Recommendations Update: The Rolex Dilemma

My apologies for the gap in posting. A series of out-of-town guests, numerous work projects, and a short trip to Nantes have interrupted the usual workflow.

Our foreign correspondent David was in Paris recently. We had a coffee at the cafe across the street from my office and discussed all manner of things: solutions to global crises (which we always forget to write down and pass on to the United Nations), the relative merits of crew neck and v-neck sweaters, the future of Paris, and, this time, wrist watches.

As many of you know, I’ve always recommended a simple stainless steel Rolex or a classic Cartier tank watch as easy (if not inexpensive) go-to options. They are discreet, elegant, versatile, and timeless.

However, as David’s commentary below reveal, all is not well…or at least, not as it was. I always counsel that it’s not what it costs to buy something. It’s what it costs to own something. And the something in question is now what it costs to service a wrist watch.

The bottom line is this: I’ve recommended the stainless steel Rolex and the classic Cartier tank watch in the past. I stand by my recommendation of Cartier, and more recently, my additional recommendation of Jaeger LeCoultre’s Reverso, also a timeless, high quality tank watch.

I’m just having my doubts about Rolex right now. If you’ve already own one, don’t feel bad: you’ve got an iconic watch that will last a lifetime. If you are considering buying a Rolex, I’d only ask that you think and think hard about it…as David will advise and enlighten below.

Thank you, David. Looking forward to your comments, readers….here we go…

Referring to the Old Money Style book (for Gentlemen), Pages 117 and 118 and the recommendation on watches, the preferred vendors are Rolex, Cartier and the Timex website. The guidance is to have one’s timepiece cleaned and checked at a reputable repair shop every eighteen months to two years. Using a Rolex as a good-quality example, I would like to share the following which I learned very recently and which I think should be kept in mind when making an ‘Old Money’ purchase with the long-term in mind.

A friend in Canada is a Rolex ‘fanatic’. He was recently informed by Rolex that a service on his Sea-Dweller would cost two thousand dollars. I am uncertain of the return time but what I also learned is that if the watch being handed in has a face or dial of a particular vintage Rolex will inform the owner that the face will need to be replaced due to the material originally used for the luminosity feature (of the face) being out of currently accepted norms. [Presumably Health and Safety norms.]

A recent quote to someone in the UK mentioned the figure of nine hundred UK Pounds for a replacement face, over and above the cost of the service. When the owner of that particular watch said yes, change the face, but return the old face along with the serviced watch, it was refused. He declined the entire process and the watch was returned to him, unserviced.

Compare this experience with the one I had recently. We have several Omega wrist watches in the family. One of them is an Aqua Terra with a Co-Axial movement. On enquiry at an Omega shop in Paris just last week I was informed that a service would cost seven hundred Euros providing nothing serious was discovered and that the current return time would be eight months !!

Read that again. EIGHT MONTHS.

When I last had my Omega Speedmaster serviced, perhaps five years ago, I paid five hundred Euros and it took two months to come back. (The Euro and the US Dollar are roughly equal at the moment.) Perhaps the extended return time can be blamed on the current suspect of convenience: COVID-19  ! ( That one is starting to wear a bit thin though.)

Why am I telling you this (?)

While OMGs are correct in carrying out their purchases with the long-term in mind – buy well and buy once – consideration should be given to the fact that if for example a twenty-five-year-old invests in a good watch and by the time it comes up for its first service he or she is faced with service costs such as I have mentioned they might have to choose between school fees and a serviced watch.

Sell it unserviced and it’s at a loss. Throw it in the bottom drawer and it becomes a bit of a waste. One other thing: no matter what ‘quality’ the watch, if it has a quartz movement it will require the battery to be changed every so often.

I recommend it is done with an approved agent for the make of the watch and not the local cellphone shop in the nearest shopping centre. If for some reason you are going to put it in a bottom drawer for a period of time, remove the battery before doing so. This applies to any and most devices with batteries. They all eventually leak.

A further thing I heard about Rolex currently is that (some/all ?) dealers, in more than one country, are not selling to ‘unknown or unfamiliar’ clients who walk in off the street and have the money to purchase one of their watches. They require a ‘relationship’ to be established first. I have enquired about this and the situation is, shall we say, known, but perhaps through diplomacy or that famous abundance of caution , no one wants to say why. I have heard these reports from the US, Canada and Scotland.

Do any readers perhaps know the reason ?

25 thoughts on “Recommendations Update: The Rolex Dilemma

  1. I can tell you that a local jeweler in Fredericksburg, VA will not allow you handle any high end watch unless they know you. Three years ago a young women asked to see one of their 18k Rolexes, they handed it to her and she promptly ran out the door with it! I own both a Cartier tank and a small 18k Rolex. I wear only the tank. Jane Keller

  2. Well that is easily solved.

    In Paris all high-end jewelers and watch dealers have a security guard who unlocks, opens, closes and locks the door on entry and exit. There is little chance of running away unless the perpetrators are armed and have a vehicle waiting outside. The ‘relationship requirement’ I am referring to seems to have different roots. That is what we are curious about.


  3. I recently had the battery replaced in my thirty year old Seiko. It cost ten dollars. It’s the only servicing it’s ever needed and the jeweler told me it keeps time “better than a Rolex”. Not saying he’s right, but that’s what he told me. I’m happy with it.

    1. I love this, Amy! My husband bought a Peugeot made to resemble the Cartier Tank last Christmas and I love it. While I appreciate the beauty of Rolex and Cartier, I still find it difficult to justify spending multiple thousands of dollars on a watch. Everyone has their own lifestyle preferences and priorities – no judgment, only saying I’m glad to see someone else who shares this specific value. I can only hope my watch lasts as long as yours!

  4. I’ve just had both our (wife and me) Tag Heuer svc’d in Northern VA. where the authorized dealer also works on Rolex, Omega, and other high end wrist watches. I’ve been using the same dealer since early 2000. Recently I’ve noticed a police officer (not a guard) at the entrance for those that want to try something foolish.

  5. I keep waiting for the time to come when I finally reward myself with a Rolex Submariner. And I think that wait just got a little longer.

    1. Hi Expat,

      Would this work? Located some replcas on the net and one of them happen to be the watch you were wanting.

      Just type in replica watches and a few will pop up. The one I located for you was under a website called Watches Replica. I do no know this site, but I always go by the wisdom, asking is always free. 🙂

      Most high end labels now-days are made in another country, not of original origin. They just have stamps which state they are made in that particular country. One place I located *bragged* about 2 large factories in their country and another in Mexico. If desired, I could purchase a Chanel handle bag for 400 US dollars. This bag comes with original ribbon, box, card and all. Now days, all one has to do is an i-spy on the net, and doors will open if you are willing to place time into it.

      A few years back, a jeweler told me working on any Rolex watch was a pain in the behind.

      Hope that helps someone out.

      1. Hi Curls, thank you for the comment.

        I think it’s important to address the ‘replica’ business. After living in Paris for a few years, I’ve become a little more informed about counterfeit goods, or knock-offs, of well-known brands. These include watches, handbags, clothes, and fabrics.

        Counterfeit goods are often the products of businesses partially or entirely owned by organized crime groups. They pay their employees–if you can call them that–poorly, operate in hellish conditions, and often work in concert with human trafficking, drug trafficking, and modern day slavery. (Counterfeit goods most often need to be smuggled, not simply imported by legitimate means.) They corrupt law enforcement officials, evade taxes, and launder money. Violence and bloodshed go hand in hand with knock-offs, I’m sorry to say.

        The least evil they do is take business away from the owners and employees who manufacture and market authentic luxury goods.

        It can be tempting to want to get a ‘good deal’ on a look-alike piece of merchandise, but the human costs far outweigh the discount price.

        Let’s avoid counterfeit goods. Thanks. – BGT

  6. Byron is correct in his comments on replica (read fake) goods and has stated his case very well. I would like to add that replicas and counterfeits almost always involve so-called brand names, especially ‘visible’ ones.

    This type of ‘visibility’ is anathema to OMGs and Gs.

  7. If my experience can help someone else: I purchased a Raymond Weil watch from a reputable jeweler that I have had a relationship with for my husband to celebrate an anniversary a couple of years ago, and sadly, the time piece can only be described as a lemon. It wasn’t keeping proper time from about a week after he had it. It was sent away and was gone for over a year. Now it is back and once again not keeping proper time.
    The suggestion that my jeweler replace it with something different seems to be met with resistance. I’m not sure if others have had a Raymond Weil but this first experience put me off the brand. My husband being financially conservative would have had a coronary if I had spring for the Rolex or Cartier and this experience seems to back his mantra that the fancier you go the less reliable the item. Funny, his old, beat up Timex works great. Go figure!

  8. Heidi, I am not an expert but I think you just got a lemon. I have a Raymond Weil that looks somewhat like a simple version of the Patek Calatrava. Obviously it is a small fraction of the cost and is a perfect dress watch with a suit or tuxedo. I have had it for over 20 years, only changed the battery several times and the band once. No other maintenance at all. Still keeps accurate time.

    1. Hi AndrewK247,
      Thank you for sharing this. The timepiece that I purchased is not battery operated, you have to wind it up, but it makes me feel better to know that others have had a good experience.
      When I bought the watch I felt like I had made an educated purchase so the experience I had really threw me. And, you’re right, it’s a very elegant looking piece. I appreciate very much your feedback. -HP

      1. I’m quite familiar with this situation as well, though I can’t offer much insight on the reasons for dealers’ reluctance to sell to new customers. What I do want to share, though, is an alternative to steel Rolex models, which are Tudor watches. If you go pre-owned instead of new (5-6 yrs or olders), their watches use third party movements, unlike Rolex watches which use Rolex movements. The movements are more basic as well, and thereby easier and more affordable to service.
        For those unaware, Tudor has been owned by Rolex since its inception, so the watches are quite similar stylistically.
        And thank you David for the insights!

    2. I agree, while not yet affluent myself, I have several clients who are, they recommend RW very highly. I know they wouldn’t if this was the standard.

  9. Byron, this is an interesting topic and, simultaneously, a minefield. One ought to avoid, at all costs, swapping non-original parts. Rationale is simple – Rolex is interested in a watch functioning as well as possible, and a new dial with luminous material that works and doesn’t cause cancer is the logical, if expensive, choice; however, the expense is larger than identified in your post as the owner will instantaneously lose an awful lot of the watches value as soon as you change any parts for ‘service’ replacements. My recommendation, is to retain the original parts but get the basics done, such as lubrication and replacement of worn internals etc. Owning a vintage watch is no different to owning a vintage car – look after it but ensure you are informed about how you choose to maintain it so as not to remove the original charm that makes the thing so attractive. This is a truism, irrespective of brand. Rolex are being responsible in this instance but, you could easily find a reputable watchmaker who will just ‘service’ the movement and replace the waterproof seals, retain the watch’s inherent value, and save a ton on the cost of the service.

  10. The “relationship” thing reminds me of what Hermès does with handbags, and it could just be that they are trying to create false scarcity in order to drive up the value of the watches.

    1. I agree, it seems as more and more people can buy luxury the luxury brands are trying to find ways to make the items more exclusive. I quit buying LV for the same reason, everyone has one now, the ones I have I’ll keep and pass down to my daughter because of the wonderful quality. But I will not be purchasing new pieces. Seems everyone has one now.

  11. An update on the curious Rolex face-change saga.

    After requesting that the watch be returned unserviced because while agreeing to the fee to change (the face) but having been refused to have the old face returned to him (in my view the rightful owner) suddenly an agreement was reached whereby the face would be changed free of charge on condition that the old face would be kept by the makers. (For some reason someone wants to keep those faces.)

    As soon as the owner had received his serviced watch back the dealer called to say that another model of Rolex, that he had had on order for THREE YEARS, had become available.

    As they say in Cockney slang: ‘ Can you Adam and Eve that one ?’

  12. Twenty years ago in my early twenties I had a number of different Rolex Subs and GMTs, and never paid more than £3k GBP for these. Now they are £10k GBP plus. I don’t want to walk about with something on my wrist worth my than my car (Volvo). Be discreet and under the radar. Go Timex or Seiko…

    1. Since you mentioned Seiko…

      “Your wristwatch should reflect discretion, taste, and modesty. It should whisper, not shout.” – Quote from the same source (Old Money Style, p. 118) as the one in the article above.

      If you have to choose between a Rolex and a Seiko, I think the latter checks more of those boxes there than the former.

      Of course, there is the question of buying well and buying once, but Seiko checks that box too. Grand Seiko is, I believe, widely considered to be simply better than Rolex (at half the price). But even the Seikos that cost one twentieth of a Rolex are extremely well made and will last a lifetime. (That price range is about 500 to 1000 euros, so they’re not the cheap Seikos. I consider this to be the low end of “buy once” spectrum since most people probably don’t want to pay more than the watch’s original price for the service.)

      Oh yeah, and then there’s servicing the watch. I had a Seiko serviced, cost me about 300 euros and took all of three weeks. At an approved agent using original parts. And I think it needs to be done every five to seven years, not every other year.

  13. Interesting…the watch industry has gone crazy the last 10 years…the waiting lists, the prices, the fees and so on.

    It has fascinated me why Rolex has such a good reputation by the “old money” folks. For me, and where I grew up, rolex has always meant the opposite. Flashy expensive watches…but I grew up in a small industrial city. 😉

    Of course, a 36 mm datejust from the seventies is a nice watch and I can understand why it’s popular within the old money circle. But the big problem with all watches for me are the logos….No one can tell the price of my made to measure suit or sport coats…but everyone around you knows that the rolex watch is an expensive watch. So of course JLC Reverso flies under the radar much more than a rolex.

  14. I love the design of this watch. It is very beautifully crafted. The design is simple and elegant, and I am sure it looks perfect on my wrist.

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