Which Rolex model is the best choice?
Our guide to buying your entry level stainless steel Rolex for men.
The unstoppable rise of Rolex among the most desirable luxury watch brands.
If you talk about watches to a teenager, a middle manager or a top executive, it is very likely that in most cases their choice, if they're looking into buying a new watch, is geared towards Rolex. In the second and third cases, that choice is not just driven by passion but represents a form of investment. That buyer is aiming to buy not just any Rolex watch, preferably a selected bunch of timepieces like a Rolex Submariner, a Rolex GMT Master 2 or a Rolex Daytona.
I would add, to the timepieces cited above, two other ones, that belong to Rolex's main competitors: the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Jumbo and the Patek Philippe Nautilus 5711. A teenager instead, unless he is an avid watch enthusiast, mainly chooses based on brand awareness. My nephew, for example, has turned eighteen and, although he is not a big fan of luxury watches, considers a Rolex as the only possible option should he ever decide to buy a luxury watch, and Rolex is almost exclusively the only watch brand sitting on top of his circle of friends' list of most wanted watches.
Why do people choose a Rolex? Let's start by discussing the brand awareness first.
According to an analysis released by Interbrand, the leading company in classifying a consumer brand's awareness, Rolex ranks third according to their survey of the best Swiss brands, whose latest publication dates back to 2016. In their "Best Swiss Brands 2016", you may find an abstract below, Rolex ranks third just behind very popular consumer brands like Nescafé and Nestlé.
If we remove all the brands from this list but luxury brands, we reckon Rolex is valued twice as much as Omega watches and is by far the most valuable luxury brand. To fully understand how is this classification conceived, I suggest you deepen Interbrand's methodology in measuring brand awareness for each of the listed brands. I believe Rolex needs no introduction, what I'm willing to highlight here is that, contrary to popular belief, the value of a brand, its authoritativeness, is measurable and, therefore, comparable.
The growth of the Rolex price list over time and the proof the brand shifted from being a luxury watchmaker to an asset of a person's investment portfolio.
The most common sentence I've often heard from friends and people whether they own a Rolex or not and are looking into purchasing a new or a used watch, is that buying a Rolex is a solid form of investment. Given that investing in shares or other financial products has become riskier than ever before, buying a Rolex is widely recognized as a way to combine passion with safeguarding your money. In worst cases, a Rolex watch's resale value is at least in line with its purchase price, given the Rolex price list keeps growing at a steady pace too, year after year.
If you're lucky enough to get your hands-on a Rolex Pepsi or a Rolex Batman at their listed price, there is no better investment you can do, especially in the short and mid-term. Over the last ten years, all the luxury watch brands have steadily increased their price lists, but just a bunch of them are selling their watches above or in line with their suggested retail prices, and Rolex is among them. I would mention another luxury watch brand, let alone it's a niche brand, to this selected group: that brand is Blancpain. The Swiss brand that launched the first diving watch ever, the Fifty Fathoms, is by far more technically refined and exclusive than Rolex, and produces a few pieces per year, in comparison. Rolex's greatness is in conveying an image of exclusivity, despite producing, according to estimates, between 800,000 and one million pieces per year.
From the cheapest, all the way up to the most expensive Rolex: which one to choose among the entry level Rolex watches for him?
If you were looking for a Rolex or your first ever Rolex, and a Rolex Batman or a Rolex Pepsi is not atop your wish list, what might be the best value-for-money option? If you land the official Rolex website, you first get it offers a unique brand experience in the benchmark, and that experience is far above what any other brand can offer. There are brands out there offering more exclusive and refined high-end products, featuring incredible mechanical complications and top notch "savoir-faire," yet none of them can compete with Rolex when it comes to the overall appeal.
The only brand to have partially closed up with Rolex over the years is Omega watches, whose communication strategy has dramatically improved as have their watches. Rolex, like Omega, officially lists the price of all its watches on its website, exclusive pieces like a Pearlmaster or a Datejust in gold and diamonds, for example, excluded. Conversely, if you're willing to get a comprehensive overview of the price list, it is hard to get and hard is, therefore, to understand which is the most expensive or the cheapest Rolex, in one go. If we try and extract a list of Rolex watches for men, and we sort them by price, among stainless steel watches, that list looks like the following:
- Rolex Oyster Perpetual 39
- Rolex Air-King
- Rolex Submariner (No Date)
- Rolex Datejust 41
- Rolex Explorer
- Rolex Milgauss
- Rolex GMT-Master 2
- Rolex Yacht-Master Oystersteel e Platino
- Rolex Daytona
I assumed a 41mm case size for the Datejust, and a 39mm case size for the Oyster Perpetual. Some collections, also, like the Air-King the Oyster Perpetual 39, and the Explorer come exclusively in steel, while others offer multiple options, like the Daytona that is available either in stainless steel, steel and gold, full gold (or platinum). Last but not least, the Rolex Yacht-Master 40 is in Rolesium (the bezel is in platinum), but I think it fits this clusterization, given size and features.
In the infographic above (official Italian retail prices as of 5 June 2019), you can get a graph of Rolex watches for him's entry prices, sorted by collection and model.
From retail price to market price: comparing Rolex price list and availability with the selling price.
If we compare official price list and selling price, according to Chrono24 (comparison is like for like, watches are new and unworn), we get that the market selling price is in line with the suggested retail price in some cases, and the product is readily available at the brand's authorized dealers. Others have instead a selling price far higher than their sticker price.
This trend is due to the policy Rolex applies on specific collections belonging to medium-top end range: you're willing to buy a Rolex GMT-Master 2 Pepsi or a Batman? Be ready to add your full name to a long waiting list, and the same goes with the Daytona. In either case, you also have no guarantee you get the watch, even after a year or two.
If you're looking for a Daytona, product shortage is now affecting the gold versions too. Since Rolex is providing its official dealers with a few pieces, the outcome is that prices on the grey and second-hand markets have skyrocketed.
I did not include the Rolex Sky-Dweller, for the simple reason it is a far more complex watch than any other else in this list, and I hardly believe it can be regarded as a first choice. Likewise, I also removed some professional divers, like the Rolex Deepsea, the Rolex Sea-Dweller, and the Rolex Yacht-Master II.
What to buy? Are these Rolex watches a good investment? Thoughts and suggestions.
If we take into account that Rolex keeps increasing the price list more than once per year, and that every sports Rolex in Oystersteel is easy to trade, I believe that trying to buy a GMT Master 2 or a Daytona is a hard move and makes non-sense. The Rolex Submariner also has its Grail steel version, namely the "Hulk" that showcases green dial and bezel and is crazily priced too. If I had to suggest what entry-level stainless steel Rolex to buy, right now, I would instead opt for an Oyster Perpetual 39 or, even better, a Rolex Submariner No Date. Either watches preserve their value over time, with the Submariner being, contrary to any common belief, more elegant than the standard Submariner, that showcases that weird, in my opinion, magnifying glass. I believe a Submariner No Date will steadily increase its value over time. What do you guys think? What are your thoughts? Meanwhile, we keep going and start analyzing a new trend: the rise of Rolex full gold watches. Stay tuned!
Update: the Rolex 2020 new price list; a consistent increase in prices for specific references.
Towards the end of last year, Rolex has increased its retail recommended price list. All the references you see listed in this post had a price increase that was huge in some cases. If we take the list of timepieces introduced in this article, please read below the updated 2020 pricing, and the price increase each of these references had, in comparison to the old ones:
- Rolex Oyster Perpetual 39: 5,400€ (+2%)
- Rolex Air-King: 6,150€ (+6%)
- Rolex Submariner 114060: 7,550€ (+9%)
- Rolex Datejust 41: 7,550€ (+10%)
- Rolex Explorer: 6,200€ (+2%)
- Rolex Milgauss: 7,950€ (+5%)
- Rolex GMT-Master 2: 9,250€ (+8%)
- Rolex Yacht-Master Oystersteel and Platinum: 11,450€ (+5%)
- Rolex Daytona: 12,600€ (+9%)
Understanding the business logic behind a new price list if often hard; what you can get at a glance is that, among those belonging to this list, the three watches whose 2020 pricing has grown the most are the Rolex Daytona, the Rolex GMT-Master 2 and the Rolex Submariner 114060, whose increases are between 8% and 10%. A reasonable explanation might be found in the unbalance between product demand and product offering, with a new model joining the party: the Rolex 114060 is a hot piece since the second part of 2019, and the waiting list has grown significantly. What I can hardly explain instead is the 10% price increase on the Datejust 41, which is the highest, whereas the Rolex Oyster Perpetual 39 and the Rolex Explorer keep representing, alongside the Rolex Air-King, an entry-level value proposition to the category of Rolex Oystersteel watches.
(Photo credit: Interbrand, Peter Tung for Horbiter®)
Gaetano C @Horbiter®