The Rolex Certified Pre-Owned Hustle

By Andrew Court

Like your local Lexus dealer, Rolex now has a certified pre-owned program.

The basic idea is simple. Through an authorized Rolex dealer you can, if you live in Europe for the time being, buy a used watch that comes with a two year warranty, a Rolex certificate of authenticity, and a nifty wax hang tag. The watch is in great condition straight from a trusted dealer. Certified pre-owned customers also get to bypass the years-long waitlist for new watches.

If you aren’t following the Rolex world—and for that I can’t blame you—demand is out of control. Currently the trending pieces are their steel sports models. Enthusiasts and status seekers will sell their first born to get a new one. Until now the only other option was to buy used at a steep mark up without any quality guarantees and a questionable provenance.

In a secondhand world dominated by sheisty gray market pirates looking to rip you off, the certified pre-owned program should be a breath of fresh air. Before you see this as your salvation, however, check out some of the prices.

Let’s use a Submariner, the classic 007-approved dive watch, as an example. The suggested retail price, or what you’d pay if you’re lucky enough to be on top of the waitlist, is $8,950. If you go to Watches of Switzerland, a very reputable used dealer, a similar secondhand model is $12,900. In Europe at Bucherer, an official Rolex Certified Pre-Owned partner, the same used watch is, at the current exchange rate, $17,000. 

Most of the certified pieces listed at Bucherer have already sold out. It’s wishful thinking to expect less markup when the program hits our shores. Continuing with the car analogy, why the fuck would you fork over almost double the price for a used Lexus? 

Essentially Rolex is expecting you to pay a giant premium to get the model you want now AND have a warranty because servicing a broken watch can be almost as expensive and time consuming as buying a new one. 

Here’s my gut reaction to what’s going on: 

First, Rolex saw the crazy secondary market and wanted in on the action. They can’t alienate VIP customers by doubling prices at retail, but they also can’t not cash in on the current supply/demand imbalance. 

Second—and here we get deeper into conjecture—they want to control and maintain the high secondary market prices. Right now the company is in the process of spending over a billion dollars to build a new factory that will up supply by around 25 percent. With a Biden economy and increased production prices could, and probably should, drop. The brand can use the lure of a warranty and certified status to maintain values. Also, it gives them an outlet for watches people are trading in to buy shiny new pieces from the shiny new factory. 

Now, let me give you some life advice: Don’t buy a Rolex as an investment. It’s a romantic notion that you can rip your watch off like Tom Cruise in Rainman to finance a Vegas winning streak in your hour of need, but this isn’t sound financial planning.

Rolex makes beautiful pieces that are a pleasure to own, but right now there’s some Bitcoin-style mania going on. This will end at some point, and you will get burned on a watch you paid way over retail for. If you have lots of money and don’t care, do what you want, but buyer beware to the regular guys out here. At the end of the day Rolex makes and has made a ton of watches, they aren’t that rare.

Secondly, if you buy a Rolex, pick a model you can live with for a long time. Field Ethos has already highlighted the best one out there, the Explorer II. I love that this classic doesn’t have any bling but does have a cool GMT complication with a funky orange hand. It’s the perfect size and super classy.  

We live in a world with a plethora of excellent stuff to buy, but for some reason everyone is fighting to acquire the same shit. Waitlists guarded by douchebag gatekeepers, from restaurants to car dealerships, have become the norm. Why play this game in the first place, why not find merchants excited for your business?

Stop begging for a table at Carbone when your great local Italian restaurant is empty. Buy a new pair of American made shoes from Alden instead of financing woke ads at Gucci. Don’t be a simp on the waitlist for a Submariner, go to your local Omega boutique and negotiate a discount on the technically superior Seamaster.  

They will probably even give you a couple free drinks to boot.