Rolex have long been regarded as the pinnacle of high end watchmaking and have received almost as many plaudits for their design and quality as there are Rolex watches in circulation, as a result the Swiss company are far and away the most recognised and desired watch brand on the planet.
Formed in London in 1905 by Hans Wilsdorf and Alfred Davis before relocating to Switzerland in 1908, the company quickly established themselves as THE aspirational watch brand, becoming the first watchmaker to gain official chronometer certification for a wristwatch in 1910 and following that up with a series of innovations including the first watches to include automatic date (and later day/date) change on the dial, the first watch case to be water-resistant to depths of 100m and the first wristwatch capable of showing dual time zones at once.
Rolex have essentially had the ability to plough a lone furrow with their unique marketing strategies and iconic range setting them apart from the competition. Their habit of drip-feeding distributors with limited releases of certain models has created a scenario where demand far outstrips supply with waiting lists of up to 5 years for certain pieces. This has helped push up the value of Rolex watches across the board, even within the usually much more competitively priced resale and grey markets which have seen models change hands at up to three times their recommended price. So as well as being an unparalleled timepiece, a Rolex watch is often regarded as a very sound investment.
In that context, it seems a little strange to be discussing the “cheapest” Rolex watches available, given that cheap is the antithesis of what the Swiss company represents, however what we hope to establish in this article is that in relative terms there are some excellent value Rolex watches available to those looking to either start or expand their collection.
Firstly let us take a look at some of the most popular models in the Rolex range, along with the approximate price for each at entry level.
SUBMARINER (Model 114060)
With so many great models to choose from, the timeless Submariner is as good a place to start as any. Brought to prominence for many by Sean Connery’s James Bond in Dr No, the Rolex Submariner has seen various tweaks and updates since its introduction in 1954 and combines sports and professional styling in what many would regard as being the classic Rolex look. With Rolex’s industry leading 904L steel case encapsulating the Calibre 1130 movement this versions start at around £5450 for the non-date model.
OYSTER PERPETUAL (Model 176200)
Another model synonymous with Rolex, the Oyster is one of the most popular and well known variants. The highly polished “Oystersteel” finish on this watch gives a smooth and lustrous appearance to the case and bracelet and the range features a plethora of case sizes and colour options. Like all Rolex perpetual movements the self winding Calibre 2231 in even the cheapest model is a certified chronometer which offers approximately 48hrs of reserve power and is priced at around £3550.
EXPLORER (Model 214270)
For those with a sense of adventure, the Explorer models have been a must through the years. Inspired by Rolex’s support of Himalayan expeditions and the conquering of Everest the current model is incredibly robust having been crafted from a solid block of corrosion resistant 904L steel. The movement has additional shock-absorbing springs and features a twinlock crown helping to guarantee water-resistance to depths of 100m. Despite its solid construction, the profile of the Explorer is surprisingly slim and comfortable to wear. The entry level Explorer currently retails for around £4800.
DATEJUST (Model 279160)
Another classic from the Rolex catalogue of seminal designs, for many the Datejust exemplifies all that needs to be said about the brand; simple, elegant, reliable and utterly rock solid. The “Cyclops Eye” date window which was first introduced in 1954 has become an embellishment that is instantly “Rolex” and has been copied by many designers since. The entry level Datejust in the current range has a recommended price of £4650, which is incredibly good value for when you consider that there are other Datejust models retailing at ten times the price or more.
Air-King (Model 116900)
The Air-King is one of the few models in the Rolex range that recently made the move to only be available in one version. It is also one of the largest, with a 40mm case. The watch was designed to pay homage to the company’s links to aviation, with a clear and uncluttered black dial and Chromalight display with blue luminescence, designed with navigation in mind. As with most Rolex models it has a scratch resistant Sapphire glass and perpetual self-winding movement offering up to 48 hours power reserve. The Air-King list price is £4550.
….. and finally.
The prices for each model quoted above are those Rolex made public at Baselworld 2018 and whilst Rolex have never been a brand to offer much in the way of discounts, there are likely to be savings to be found, especially with nearly-new or ex-display models. It is also worth bearing in mind that companies like Chrono24 have helped establish a fantastic market for resale watches from high end manufacturers, so if you don’t mind dabbling in the pre-owned market there are some great bargains to be had.
Keep in mind that as a general rule, the smaller a watch is and the fewer complications it includes the cheaper it is likely to be than a larger, more complex cousin. The main reason for this is down to material costs but Rolex also insist on market-leading processes at the point of manufacture and back their exacting standards with a 5 year guarantee on new models. So if you are hunting for a bargain Rolex in this instance keeping things simple may well be the best approach.