Just because a watch is a genuine Rolex and it’s old, doesn’t mean it will sell for what you want. Your watch is only worth what someone will pay for it. Exactly what they are willing to pay will depend first and foremost on condition.
A watch that has been heavily worn will be scratched and scuffed. It may have been poorly polished, softening and rounding the case shape. It may be corroded with moisture in the movement or pitting in the case. Harsh sunlight may have damaged the dial paint and lume material. The bracelet may be stretched with links missing. All of these condition-factors negatively affect price.
Even an attractive Rolex in apparently decent running condition, can have replacements parts or components. Some might be authentic Rolex parts from an authorized Rolex service center. Others might be after-market parts from an independent watchsmith. These too will negatively affect price.
Condition aside, you may be surprised to learn that your vintage Rolex is worth little more than the scrap value of the precious metals and gems. This is most often the case with models that are not currently popular or collectable. It can strike many as strange that a rather plain looking stainless steel mens model can be worth more than a solid gold ladies model. It is also true that very rare models are not necessarily desirable or collectible, and interest and demand may be weak. This holds true for antique models like pocket and purse watches.
Show me the money
The key to understanding what your Rolex watch is actually worth is knowing two things, the model reference number and serial number. In most vintage Rolex these can be found engraved between the lugs of the case, and examining them requires removal of the bracelet or strap.
The serial number will be used to date the watch and get an approximate year of production. The reference number will be used to determine the popularity and collectability of the watch. These two data points, combined with the general condition will get you to a price range.
Once you know age and model, you can research asking and sale prices from places ranging from Ebay to Chrono24, from Philips to Antiquorum and numerous other market places. As you perform your research keep in check your own bias and emotions. Buyers in the market will seldom rate your vintage Rolex as highly as you do and everyone’s looking for the best price.
Once you get to an approximate price range, you will have to make allowances for the market place you choose to sell on. You can expect commissions and fees of anything up to 25% depending on where you sell. Your final cash-in-hand can be considerably less than the price range you researched.
The bottom line
Control your expectations and emotions, and expect to walk away with less than your research suggests. Don’t sell a vintage Rolex watch unless you really need to, as the only people that make money will be the dealers and middlemen. And remember, a vintage Rolex watch is not an investment asset.