A Guide To Buying Affordable Vintage Rolex Watches On eBay

Like if this guide is helpful
Written by hodinkee
Link to an eBay page Remove
Add up to 3 more photos
Link to an eBay page

A Guide To Buying Affordable Vintage Rolex Watches On eBay

Rolex watches have never been more coveted and prices of some models have skyrocketed. But we’ve got some good news: a glance at eBay proves that for discerning enthusiasts, many great catches remain below £2,000. 
Here are some sweet tips to help you make smart choices
Rolex Datejust 1600 with characteristic smooth bezel
Link to an eBay page Remove
Add up to 3 more photos
Link to an eBay page
Rolex Datejust 1600 with characteristic smooth bezel

Know What To Look For

Let’s be realistic, not all Rolex models will fit the budget constraints, but there are plenty of references that are serious candidates. 
The key is to understand which lines are eligible within Rolex’s gigantic number of offerings. Obviously, the Daytona and Submariner are out of question, but there are many Datejust and Oyster models that are solid candidates. 
To help narrow the many possible choices you would need to choose whether you long for an automatic movement, a date, a smooth bezel, a 36mm case… and with a bit of research you could deduce the perfect reference for you. 
Rolex 1008 with Zephyr dial
Link to an eBay page Remove
Add up to 3 more photos
Link to an eBay page
Rolex 1008 with Zephyr dial

Pick A Dial

The luxury of having many choices is one of the benefits you get from Rolex having made so many models, over the decades, and that doesn’t end with basic configuration choices. You can also choose from among many gorgeous vintage dials, with poetic nicknames such as blue jean, linen dial or Zephyr. This wealth of appearances is truly the beauty of collecting vintage Rolex as each seems to display a unique feature.  

Aesthetically, something to bear in mind is that white and silver dials will make the watch larger on your wrist than a darker dial, so this factor might be considered when reviewing case size options.  

Final point regarding the dial: be careful to lead a thorough inspection to spot any potential stains or discolouration and remember to review all the tritium dots (if you’re just starting out, bear in mind that many older watches used paint containing tritium for luminous markers; these should ideally be both intact, and original.) 
Rolex 15000 with black dial
Link to an eBay page Remove
Add up to 3 more photos
Link to an eBay page
Rolex 15000 with black dial

Assess The Condition Of The Case

Most probably the watch you are considering has been polished before, so the real question touches on the remaining case shape: does it still feature the angles of its youth? Are the lugs still well pronounced? I recommend comparing with pictures of the same model to get a sense of the toll that time has taken on the original case configuration. You might think a polished watch case would be desirable, but you’d be wrong –repeated polishing can actually wear down a case so much that the original case geometry and finish is lost, and serious collectors definitely prefer an unpolished case (and, in general, that the watch be as original as possible in every respect.) 

The case markings will also deliver a lot of information on the watch besides basic authenticity: in-between the lugs you will find the reference number and the serial number. You can then cross check those with the engravings on the inside of the case back if the seller shows those. If that’s the case, check also that the movement bears the usual Rolex telltales like the specific rotor shape and the markings on the supporting part underneath (once again you should compare with available pictures).
Case back with reference number and production year
Link to an eBay page Remove
Add up to 3 more photos
Link to an eBay page
Case back with reference number and production year

Check The Rest

Vintage watches are all about details so once you have reviewed the dial and case your job is far from done. Other parts must be original (and if possible not service parts) so you should check that the hands match with the index on the dial in style and patina, and that the date appears with the font and magnification typical of Rolex. Of course, the crown has to bear the Rolex logo. 

Additionally, examining the bracelet -if included- is crucial. You should have a sense of the stretch that it displays when worn (over years of being worn, metal bracelets can actually stretch out, with really well worn bracelets showing a sometimes surprising amount of space between the links) whether it was original to the reference (buckle included) and whether the endlinks fit properly, otherwise you risk damaging the case really quickly. 
Rolex Datejust 1603 with Big Boy index and hands
Link to an eBay page Remove
Add up to 3 more photos
Link to an eBay page
Rolex Datejust 1603 with Big Boy index and hands

Ask Questions, Especially The Stupid Ones

If you have the slightest doubt don’t hesitate! It is a good way to gather additional knowledge about the watch and start discussing with the seller –and it gives you a sense of whether you’re dealing with a seller you can really trust.  

Important questions to ask include those about the working of the movement (does it keep time properly? When was it last serviced?) as well as questions about the provenance (that is, where the watch came from, which can help in being sure you’re buying an authentic and correct watch) and the official documents potentially included (are the original box and papers included? Service papers too?). And don’t be afraid to ask for additional pictures to clear up any doubts you might have about the condition of the watch in which you are interested. 

It’s true that many vintage Rolex models now command such high prices that they are difficult or impossible for many enthusiasts to collect –but there are still many very attractive, interesting, and worthwhile vintage Rolexes you can enjoy for very reasonable prices, if you know what to look for! 

For examples of affordable vintage Rolex currently on eBay,  check out our corresponding collection here

Written by hodinkee
Have something to share, create your own guide... Write a guide
Explore more guides