The Empire Strikes Back – Rolex’s Pre-Owned Program

Since the dawn of time, we have sold our possessions as and when we have either got to the end of our love for them, through necessity, or upon one’s journey to the other side. The antiques and fine art industries, that have been around for centuries, are a result of this recycling of chattels. Over the past century, it’s been the same with watches. That has changed in the past decade, as the pre-owned watch market has bloomed. Not just a quiet growth, but a supersonic, explosive boom like we’ve never seen. One brand that seemingly has dominated the headlines about its incredible resale value is Rolex. Be it vintage watches or more modern pieces, there has been no stopping the Oyster, and yet Rolex always remained tight-lipped about anything other than new watches sold through its authorized dealer network. All that has now changed with the new official Rolex Pre-Owned service.

Rolex's New Pre-Owned Offer

Rolex has always had pretty good residual value, and in fact, many of my friends have made their “money” through collecting, buying and selling Rolex watches over the past two decades. In 1999 you could buy a full-spec Rolex MilSub for £1500 to 2000 at auction, a watch that is now worth far in excess of a quarter of a million quid. I would argue, though, that the real mania began in 1988 with the launch of the then-novel automatic Daytona. It was the ultimate facelift for a watch, with a refreshed case size, new styling and a self-winding movement courtesy of a heavily modified Zenith El-Primero caliber. This watch began the storied Rolex waiting list and raised non-watch collectors’ awareness and perception of the Coronet. Demand has always outstripped demand for the ‘Tona and always will. That is why the secondary market has become such big news and those that peddle it are serious players in the market and the wider industry.

It has been no secret that Rolex has been making moves to recapture some control over the pre-owned market over the past few years. Rumours were rife, when in the US, the brand began removing “Rolex Certified Repairer” status from some watchmakers and the brand has begun insisting that ADs have an in-house watchmaker to handle repairs. In tandem with this, Geneva has quietly been offering a Historic Restoration department. You can now — albeit at a huge premium — submit a vintage watch for a full service and restoration, in return getting the watch back in a stunning wooden marquetry box and a hard-back book chronicling the work done. Young buyers, scared of all the horror stories of ‘Franken’ vintage Rolex, now insist on this Geneva service, especially when buying heavy-hitting pieces. I know a number of dealers who routinely now use the service for special Daytonas and Submariners to ensure the best offer for their clients.

Rolex Day-Date 1962
Rolex's New Pre-Owned Offer

Now Rolex is offering a pre-owned sales service for watches. The program is in its early days, but we can be sure that demand will be high. As I understand it, to begin with, the watches will be available through Bucherer points of sale in six countries; Switzerland, Austria, Germany, France, Denmark and the United Kingdom. From spring 2023, other authorized retailers will be able to apply to offer the service. As the brand says, “Because they are durable, Rolex watches often have several lives. And because they can change owners, the Rolex Certified Pre Owned program now gives retailers in the brand’s official distribution network the possibility of selling certified authentic second-hand watches, accompanied by a new international guarantee of two year.

The watches will come with a new two-year warranty, with a card in a wallet that is much like the guarantee you would get with a new watch. The only stipulation is that the watch has to be more than three years old. That means that, for example, you could buy a current model steel Daytona from November 2019. Will you be able to? I’m not sure. I expect this will not be the purpose of the offer. I doubt there will be a plethora of ‘important’ vintage watches through the system, as most of these types of watches will remain in the territory of specialist vintage dealers. Over time, my feeling is that the offer will focus on classic Rolex watches, such as neo-vintage pieces from the late 80s onwards from the brand’s staples such as Datejust, Day-Date and sports watches like the 16570 Explorer 2 and GMT-Master. These were the watches shared in the press release imagery.

Rolex GMT-Master 1989
Rolex Datejust 2005

At this time, we have no information on pricing. Based on the Geneva restoration prices, I expect it won’t be cheap, but then there is a very valuable premium for many buyers in getting a Rolex guarantee. The model will have to be competitive, though, as Rolex will service most watches from the 80s onwards and offer a two-year guarantee as part of that. Transitioning this to a retail model is a big step, though and one that fans of the brand will applaud. And just think, now your AD might, in fact, have some watches in the windows!

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