Whether you’re in to watches or not, the last couple of years has seen a huge surge in interest and demand in high-end timepieces, both vintage and new. More than just a pretty face, mechanical watches represent years of engineering and fine-tuning and hours upon hours of precise craftsmanship. Because of the intricacies and difficulties of watch-making, it can be difficult to know what to look for or what you’re getting when you purchase a watch, particularly if you’re buying a vintage or pre-owned watch. Paul Altieri of Bob’s Watches looks to clear the sometimes murky waters of purchasing pre-owned watches with this informative article on one of the most iconic watch designs in the world, the Rolex Submariner. Check out the full piece below and be sure to check out the stunning selection of Rolex watches over at Bob’s Watches.
Making the decision…
“It is a well documented fact that some Rolex watch models can be resold years later for many times more than their original purchase price.”
Whether you are interested in buying a Rolex Submariner as your first foray into the world of luxury watches, or if you are simply adding to your collection, the first decisions you make involve where you buy the watch and whether you will purchase it new or pre-owned. Rolex watches are so much more than a timepiece; they are an investment. In fact, the Swiss wristwatch is known to appreciate over time. It is a well documented fact that some Rolex watch models can be resold years later for many times more than their original purchase price. Check out the sold archives on either Christies or Sotheby’s to see some real numbers. With that in mind, the price tag for purchasing a brand new Rolex can deter some shoppers, but this does not mean that shoppers should consider themselves priced out of the market. The Rolex Oyster Perpetual Submariner, one of the most popular designs, can be had at a reasonable price point, if one knows where to look. While there is no official, published list of prices, this guide is offered as a way for customers to educate themselves so that they may feel confident when searching the market for an authentic pre-owned Submariner.
The Rolex Submariner…
The sheer number of models for Rolex watches can overwhelm the novice shopper, so it is important to first understand the history of the Submariner, for this is the product of decades of precise refinements, some noticeable to the naked eye and others not. First making its debut at the 1954 Swiss Watch Fair, the Submariner was appropriately named, as it was the first watch designed for the purposes of deep sea diving. Known for its resistance to water, the Rolex Submariner now boasts a maximum submersible depth of 300 meters (980 feet), a dramatic increase from the earlier models, which could withstand up to 200 meters (660 feet) of pressure.
“The Rolex Submariner has long been a staple on the wrists of legendary figures – some fictional, most not. It has been featured on the wrist of 007, James Bond, in eleven movies, including films starring Sean Connery, Roger Moore, and Timothy Dalton”
The Submariner now features the “cathedral” or “Mercedes” hand set, unlike the “pencil” style hands which were a staple of the earlier models of the 1950’s. Other new movements and small cosmetic changes have been added to the Submariner, which now features the Submariner name on the dial, and offers two options for the crown: both the oversized winding crown and the small crown. The unidirectional bezel allows divers to track their immersion time. The bezel only rotates in a counterclockwise direction, meaning that the time can only be made shorter; the danger of spending too much time underwater is non-existent. Part of the Oyster Perpetual line, the self-winding watch features a perpetual rotor wherein even the slightest of movements power the watch. The watch will continue to keep time for up to three days with no movement as a result of the energy stored in the mainspring.
The Rolex Submariner has long been a staple on the wrists of legendary figures – some fictional, most not. It has been featured on the wrist of 007, James Bond, in eleven movies, including films starring Sean Connery, Roger Moore, and Timothy Dalton; the Norwegian anthropologist Thor Heyerdal famously wore the Submariner on his Ra II sea expedition in 1970; it withstood over 1,000 dives during the Moana sea expedition; the Submariner kept precise time in temperatures of down to 45 degrees below zero, Celsius, in the Antarctic; the French diving company COMEX made the Submariner standard issue for its saturation divers; and the British Royal Navy used a special edition of the watch for frogman use.
About Imitations and pricings…
“These knockoffs can cost anywhere from $100 and $300 to make, but uneducated shoppers will still spend $3,000 on it, not noticing the minutiae separating the genuine, real deal from its imposters.”
With this profound level of widespread popularity, the Submariner has been one of the most oft-counterfeited watches on the market. Indeed, the advent of CNC computer cutting machines, lasers, and improved methods for printing and scanning has made the counterfeiting of the Submariner far too easy. These knockoffs can cost anywhere from $100 and $300 to make, but uneducated shoppers will still spend $3,000 on it, not noticing the minutiae separating the genuine, real deal from its imposters. The solid gold band alone on the Submariner costs upwards of $5,000. Caveat emptor – “let the buyer beware” – is the key phrase here, because we are really buying the seller, not the watch itself. Do your due diligence: Research the dealer online, especially for auction websites or classified ads, because reviews and word-of-mouth are extremely valuable resources. Accreditation from the Better Business Bureau should be considered a ringing endorsement. When you purchase your Submariner from a trusted dealer, you are receiving more than a watch; you are receiving peace of mind. A common ploy is to sell a fake watch in a real box, making that extra 5 to 10% cost for the original box and papers, including maintenance records, a worthy investment. (Note: A genuine Rolex is due for servicing approximately every seven years.)
Some methods of detecting an imitation – “homage” – are more well-known than others. For instance, many know to look first at the second-hand, which will glide and never tick on a genuine Rolex Submariner. Few realize that Rolex will never use rubber or chrome (or chrome-plate) in the manufacturing process, nor will the watch be gold-plated. Instead, either 14-karat or 18-karat gold will be used. A transparent case was only used for one specific Rolex watch, so steer clear of any transparent cases. On the Submariner, the screwed-back case is used, not a pop-up version. The authentic case will either be made from a solid block of stainless steel, corrosion-resistant alloy, or from gold. Many imitation watches will feature a skeleton dial, something that is not part of the Rolex repertoire. With all of this in mind, the Submariner can be yours for as little as a few thousand dollars or up to tens of thousands of dollars, depending on your budget.
When shopping for Rolex watches, prices become of paramount importance. Chances are, if you are looking for gold, diamond, or mother of pearl – the most expensive versions of the Submariner – price is no issue. But if you are reading this guide, you are looking for opportunities in the marketplace to find value, where we can get bang for our buck. We present the following list, ordered from least expensive to most expensive:
Stainless Steel Models
The Black Rolex Submariner – model #16610 – is simple and clean, featuring a sharp black face with luminescent hands and hour markers, as well as the date. The bracelet is made from stainless steel, as is the case, making this both a classy choice and the least expensive. A pre-owned black Rolex Submariner can be purchased for $4,500 to $6,000, depending mostly on age and condition. This model was produced from 1989 to 2010.
The Black Rolex Submariner – model #14060 – is very similar to the 16610, except that it has no date. This “no date” model is favored by many serious collectors and watch enthusiast for its purity and balance. These models are in less supply, so they oftentimes sell very quickly. Current pre-owned values are $4,300 to $5,500. The #14060 was produced by Rolex from 1990 to 2002.
The Rolex Submariner Green Anniversary – model #16610LV – features automatic winding, luminous markers, sleek engineering, the stainless steel oyster, 31 jewels, and a quickset. Produced between 2003 and 2010 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Submariner, this collectible can be found for as low as $6,300 and up to $8,500.
The Rolex Submariner Green Dial – model #116610LV – was designed to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Submariner. Known as the “Rolex green Submariner,” this watch – the current model in production by Rolex – features a green bezel and Maxi dial, and is priced on the aftermarket between $8,000 and $9,500. This model has become quite collectible during the past year.
The Rolex Submariner Ceramic Bezel – model #116610 – is the current model in production by Rolex. It features a waterproof 40mm stainless steel case, signature screw down crown, and a handsome black dial with white Luminova hour markers. Current pre-owned values range from $8,000 to $9,500.
Two-Tone Models (18k and Steel)
The Rolex Submariner Two-Tone – model #16613 – features an easy rotating ceramic diver’s bezel, 31 jewel movement, self-winding technology, a sapphire crystal, and offers a number of dial and bracelet options. The dial includes black, silver, and blue, and showcases luminous hour markers. This model, which was produced from about 1988 to 2010, can be found on the current resale market for between $6,000 to $9,000, depending on age and condition.
The Rolex Submariner Two-Tone – model #116613 – has a brilliant blue face with luminous hands and markers, with a bracelet made of 18-karat yellow gold and steel. The ceramic two-tone Submariner can be purchased pre-owned from about $9,000 to as much as $12,500.
Solid 18k Gold Models
The Rolex 18K Gold Submariner – model #16618 – was designed in 1990, and it has retained its value to this day. Featuring a solid 18-karat gold oyster bracelet, rotating diver bezel, white markets, and screw-down crown, a pre-owned 18K gold Submariner can be found between $14,000 and $22,000. This model was produced from about 1990 to 2010.
The Rolex 18K Gold Submariner – model #116618 – was designed in 2007. It has a black dial with white, luminous hour markers, and an Oyster bracelet made from 18-karat yellow gold with Glidelock clasps. This classic status symbol carries a higher price tag than other pre-owned Rolex watches, ranging from $25,000 to $30,000. This is the current production model.
The Rolex White Gold Submariner – model #116619 – is a variation on the 18K gold Submariner, both priced between $25,000 and $30,000, and features white gold, a ceramic bezel, and is pressure proof up to 1,000 feet. This model is currently being produced.
It is important to keep in mind that you will ultimately be the best judge of which specific Rolex Submariner is right for you. If you do not get a good feeling about the purchase or about the seller, walk away. If you feel pressured into making an immediate purchase, walk away. This guide will serve you well as an introduction to the Rolex brand generally and the Submariner model specifically, but any dealer worth your time will spend his or her time educating you on the differences between each watch. The Rolex Submariner is more than just a watch. It is a statement, a status symbol, and one of the finest works of craftsmanship on the planet. Tens of thousands of dollars may seem expensive if you were only purchasing this for a short period of time, but the Rolex brand holds themselves to such high standards that this will be the watch that you pass down to your children, and that they pass down to your grandchildren. Keep this long-term timeframe in mind when you search the available offerings, and spend a slightly higher rate than you planned, if only for the peace of mind that accompanies the purchase of a genuine, handmade Swiss timepiece.