10 Things To Understand Before Buying a Vintage Rolex

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Vintage Rolex GMT Master with Pepsi bakelite bezel

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Vintage Rolex Air King Reference 1002

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Another vintage Red Submariner

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Movement for the Rolex Red Submariner reference 1680

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Vintage 1966 Rolex Tudor watch

The HSS Guide for helping you make the smartest and most well-informed vintage rolex purchase possible

Buying a brand-new Rolex can be truly special – as the first owner, you really feel as though the watch is your own. The only history that the watch has is the one that you have yet to make with it!

While this is a great feeling, choosing to purchase a vintage Rolex opens up an entirely different range of excitement and one-of-a-kind possibilities.

Due to a range of variables, it often takes a decent amount of knowledge and attention to detail to confidently purchase any vintage Rolex references.

While there are no end-all rules for how to buy a vintage Rolex, below are some key points to remember as you enter the vintage market.

1. Know the Watch

This is easily the most important part of buying any timepiece. All vintage watches will be pre-owned, and no two will be exactly alike. Before you start looking at watches, it is important to familiarize yourself with the specific reference you intend to purchase. That way, you will be able to spot a correct and genuine example when you see one.

2. Check the Condition of the Dial

The dial is almost everything when it comes to vintage Rolex. Dials cannot really be cleaned or polished, so any damage you see is likely permanent. Even when a dial appears to be in good condition, it is important to verify that it is an original dial, and not one that has been refinished.

buying vintage rolex

3. Look at the Luminous

Most vintage Rolex have radium or tritium-based luminous on their hands and hour markers. Since neither materials is still used by Rolex, their presence is an excellent way to check if a dial or set of hands is original. While radium can be verified by a using a Geiger counter, tritium can often be identified because it will no longer glow, and it will have a brownish patina forming on its surface.

4. Confirm the Reference and Serial Numbers

Many of the watches that Rolex produces share parts with other Rolex from similar years. Due to this compatibility, you may come across vintage Rolex that are actually combinations of parts from different watches. For this reason, it is prudent to verify that the reference number corresponds to the appropriate model – and that the serial number has not been reported as stolen.

There are no hard and fast rules on how to buy a vintage Rolex

5. Examine the Hands

Much like the dial, the hands are important to thoroughly examine because they can often give you a lot of useful information about the watch’s history. Bending or scratching can frequently be indicative of a poorly performed, past repair; and any luminous present on the hands should match the luminous on the dial (patina included).

buying vintage rolex

6. Check the Bezel Insert (if applicable)

The colors and text on the aluminum bezel inserts fitted to many vintage Rolex sport models is merely a coating; no marks or scratches can be removed through cleaning or polishing. Generally speaking, an original bezel insert should look its age, especially if the rest of the watch does.

7. Is the Bracelet Correct for the Watch?

Rolex has a few different bracelet designs, and has made several updates to them over the years. If your watch is listed as having an original bracelet, it is worth verifying that it is the correct generation and configuration that should be found on that watch.

8. Look at the Movement

If possible, try to visually inspect the movement (or at least see a picture of it). Beyond confirming that it is the correct caliber for the watch, examining the movement also gives you the opportunity to check for corrosion or visible damage.

buying vintage rolex

9. Has the Watch Been Over-Polished?

The act of polishing removes a tiny layer of metal from the watch’s surface. Frequent or excessive polishing can deform or diminish functional components of the watch, and in certain cases, compromise its structural integrity.

10. Does the Watch Come with Paperwork/Service Records?

Although most vintage Rolex have long been separated form their original paperwork, any and all documentation pertaining to the watch is useful to prospective buyers. Receipts and warranty cards help with authentication, and service records paint a picture of what has been done to the watch, and when it was last maintained.

buying vintage rolex
Although there are no hard and fast rules for how to buy a vintage Rolex, remembering these key points will help you to make a confident and well-informed purchase.

Thanks for reading.

Stylishly Yours,

Paul Altieri
He Spoke Style

Paul Altieri is the Founder and CEO of the popular pre-owned watch site Bob’s Watches.

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