It’s been an interesting year when it comes to prices for Rolex watches. After the first quarter of 2022, we saw a drop in prices for many references. Some called it a “price correction” after a period of non-stop hype. Others thought (or maybe hoped) that this would lead to a gradual normalization of Rolex prices. After all, some Rolex models are still two or three times their retail price. But although prices perhaps have come down, we’re still far from being back to retail levels.
Lower prices also raise the question of whether you could still make money investing in a Rolex. As I’ve always said, making substantial money with watches is usually a waiting game. And with the market such as it is, there are definitely no guarantees. Nevertheless, we’ve come up with a list of five Rolex models that could potentially go up in price over time. And when we say “over time,” we mean a longer period of time. There really are no shortcuts when it comes to getting a serious return on your investment. This list is meant to be a selection of watches that are probably more affordable now than they will be in 12 months. Some of them are obvious choices, and some might come as a surprise. Let’s get to it, and speculate a little about good Rolex investments.
1. Rolex GMT-Master II Ref. 16710
Last year, I closed out my list of potential good investments with the famous Rolex GMT-Master ref. 1675. Over the course of the last twelve months, we’ve seen prices for this ref. go up. The appreciation has been remarkable, especially in the last couple of months. So it’s still a solid pick. I want to start this new list with the modern version of this classic timepiece. The Rolex GMT-Master II ref. 16710 produced from 1989 to 2007 was the last reference with an aluminum bezel before the introduction in 2007 of the steel ref. 116710 with an all-black Cerachrom bezel.
This long production run means a lot of different versions of the watch were produced that include models with Pepsi and Coke bezels, as well as a fully black bezel version. Furthermore, the first models until 1997 used tritium lume, before switching to LumiNova from 1997 until roughly 1999, and Super-LumiNova from 2000 onwards. Rolex equipped the watch with its 3185 in-house caliber. Thanks to this movement, Rolex was able to make the case slimmer in comparison to previous editions. Some of the last models from 2007 actually feature the updated caliber 3186. Overall, this GMT-Master is a great option if you’re looking for that classic Rolex GMT-Master style that was available prior to the ceramic bezel take-over. If you get one of the early models with tritium lume, you’ll have a great future classic and, honestly, any of the ref. 16710 models will make for a great pick. The Coke bezel variants are slightly more affordable, but Pepsi bezel editions are not spectacularly more expensive. The watch is simply a great pick, with prices starting at just over €10K.
2. Rolex Submariner Ref. 16610
Next up is a Rolex Submariner I featured in an earlier article in this series. Featuring it again here is easy if you consider what you get for your money and its remarkable potential to appreciate in value: the brilliant Rolex Submariner ref. 16610. The ref. 16610 is a steal, especially when compared to the modern Submariners with ceramic bezels. On Chrono24, you can purchase the current Submariner ref. 126610 for roughly €14K, while the beefier previous generation ref. 116610 costs a good €11K-12K. The Rolex Submariner ref. 16610 starts at roughly €8.5K, which is significantly more affordable.
Let me remind you of what makes this watch such a great pick. The Submariner ref. 16610 was in production from 1988 until 2010. During these two decades, Rolex carried out a string of small updates. One of the most significant was the switch from tritium lume to LumiNova, and then to Super-LumiNova in the late ’90s. If you prefer a watch with a vintage vibe, I suggest you look at the tritium models, easily identified by the “SWISS – T<25” on their dials. The models with LumiNova only say “SWISS,” while models with Super-LumiNova feature “SWISS MADE” on the dial. Generally speaking, prices for a Submariner ref. 16610 start at roughly €8.5K and end around €14K. It’s tough to find a Rolex for under €10K these days, which makes this the perfect model for frugal buyers.
3. Rolex Datejust Ref. 16234
We’re sticking to affordable watches, and moving to the Rolex Datejust. For many, the Datejust is both a great way to enter the world of Rolex in terms of price, and a great watch for almost any occasion. You can wear the Datejust in casual situations and at formal events. For this list, I chose the Datejust ref. 16234 introduced in 1988. This release was a step forward for the Datejust, and featured a sapphire crystal, while still maintaining the vintage Datejust vibe. The following generations featured beefier lugs, thereby essentially changing the Datejust’s elegant aesthetic.
The ref. 16234 features a 36-mm stainless steel case with a fluted white gold bezel, which differentiates it from the same generation ref. 16220, which comes with an engine-turned stainless steel bezel. Both options make for a great daily wearer. The reason I picked ref. 16234 is that I slightly prefer the look of the white gold bezel. But that’s purely a personal choice; both references are great choices, and come in a variety of dial colors and configurations. You could opt for a black-dial or silver-dial version with regular hour markers. How about a salmon-colored dial with Roman numerals? I’ve always had a soft spot for that version. Whichever your preferred pick, you don’t have to remortgage your house to get one. Prices for a Datejust ref. 16234 start at roughly €4.5K and go up to €8.5K, depending on the condition and rarity of the dial. All of them give you a watch with a vintage vibe with the modern perks of the 3135 caliber and a sapphire crystal. This is a great pick that is sure to become even more popular over time.
4. Rolex Explorer II Ref. 16570
The Rolex Explorer II ref. 16570 was also part of a previous list of watches that will possibly increase in value over time. What strikes me most is that this specific model starts at roughly €6.5K, but predominantly in Japan. That’s not a price we typically see for a lot of Rolex sport models. This therefore may well be a great pick if you plan on wearing the watch and waiting to see if it increases in value over time. I’m pretty sure this will be the case, considering its status as the last 40-mm Explorer II. It was introduced in 1989 as the follow-up to the ref. 16550, and came with some significant updates compared to its predecessor. The ref. 16570 is powered by the famous caliber 3185, a big step forward in terms of technology. For the last run of models, Rolex updated the Explorer II to the caliber 3186, which featured some minor tweaks in comparison to its predecessor.
Rolex produced the Explorer II ref. 16570 for a total of 22 years before it was replaced by the new, bigger ref. 216570 in 2011. This watch was available with a black dial or a white “polar” dial. For this version, Rolex replaced the white gold outlines around the hour markers with black outlines, creating a great contrast with the white background. Rolex updated the lume of the ref. 16570 over the years from tritium, to Luminova, to Super-LumiNova. Prices for a ref. 16570 start at roughly €6.5K-7.5K for a watch without box and papers. If you want a full set, expect to pay between €8K and €11K, depending on the condition. Considering prices for newer Explorer II models, this is a very good deal.
5. Rolex Explorer II Ref. 1655
The last pick on this list is another Rolex Explorer II, the first generation of the model, to be exact. It misleadingly carries the nickname “Steve McQueen,” even though the Hollywood icon was never seen wearing the watch. In any case, it’s a great timepiece that deserves every bit of the attention it gets. The watch was Rolex’s next step in the Explorer line of watches. When the ref. 1655 was introduced in 1971, it was intended for speleologists and other cave explorers. The watch’s remarkable design was a step away from the regular Explorer, adding the functionality of a 24-hour bezel with an extra hand to indicate the time on a 24-hour scale. That specific functionality was introduced for explorers who might be unable to distinguish daytime from nighttime when underground in dark caves for long periods. Conveniently, this hand also serves as a GMT function to indicate a second time zone.
Along with being a 40-mm watch with a GMT bezel, this timepiece features a quirky dial that is admittedly not always easy to read. There is a regular 60-minute scale with fatter markers for every five minutes, oversized markers at 6, 9, and 12 o’clock, and the date window at 3. Outside the minute track, there’s an extra track marking the odd-numbered hours of the 24-hour scale (these are marked by black lines on the bezel itself). Rolex incorporated this scale for the large orange hand to indicate a second time zone on the 24-hour scale. Although this integration of a second scale can be confusing, in the world of Rolex, these design quirks or oddities are often much-appreciated. I personally love the dial design because it offers something remarkable along with the functionality of a GMT. The Explorer II ref. 1655 was in production until 1988 when it was replaced by the ref. 16550 that introduced the current Explorer II design. The ref. 1655, however, remains a much-loved watch among Rolex fans. Prices for one are nowhere near the prices of some of the other classics, starting between €20-25K and going up to €45K-50K for one with its original box and papers. Knowing that some of the icons of the past go for prices much higher than this, I expect the prices for this brilliant Explorer II ref. 1655 to increase over time.
That concludes our list of five Rolex models that could turn out to be a great investment. That leaves me with nothing left to say but: Happy hunting!