Unless money is no object, building a vintage Rolex collection should start with practical pieces that aren’t so precious you can’t wear them every day, yet are worth enough that they’ll not only hold their value but eventually show an increase. And that might be easier than you think. There are some key pieces costing less than $10,000 that qualify as excellent buys right now, and if you’re not obsessed with finding watches in mint condition they’ll perform well in the years to come both on your wrist and in your portfolio.
We talked to two top experts to help select three essential Rolex models that fit the bill: Paul Altieri, founder of online luxury watch boutique “bid/ask” marketplace backed by Eminem and Mark Wahlberg where collectors can build their portfolios of luxury timepieces. Here’s their take:, who is also one of the world’s top Rolex collectors; and Blake Buettner, Head of , the live
Altieri: “The Vintage Rolex ‘President’ 1803 is the perfect starting place for any beginner. It’s also known as a Day-Date, which is a watch that should be a consideration in your collection. The 36mm yellow gold casing just pops against the darker dial and gives it a great ‘70s look that’s also timeless. And this model has risen significantly in value over the past five years.”
Buettner: “The Day-Date Ref. 1803 is archetype of Rolex formal wear. It small, but packs a lot of presence with its fluted bezel and prominent day window at 12 o’clock. There’s a lot of distinction in wearing the 1803, and its subtle nature on the wrist belies the privilege bestowed upon its flagship status as Rolex’s most exclusive dress watch.”
Altieri: “What I love about this GMT-Master is that it’s just as cool and functional today as when first introduced. Outfitted with an automatic movement that was built for transatlantic pilots, it can keep two time zones and military time. The oyster case also means that it can withstand high elevation and deep water. And the look of it is just killer. It will quickly become a watch you bought for the collection but wear and enjoy daily, as you should.”
Buettner: “The 16753 is a unique GMT-Master that represents the transition between vintage and modern design language. The gold on black look is pure ’80s while the so called ‘Root Beer’ models are downright decadent for their brown dials and bezel accents. Of particular interest are ‘nipple dial’ variants, named for their taller applied hour indices. These models are very much of their time, and given their short production runs and oddball character, will always be desirable to collectors.”
Altieri: “If you want to start off with a watch that has some real provenance, I always suggest the 5513. It was produced from 1966 through the 1980’s, and it wasn’t until 1970 that they began writing the depth in feet first, like this one, indicating just how early and special this watch is. Generally, the hands and dial will age to a beautiful soft creamy color that really gives it that vintage look that collectors love. It’s also important to note the bezel has faded to this wonderful gray and could one day fade totally into the ‘ghost’ — which would surely bump up the value for you down the line.”
Buettner: “The 5513 is arguably where the Submariner established not only itself, but dive watches as a whole, into Rolex lore. Today, every 5513 has aged in a unique way, with tropical dials and ‘ghosted’ bezels commanding huge premiums. Smart collectors will keep a close eye on the originality of the dial and hands, as they are easily altered to increase the watch’s value in the open market. Provenance is everything here, so if you’re thinking of adding a ref 5513 to your collection (which you totally should) be sure to ask the right questions.”
Jared Paul Stern has written for the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, GQ, WWD, Vogue, New York magazine, Details, Hamptons magazine, Playboy, BlackBook, the New York Post, Bergdorf Goodman magazine and Luxist among others. He is also the founding editor of the Page Six magazine.