Second-hand Rolexes: watch out for stupid prices and superfakes

Find yourself with some spare cash? Fancy a luxury timepiece? If you’re new to the market, prepare to be shocked. First, because there are few new watches to be had. Second, because second-hand watches, even when recently made, sell at a premium to the retail price — often at multiples of that figure.

For experienced collectors, this is old news. The UK retail price of a new Rolex Submariner “Hulk” with its deep green face and bezel was “just” £7,550 in 2020 before it was discontinued that year according to the website Swiss Watch Trader.

Data on another site, Chrono24, show that the average second-hand price broke above the retail price in December 2017 and went on rising, peaking at £27,744 this April.

The websites of UK retailers such as Mappin & Webb do not mention prices. They do acknowledge demand for Rolex watches at times outstrips production capacity. Collectors advise tyros to buy their way into the good graces of jewellers who may add their names to waiting lists of up to five years.

Watchmakers are getting in on the act. A new report on the Swiss watch industry from Deloitte predicts that the “pre-owned” market will be worth SFr35bn (£31bn) by 2030 and make up more than half of what it calls the “primary” market.

In a survey of 5,579 consumers in 11 countries, Deloitte found that most buyers of used watches today are in their 30s and 40s. Some makers already offer their own models second-hand. Ironically, they may struggle to compete with the impressively resourced third-party websites offering multiple models and brands.

Haywood Milton of Miltons, which has four UK stores specialising in second-hand Rolexes, describes the market of the past two years as “ridiculous, stupid”. The belief had taken hold that a Rolex could only ever go up in price. Well-paid professionals have pandemic-era savings to spend. While prices have fallen in recent months, Milton says, they have stabilised at a high level.

There is also a dark side to the market, he adds. Thousands of youngsters have become dealers overnight on platforms such as Instagram, where know-your-customer and anti-money-laundering rules have little weight. There is also the recent phenomenon of “superfakes”. The insides of these knock-offs look much like the real thing. Buyer, beware.

The Lex team is interested in hearing more from readers. Please tell us what you would be willing to pay for the right wristwatch in the comments section below.

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