Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Tough times ahead for collectors of vintage Rolex watches

As most of you know, I am not really a watch collector per se. However I do have a few vintage 'keepers', mainly of Rolex Sports fame. There is something special about old Submariners and Explorers - not to mention the always popular Daytonas from the seventies. Over the years I have collected a few of those and this is something I am really proud of.

However, I am worried that the next few years are going to be extremely challenging for the Rolex vintage watch market.

A brief introduction to those of you who are not really into vintage stuff: the value of any vintage timepiece is largely determined by two factors: originality and overall condition.

Watches which contain a mix of original and non-original components are called 'frankenstein' watches. Despite their good appearance, these watches have very low collectors' value.

On the contrary, all-original watches with good provenance are highly sought after and fetch premium price.

And here is the key point: the single most important component is the watch dial.

The watch dial alone could make thousands of dollars of difference! For example, if you are to 'convert' a standard vintage Submariner into a more sought after 'red line' Sub, you can easily make a profit of $ 2,000. If you are smart enough (and this is really an easy job for a scammer) you can create even more exotic models like military, COMEX, double red Seadweller - pieces worth tens of thousands of dollars.

Yes, it is as simple as that.

Now this is not a new issue. But what is new is the shocking state of affairs where in conversion dials, hands and components are now not just readily available from eBay and online, but the variety of choices has exploded - and the prices of fake dials are getting lower and lower.

Here is just one example from the webpage I've bumped into yesterday morning

By the way, apart form fake dials for sale, this entrepreneur will supply other components which would allow you to convert an ordinary model into a sports model.

Below is a 'testimonial' picture - form the same website- from a happy customer who converted his Air king into an Explorer I.

I chose not to attach images of other models, like a double red Seadweller, which are just too painfully graphic for public display.

Bottom line: the vintage Rolex market has been polluted to such a level that telling fake from real is now almost impossible for even advance collectors. As a consequence, prices of vintage Rolex watches will drop significantly. It is no longer safe to buy any exotic Rolex model without thorough inspection which basically means pulling the entire watch apart and checking every individual casing / dial component. Something only a watchmaker can do.

I have never bought a vintage Rolex watch from eBay - as a watchmaker, I know too well that most likely I will end up with either a frankenstein watch or an original that's a worn out piece in need of expensive restoration.

But thanks to current developments, I am now not even interested in privately owned vintage Rolex stock which was traded in the past 20 years. Which means if you have bought a vintage Submariner 5 years ago and you wish to sell it, I am not your man. Take it to your supplier, or put it back on eBay. I don't want it.

I am not sugar coating this issue. Passing on a put-together watch is CRIMINAL activity. And I invite my fellow dealers to REJECT any vintage Rolex stock which has been recently traded.

To preserve integrity and reputation, we need to draw the line somewhere.

For me, that means no trading in vintage Rolex watches, except for pieces which I can personally guarantee as 100% genuine. Pieces like "one owner's watch" - watches acquired from ORIGINAL owners who bought them new back in the 60s/70s. Watches with dubious provenance must be rejected straight away. Yes, some dealers and collectors would do anything to make a quick profit, but there are still a few 'good ones' out there who have the expertise to tell the difference.

The only permanent solution to this problem - a solution which will restore the collector's confidence and stop the erosion of watch value - lies in the hands of Rolex Switzerland.

If Rolex Switzerland decides to set up a validation and verification service for their own vintage watches, I would be the first one to send my entire PRIVATE collection for validation. I would be more than happy to pay whatever it costs to have my watches inspected and verified to be 100% genuine. Such a certificate will significantly increase the value of my vintage Rolex watches. And your too.

Regrettably, this service is not available. While few other reputable Swiss companies like Patek Philppe for example do offer validation service for any watch they've ever sold, Rolex is still not interested in providing a similar service.

We can only hope that this situation will change soon, for the common benefit to the Rolex brand, watch dealers and watch collectors.

That would be a day to celebrate!

Until that day, the only qualified and authoritative expert in the area is your independent watchmaker - the guy who has been handling, repairing and restoring Rolex watches for decades; who know them 'inside out'.

If you have opinion on subject, feel free to write.

Of course, as always, this newsletter is open to Rolex for official comment. We would love to hear from Rolex directly because this is a burning issue which can no longer be ignored.

I have emailed a link of the shoddy website to Rolex for their investigation. Hopefully, the site will be shut down soon.

NOTE: the above article is in relation to VINTAGE SPORTS ROLEX models only. These watches were sold in 1950-1970.

Watches sold from 1980s-today are not considered vintage or collectable. As such, these watches are not significantly affected by the proliferation of fake VINTAGE spare parts. Modern fakes are easy to detect!

As always, deal with people you can trust.

For more Rolex buying tips, see

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