Yes, steel sports watches are the SUV of the wrist. Commentator Jack Forster of leading enthusiast website Hodinkee sums it up perfectly: “We are in the midst of the most unprecedented feeding frenzy for stainless steel sports watches, in general, and Rolex in particular… In addition to 20 years, I have never seen anything like it.
Fair enough, but Rolex makes a million watches a year. And if they’re only trickling into the store, well, where are they?
Rolex does not compromise on what it takes to produce exceptional timepieces.
The answer is simple: they’re online, and the same goes for that Patek Philippe and Audemars Piguet that you can’t find in stores. The only catch being the price, now magically a multiple of the recommended RRP. In other words, if you’re willing to pay double, many thousands of Rolex Submariners are available at the click of a button.
Likewise, supply isn’t an issue if you’re willing to pay around six figures for a Nautilus that sells for five figures – there are over 1000 now available online; or produce double the retail cash price (or more) for an AP Royal Oak, and you’ll find over 3,000 for sale. Not all are new in box with papers, but many are.
Even Rolex’s humble Oyster Perpetual, released in late 2020 with brightly colored “Stella” dials, which retails for less than $9,000 over the counter for the 36mm version, isn’t immune. Come in and expect to wait a year. For instant gratification, go online where dozens are available on a site like Chrono24 for – at the time of writing – $20,000 to $40,000, depending on color (‘Tiffany’ blue dial commands the highest premium ).
There are several ways to look at this. The first is that these watches are as much investments as timepieces. (According to 10-year tracking data from authoritative US site Bob’s Watches, the average price of a pre-owned Rolex watch rose from under $5,000 in 2011 to over $13,000 by the end of the decade. last year, with much of the increase in the past two years meaning it is outperforming all asset classes, from gold to the stock market.)
Another is that these watches are somehow worth more than the price the brands charge them. Against this, it can be argued that the watches online are, obviously, still on sale, so perhaps these prices are just a simple request. But that doesn’t hide the fact that watches do exist, and in huge numbers, which begs the question of how they got there.
Rolex rarely comments publicly, but it did say a few words late last year.
“The scarcity of our products is not a strategy on our part. Our current production cannot meet the existing demand comprehensively, at least not without reducing the quality of our watches, which we refuse to do because the quality of our products must never be compromised.
“This level of excellence takes time, and as we have always done, we will continue to take the time necessary to ensure that all of our watches not only meet our standards of excellence, but also meet the expectations of our customers. in terms of quality, reliability and robustness.
“Rolex does not compromise on what it takes to produce exceptional watches.”
As to who actually puts one on their wrist, the company was clear: “It should be noted that Rolex watches are available exclusively from official retailers, who independently manage the allocation of watches to customers.”
What no one is talking about is the gray market where, thanks to eBay and Amazon, accounts can be set up to sell at non-retail prices – with or without the help of pinball machines buying from friendly dealers at one price to resell to another.
So, given all of this, what hope do you have of getting your hands on your holy grail at a reasonable price?
The best chance is to at least get your name on a list of authorized dealers. If you are not a previous customer, there are two possible shortcuts.
The first is to find a new or recently appointed reseller; they will be eager to build a new clientele and should at least have an active list. The second is to become an instant customer by buying another, more available watch for you or your partner. This will establish a relationship to build on, and later command what you really want to.
As things stand, anything else will test your patience…or your reputation with PayPal.
Bani McSpedden is editor-in-chief of The Australian Financial Review.