5 Vintage Rolex Watches You Should Look For
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Since 1905, Rolex has been synonymous with luxury watches. They are sought after by those who want to wear a beautiful timepiece, those who view a luxury wristwatch as a status symbol, and by those who enjoy watch collecting as a hobby.

A Rolex watch is instantly recognizable. They are classy, well crafted, high quality, and known for their durability and reliability. This is borne out by a very healthy market for pre-owned Rolex watches in good condition. Said preowned market is made up of the entire range of watches made by Rolex, men’s and women’s with ages ranging from all years of Rolex production.

Some watches are going to be more desirable than others, especially where there is only a limited number of certain models available, mainly those that we would classify as vintage. Before you go looking for a vintage Rolex watch, you should know why it is a worthwhile investment and also know the models that are the most desirable.

Reasons to Buy a Vintage Rolex Watch

  1. A preowned Rolex can be cheaper than a new Rolex
  2. There’s a wider choice of models – buyers are attracted by the numerous tool watches designed for specific purposes
  3. Vintage Rolex watches depreciate slower than brand new models
  4. Some of the older/classic models appreciate
  5. It will last for many years
  6. There’s a better chance of finding the watch with the specific features that you want in the preowned market – they may not be available on the new batch of models.
  7. Due to the quality, an old Rolex can still look new
  8. Every Rolex is classy and distinctive

If you have the budget, you could spend some serious money on a vintage Rolex. Here are five of the most desirable models.

Rolex Submariner Ref. 6538 “Big Crown”

Sometimes, serendipity strikes to create a match made in heaven. Surely it was a serendipitous moment that brought a Rolex watch and one of the greatest and iconic characters of all time together. Namely top secret agent, James Bond 007. Bond may be a fictional character but from the first time Sean Connery donned a tuxedo and drank his martini shaken not stirred, the character has had an immense impact on popular culture. Indeed, it helped the Submariner to be viewed as the flagship of Rolex watches.

Although unconfirmed, it is said that the Rolex Submariner worn by Sean Connery in three of the Bond movies was his own personal watch. So named because it is a diver’s watch, the Submariner model 6538 was introduced in 1954 and is distinguishable from the model 6536 which was introduced at the same time by its larger crown. There are two versions of the 6538. One has two lines of text on the dial’s bottom half, and the second has four lines. The four-line version with its caliber 1030 movement was the first Rolex Submariner that is an Officially Certified Chronometer.

Produced between 1954 and 1959, with a 38mm stainless steel rotating bezel featuring a red triangle marker, steel bracelet, 25 jewels, and screw-down crown, the Submariner reference 6538 was rated water resistant to 200 feet.

Another highly collectible model from the Submariner range is the Rolex Submariner Ref. 5514 “COMEX”. Rolex worked with French diving company COMEX to produce the very best diving watches under the Submariner and Sea-Dweller name.

vintage rolex watches

Rolex Daytona Paul Newman Ref. 6239

One of the most expensive vintage Rolex watches is the Rolex Daytona Paul Newman model. They are a popular target of watch collectors and have seen prices outstrip rival Rolex watches and special editions from other luxury watchmakers many times over. And yes, the actor Paul Newman did own one and it was sold for $17.8 million at auction.

The defining feature of Paul Newman models is the exotic dial in colors of black, red, and white. These are more colorful than the usual black dial or silver dial of other Rolex models. They were, however, considered by Rolex to be unsuccessful commercially and after a few years, the company took them out of production after 14,000 had been made. This makes them quite rare, hence the inflated price.

Marketed as a racing driver’s watch (Newman was a successful race car driver and owner), this Rolex was just another model until the actor was spotted wearing it and the watch gained its legendary status and nickname from an Italian fashion magazine.

As well as the change of color, there are other features on the exotic dial that make the Paul Newman stand out from classic Daytona models. They are very subtle and mostly only known to serious connoisseurs of vintage Rolex watches. Not just subtle, they are also microscopic, such as the way Cosmograph is printed, the way the hour markings are made, and even how the font for the numbers 3 and 5 are different.

Another interesting feature is that the Rolex Daytona Paul Newman uses a Valjoux Caliber 72 movement. It was not uncommon for watchmakers like Rolex, Omega, and Patek Philippe to use movements by specialist Swiss chronograph builders during this period.

vintage rolex watches

Rolex Datejust Ref. 1601 and 1603

The references 1601 and 1603 may have been produced in the 1960s but they set the standards for the basic Rolex design that is so recognizable today namely the acrylic glass, strap lugs, and oyster bracelet or jubilee bracelet. Popular versions have silver dials but Rolex collectors look for Datejust models with gold indices or sigma dials.

Slightly smaller, the watch measures 36mm and has a chronometer-certified caliber with date function. There are slight differences between the two references. The bezel of the 1601 is fluted and had a choice of case and bracelet colors of stainless steel, and bicolor (steel with yellow gold, white gold, or rose gold). Bicolor watches are also known these days as two-tone watches. In contrast, the 1603 featured an engine-turned bezel and the model was only available in steel. The engine-turned bezel has a distinctive relief (pattern) of grooves that are also referred to as guilloché.

Rolex no longer produce watches with engine-turned bezels but they have previously featured on Date watches, Oyster Perpetual, and Air-King watches as well as the Datejust.

A common feature in both 1601 and 1603 is the use of the manual wind movement with 20 jewels that are most usually reserved for Cellini models.

Rolex GMT-Master Ref. 6542

Another vintage Rolex timepiece with a James Bond connection is the GMT-Master 6542. The iconic red and blue watch was worn by Honor Blackman in her role as Pussy Galore. As usual, there was a connection between character and watch. The Rolex GMT-Master 6542 was designed at the bequest of Pan-Am to enable pilots to keep track of the time in two time zones simultaneously. As the private pilot to Goldfinger, this would be perfect for Pussy Galore.

Introduced in 1954, the watch can show two different time zones thanks to a 24-hour hand and a rotating bezel. The multi-time zone capability inspired the name GMT – based on Greenwich Mean Time, the basis of standard time across the world.

In a departure from steel and gold, the bezel of the GMT-Master 6542 is made from Bakelite, a type of plastic. Unfortunately, this made it subject to cracking and lacking the durability that Rolex owners have become used to being able to rely on. Despite this, the bezel is the perfect foil for the colors red and blue and shows off the patina of the discolored 24-hour scale and the glitzy gilded dial wonderfully well.

Although originally inspired by the colors of the famous Pan-Am logo (another connection with flight), today the model is often referred to as the “Pepsi” watch – again because of the colors. Though the GMT-Master 6542 is now made in different materials, the overall design has never changed. in six decades of production.

vintage rolex watches

Rolex Oysterdate Reference 6694

If you are looking for entry-level preowned vintage Rolex watches, the Oysterdate 6694 is ideal and is a picture of minimalist, timeless elegance. A marvelous example of a Rolex sports watch, the Oysterdate 6694 is made for men and women.

Produced between 1960 and 1980, this model is available in cases of gold or stainless steel, there are options with black, silver, and deep blue dials. Its major reference point is manual winding based on its caliber 1225 mechanism with 17 jewels. The Oysterdate 6694 was the last manual winding watch produced by Rolex – hence the lack of perpetual in its name. Instead of perpetual, the Oysterdate has the word precision engraved on the dial.

It does however also bear the true Rolex Oyster characteristics of the period of the screw-down crown and water resistance of 100 meters and during its time in production, it was one of the most popular Rolex models.

The attraction of the Oysterdate 6694 lies in its nostalgia. As well as the olde-worlde factor of manual winding, adjusting the calendar is a manual process, something alien to the current digital age.

vintage rolex watches

Know What to Look For

Even experienced collectors of vintage Rolex watches can be duped into buying a fake. Rolex watches are one of the most ripped-off watch brands in the world.

If you are going to buy a Rolex, take the time to learn what to check to ensure the timepiece is genuine. This will include knowing where to look for the serial number and what format that takes and remembering to check if the particular model you are looking at was made with the bezel, dial type/color, bracelet, and their combination. Some pre-owned watches are accompanied by their original paperwork and warranty which makes the decision to purchase so much easier.

Selling your vintage watch and need a reputable buyer? Consider SellMeWatch.com, we have credentials with Better Business Bureau, National Association of Watch & Clock Collectors, and American Watchmakers-Clockmakers Institute.

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