Newbies to the world of watch collecting are consistently advised to buy what they love, and to avoid looking at timepieces as investment vehicles. Yet this year, more than ever, buying a new Rolex model from an authorized dealer and selling it on the secondary market is virtually guaranteed to bring returns that (dramatically) outperform the stock market.
Take, for example, the new 36 mm Rolex Explorer in Oystersteel (ref. 124270). Introduced at Watches and Wonders Geneva in April for a retail price of $6,450, the model is currently valued between $10,026 and $11,246 on Chrono24, which bills itself as “the world’s largest marketplace for luxury watches.” As of Aug. 3, the reference was fetching a premium of 66.4 percent above retail.
On Watchfinder & Co., the U.K.-based pre-owned watch retailer acquired by Richemont in 2018, ref. 124270 is going for nearly double its retail value at £9,200, or $12,785. And on Watchbox, a pre-owned retailer based in Philadelphia, the market price ranges from $11,000 to $11,500.
The new 36 mm two-tone Rolex Explorer in Oystersteel and yellow gold (ref. 124273) is also earning a significant premium on the secondary market, with prices on Chrono24 going for 32.5 percent over its list price of $10,800 (with its estimated worth falling anywhere between $13,255 and $15,655). Meanwhile, the reference is selling for $15,000 on WatchBox, and £12,000, or $16,678, on Watchfinder.
“The price growth trajectory for new 2021 Rolex models on Chrono24 definitely follows the same pattern Rolex has proven year over year as the most consistently sought-after brand on our marketplace,” Chrono24 co-CEO Tim Stracke wrote in an email. “Values continue to tick very much upward.”
The frenzy on the secondary market has reached a fever pitch, say dealers.
“I took a week off and everything has gone up—again,” Carol Altieri, chief operating officer of the online pre-owned Rolex dealer Bob’s Watches, wrote in an email. “Prices are up 30 percent almost across the board on not only the Rolex ‘regular’ hot sport models, but all models, from ladies’ models to Datejusts and Cellinis. It must be getting boring to hear this!”
The new Explorer II (ref. 226570), which retails for $8,550, “is the most elusive right now,” says Altieri. “We pay 20-30 percent over retail, and they sell as soon as we put them on site, at 10 percent profit. Not sure where the market is going to take this one yet. The white dial Explorers have always commanded a higher value than the black.”
The Explorer II noted above is available for nearly two times its retail value on Chrono24. The same is true on Watchfinder. There, the white dial version of ref. 226570 is selling for £11,950, or about $16,611, while the black dial version is priced slightly lower at £11,450, or about $15,916.
In short, virtually every Rolex model introduced in April—from the references noted above to the yellow gold Daytona with the meteorite dial (ref. 116508), which retails for $41,000 but lists for £66,950, or $93,050, on Watchfinder—is selling well above retail.
Consider the 2021 crop of Datejusts. The steel Datejust 36 with the palm frond dial (ref. 126200) is currently available for $16,338 on Chrono24, more than double its $7,050 retail value. And the fetching two-tone Datejust 36 in Oystersteel and yellow gold (ref. 126233-038), which retails for $11,050, has an estimated worth on Chrono24 between $14,180 and $17,002. Meanwhile, Watchfinder values the golden-dial reference from £11,150 to £12,400, or $15,499 to $17,236.
And don’t get us started on the most coveted reference from Rolex’s 2020 introductions, the new $8,100 Submariner (ref. 124060). Chrono24 calculates its current value between $12,877 and $13,841, while Watchfinder is selling the model for as much as £12,325, or $17,130, and WatchBox has it priced between $13,500 and $14,000.
Elsewhere in the Rolex pantheon, the interest in classic, and classically unobtainable, references continues to grow.
“Precious metal Daytonas have exploded — from yellow gold greens (ref. 116508-0013) to white gold blues (ref. 116509-0071), and the white gold on Oysterflex (ref. 116519ln-0027) — all of which are commanding over retail market values,” says Justin Reis, co-founder and CEO of WatchBox. “Oysterflex prices are even higher than some all-gold models! Of course, the steel ceramic Daytona (ref. 116500LN-0001) is as strong as ever, actively trading in the high $30ks.”
Chrono24’s Stracke says collector interest in discontinued models is also driving prices higher on older references.
“It’s important to point out that in our community of collectors, it’s not just the novelties that create accelerated pricing frenzies—it’s also about the models that have been consequently discontinued,” he says. “In this case, Rolex announced at Watches & Wonders earlier this year that it would be retiring its Explorer II (Ref. 216570) and it left collectors willing to pay soaring prices before it was no longer available.”
For buyers lucky enough to have a good relationship with an authorized Rolex dealer, requests must be made well in advance of any special occasions.
At Wempe, a prominent Rolex retailer in New York City, there are no such thing as “waiting lists” for Rolex models, which would suggest a chronological order to fulfilling requests. “We try to be part of people’s lives and special occasions and we have longstanding relationships with customers who expect we’d have something for them if their kid is graduating or getting married,” says Wempe US president Ruediger (“Rudy”) Albers. “But we obviously want to get new customers. So we proceed to create relationships and find the customers that love the product for all the right reasons.”
“Many customers do not know what’s going on in the secondary market and do not know what demand is like, so we need to educate them,” he says. “Once it’s properly worded, most people understand if it takes a few months or a few years to get it, that’s the story.”