The following article is by no means meant to discourage you from buying vintage [Rolex] watches, damage the reputation of certain sellers or to doubt particular watches being for sale at this moment.
Recently, a number of Rolex enthusiasts and collectors started doubting the origin and authenticity of certain vintage Rolex watches that were listed for sale. If you are not at home in this material, you have to know that collectors of vintage Rolex timepieces love the so called tropical dials [those that faded to a brown color due to over exposure to the sun],patina hour markers and patina hands. Prices of Rolex watches that have these tropical dials (click here for a bizarre example that my friends over at Hodinkee found) or dials with a nice patina on them, are typically being listed for a much higher amount of money than the straight-forward vintage Rolex with a clean dial and hands.
So far, so good. When the patina dials or tropical dials are so much more collectible, more power to the seller. However, the quantity of patina dials becoming available on the collector’s market is amazing. Furthermore, some of the vintage Rolex watches being offered, are showing almost the same amount of wear and patina on dials and hands. Now, here is the sticky part. If you have a trick to speed up the process of fading hands, hour markers or even the entire dial (becoming the highly sought-after tropical dial), you are owner of the key to financial success.
Recently, a member of the Dutch Rolex forum pointed out a post on the Paneristi website, where someone was able to create an nice ‘fading’ effect on his Panerai dial and hands using an oven (click here to see for yourself). Besides using the kitchen for a one off, I suspect that there are chemicals available who will do the trick as well. Personally, I’ve seen new Rolex bezels disappear in a certain acid, coming out like grey faded Rolex bezels. I can imagine that something similar is available to create a ‘BNIB’ vintage dial (or even tropical) and hands as well.
To sum it up for you: Be careful with what you buy, especially when it comes to listings of vintage Rolex watches that ‘offer’ added-value like discolored bezels, dials, pearls, hands and so on. Also, even the written proof (or ‘provenance’) that comes with some watches should be traceable to an individual before these should be regarded as ‘authentic’. Also try to get information on the origin of the watch when there is no ‘provenance’, it is unlikely that a Rolex delivered in the 1960s or 1970s to Germany has a tropical dial whereas a Rolex delivered to one of the South American countries and exposed to a lot of sun light is more likely to have a tropical dial. Another tip is to avoid vintage Rolex watches that are for sale by a seller that has a number of watches up for sale, showing the same amount of ‘thick’ patina on dial and hands.
Authentic patina? Are you able to tell?
Use a healthy amount of distrust when examining a Rolex with a dial, hour markers and hands that look like it has been soaked in espresso. Also remember that even vintage Rolex experts do not always have the answer for you!