Guide: What to Know Before Buying Your First Rolex

Growing to appreciate watches is one of the signals of gentlemanly adulthood. Watches are, after all, the most utilitarian of all fashion accessories, and they allow for simultaneous feats of design and engineering.

Out of all luxury watch brands, however, Rolex has managed to become synonymous with timeless elegance and success. For the developing watch connoisseur, a Rolex can be the cornerstone of their watch collection easily. This means that buying a Rolex is an investment worth studying and is usually reserved to celebrate a major achievement or to announce to the world that you have reached your own standard of success.

This reputation did not come cheaply for Rolex, as they have cultivated the art of mass-producing tiny works of portable art for centuries. They have continuously expanded their offers and their market for years, but they have also continued to respect their customers enough to avoid compromising their quality standards.

Nevertheless, even the most affordable Rolex models are still major purchases for most of us. The rise of online shopping means that luxury timepieces are now available for more people than ever, but they have also chipped away at many of the rituals that accompany such a momentous purchase. Beyond the occasional clever forgery, many first-time Rolex buyers may not have the privilege of a personal shopping assistant to help them choose the right model.

This is why we have created this guide. As eager as we are to cork open the champagne and celebrate with you, we want to give you the tools to ensure your first Rolex will make you proud.


What Makes a Rolex a Rolex?

A Rolex is now widely understood to be a status symbol, but the brand’s legacy is much larger and vaster than that.

The Rolex house was founded in 1905 in London, although the main brains behind the operation – Hans Wilsdorf – was Swiss-born, bred, and trained. The company moved to Geneva only 14 years after its founding, but Wilsdorf aimed to represent the quintessential Swiss qualities of precision and innovation from the very start.

All the components and pieces on each Rolex watch are still made from scratch at one of their facilities in Switzerland. This includes the diminutive gears of the movement mechanism as well as all the gold, platinum, and steel. They have their own foundry. New advances in nanotechnology have permitted the brand to use computer-based calibrations when designing each new model, or when testing their final product. Most of the assembly, however, is still performed by hand by watchmakers trained in-house.

Despite the vast variety of models offered, there are certain characteristics that we can always expect from a genuine Rolex watch. All Rolex watches now have perpetual movement. They have a self-winding mechanism that uses wrist movement to power the watch. Because of the exacting precision of their hand-assembled mechanisms, the dials on a Rolex watch move smoothly and steadily, without any ticking.

In addition, their steel models all use 904L steel, which is the highest grade of steel used when constructing such small pieces. Most brands use 316L steel, which is softer and easier to handle, but also less exact. Their quality control procedures can only be described as obsessive, and include individual daily testing for at least two weeks across five positions.

All Rolex watches are certified Swiss chronometers, which only 3% of all Swiss luxury watches are. They were also the first to market a waterproof case – the Oyster.

Researching and understanding the brand’s history and achievements is key to appreciating what makes a Rolex special. It will also protect you from accidentally purchasing a convincing forgery.


Where to Buy a Rolex

Traditionally, brand new Rolex watches have been available through specialized or licensed jewelers around the world. Nowadays, you can also buy genuine Rolex watches online, via Amazon and many other retailers. Meanwhile, pre-owned Rolex pieces are often resold by private collectors or smaller retailers, which offers an extra opportunity for forgers to attempt to swindle an over-eager buyer.

Many cheap imitations are easily spotted, either because of garish colors, misprints on the box, or blatant imperfections in the casing or logos. However, expert forgers often use genuine Rolex parts to build their fakes, making them harder to spot. These may pass for the real deal at first, but give it a few years, and the eternal movement will prove short-lived, the apparent precision will fade away, and the scam will be obvious.

It is important to consider that Rolex watches are luxury, ageless pieces. Unlike some (not all) high-end cars, which will begin losing its value as soon as it leaves the dealership, the value of a Rolex often keeps or increases over the years. Many pre-owned Rolex watches are family heirlooms, so be wary of any “good prices” justified because the watch is used.

In addition, Rolex watches all have a unique serial number. You can check online if the serial number of the watch you are being offered matches the model and the metal. The way this number is engraved must be nothing less than perfect, so take a magnifying glass with you.

A true Rolex must be completely silent. And if the dial is marked as “Oyster,” it means you are looking at a waterproof model. Dunk it in water for a few seconds and check that nothing leaks inside the watch and that no new sounds are now audible.


Choosing Your First Rolex – What Are You Looking For?

Rolex watch models can be classified into three different styles, each one targeted at a specific type of occasion and customer.

Casual or sports Rolex models are often sold as entry-level models. They can cost as little as $5,000, which makes them a favorite among first-time buyers. Many of these, such as the Submariner line, are built to withstand deep sea diving.

Their construction tends to be a bit sturdier and the numbers on the dial are often larger. They are still Swiss luxury watches, but they will not look out of place during a casual evening out or at informal events. You can wear such a watch with a pair of jeans without fear of showing off.

If you are looking for the kind of investment watch that you wear frequently, then these are the ideal companions for you. If you do not need the high-tech resistance offered by the Submariner, try the slim silhouette and modern typography offered by the Explorer line, or bring the colors up a notch with a GMT Master.

The next step on the Rolex ladder falls into the business wear range. These models are halfway between the everyday-friendly and the white tie worthy models. Depending on the dress code required in your industry, this may be the watch you wear every day to work or the special one that you dust off to impress important clients.

These watches tend to skip the sports features and opt for calendars. Polished gold replaces sleek steel, and traditional typography or Roman numerals add an extra layer of class to the overall design. Some of the key models in this range include the Air King, the Daytona line, and the Datejust, which doubles as one of the most instantly recognizable silver Rolex models.

These tend to be sober watches, so combining them with your existing wardrobe should be easier than with sports or casual models. Nevertheless, if you want to maximize their versatility, take a good look at your tie clips, twins, and tie colors – or just buy new ones altogether. A brand-new Rolex is worth it.

High-end luxury models are rarely a watch lover’s first purchase. Not only can they cost over $15,000, but they tend to be made exclusively from precious metals (such as platinum, gold, or eternal rose gold) or gemstones. If you are looking for a family heirloom for your new empire, or want to ensure that your purchase becomes an investment that will increase in value, then these are the watches that you should aim for.

Most luxury Rolex models are produced in very small batches or as part of limited editions. We cannot mention high-end Rolex models without paying special homage to the President model, one of the highest prizes in the world of horology. The model’s official name is actually the Perpetual Day-Date, but they have been seen so often on the wrists of royalty, dignitaries, and American presidents to be inextricably linked with the allure of power, confidence, and elegance.

A President watch can cost over $30,000 easily. Certified pre-owned models can double this price, especially if they have belonged to a power broker or celebrity, or if the watch itself was worn during a famous or historical event. While this may seem an exaggeration, collectors are keenly aware that the Rolex Day-Date is a frequent guest at royal weddings and diplomatic summits. Naturally, these are watches worn on special occasions only.


Vintage, Pre-Owned, or Used: Is a Watch with a History Worth It?

Depending on the occasion, buying a pre-owned Rolex can detract from or enhance the intended message. However, these watches are often sold from a wider variety of places than brand new models, and, therefore, open the gates for more sophisticated concerns.

If you are buying your first Rolex to celebrate your own achievement or that of a loved one (such as a graduation, promotion, or award), used Rolex watches may not be the best idea. In such cases, the watch will probably be linked to someone else’s own success story, so the resulting effect of such a gift may not be as momentous as intended.

That being said, many vintage Rolex watches belong to limited editions and discontinued models, which can, therefore, increase their rarity and their value as an investment. If this is what you are going for, then ensuring you protect your investment is of the utmost importance.

A pre-owned Rolex should never be bought online, especially from an auction site. You want to have the chance to examine it in person and to have a professional watchmaker or valuator accompany you before you write any figures down.

Even an original pre-owned Rolex may have had a part replaced, or it could have been mistreated or poorly repaired in the past. This may not leave any visible signs, but it will undoubtedly affect the watch’s internal mechanisms.

If there is any sort of legend or historical event attached to the watch in question, then it is important to double check all information provided. Many reputable forums online will offer you the opportunity to cross reference the watch’s serial numbers or inquire about the seller’s credentials.

Whether you are celebrating your first major hit, consolidating your empire, or seeking to awe your new acquaintances, purchasing your first Rolex is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. You are entering the big leagues, so it is important to treat this purchase with adequate respect. Rather than yielding to impulse, carefully examine the purpose of your new watch, the frequency with which you want to wear it, and your existing wardrobe.

More importantly, enjoy the process. Horology offers a unique combination of finery and engineering, so it deserves to be enjoyed every step of the way.