a different kind of watch. At first, I thought it might be better to go for a more modern Rolex Datejust. But in the end, I went for a Cartier Santos Galbée XL from 2006, and I’ve been thrilled with that watch ever since I bought it. Maybe that’s thanks to the lessons I learned from my experience with that vintage Datejust.
When I bought the Datejust, I really didn’t know what I was getting myself into. Yes, I’d read about what it would be like to own a vintage Rolex or a vintage watch in general, but I certainly didn’t have the network to solve the unexpected problems I encountered. Not everyone can restore a coffee-bean Jubilee bracelet, so I had to look for a specialist very far from home. I also hadn’t seen the watch in person before buying it, so I didn’t see whether it was running very well or not. These days, I’d always opt to see a watch in person before shelling out any money for it.
And with the network that I have now, I would certainly also ask some owners about their experience with the watch I’m looking to buy. Maybe I could even ask to wear their watch for a while before I decide to own it. That way, I could avoid having to sell a watch so soon after buying it. Oh, and not every collector needs to own a Rolex. I still haven’t got one, and I’m very happy!
What about you? There must be a few collectors here who started out with a vintage Rolex Datejust. Was your experience comparable to mine, or was it more successful? I’d be glad to hear about your stories in the comments below!
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