For newfound watch enthusiasts who are just beginning their collection, thinking about getting old Rolex watches might seem scary. It’s not only a big market with countless different types of watches, details, and history to think about, but it can also cost a lot of money and be a competitive part of watch collecting. But there are some under-the-radar watches that can be a good starting point for collectors who are just getting their feet wet. If you’re thinking about what to choose, here are the best old Rolex watches for collectors that cost $10,000 or less.
Explorer II 16550 Black Dial
In 1971, Rolex introduced the Explorer II watch, made especially for people who explore caves, called spelunkers. The first version, called ref. 1655, had a fixed bezel with 24-hour markings and a special hand that could show the time in a 24-hour format. This was helpful for cave explorers who couldn’t see the sky to know if it was day or night. Later, Rolex updated the watch to show time in two different time zones. The model called ref. 16550, which came out in 1985 and was made until 1989, was the first Explorer II with this feature. It also had a bigger 40mm case, and you could choose a dial that was either black or white. The watch had a special kind of glass called sapphire crystal. Inside, it had a self-winding movement called Caliber 3085 that moved at 28,800 beats per hour.
Why are Rolex Explorer II 16550 watches with a black dial good choices for vintage collectors? There are a few reasons. First, they are sports watches made by Rolex, which collectors really like. The design of the Explorer II is also special and interesting. It has a bezel with big numbers for the hours and a long red hand on the dial to show the 24-hour time. The hour markers on the dial and the hands are the usual shapes that Rolex uses for sports watches. Explorer II watches only come in stainless steel and have a bracelet with three links.
The Explorer II watch is not as famous as other Rolex sports watches like the Submariner or GMT-Master. Also, the black dial versions of the Explorer II are not noticed as much because collectors usually pay more attention to the white dial versions. This is especially true for the white dial version of the ref. 16550, which sometimes turns into a creamy color because of a problem with the paint. Because of this, the black dial Explorer II 16550 is undervalued right now, and you can buy one for $10,000 or less if you’re looking for a vintage watch.
The Rolex Date model, which is not made anymore, was an important part of the Rolex collection starting from the 1950s. It was seen as the smaller version of the Datejust. Over more than sixty years, Rolex created many different Date models in different styles. No matter which specific model you look at, all Rolex Date watches have something in common: a window that shows the date at 3 o’clock on the dial.
Why are Rolex Date watches good choices for people who like old watches? The Date watch has a simple and timeless style, making it a good option for an old Rolex that you can wear every day. Its case is a nice size, 34mm, and it looks great on different wrist sizes, whether you’re a man or a woman. This size is also in fashion right now, as smaller watches are becoming popular again.
One great thing about picking a vintage Rolex Date 34 watch is the many different options you have to choose from. You can get it in full steel, full gold, or a mix of steel and gold. There are also lots of choices for the color of the dial, the type of bezel (which is the edge around the glass), and the style of the bracelet (whether it’s a Jubilee, Oyster, or leather band). This means there’s a vintage Date watch for all kinds of preferences.
One of the best things for new collectors is that Rolex Date watches tend to be cheaper compared to other Rolex watches in the used market. You can find ones made of steel, steel and gold, or even gold for less than $10,000.
Rolex Datejust 36
Without a doubt, the Rolex Datejust stands out as the most widely recognized and common Rolex watch. It was introduced in 1945 and remains a timeless symbol of the brand. The Datejust collection is incredibly diverse, offering a wide range of sizes, materials, and styles. However, the common feature among them all is the date window on the dial, always positioned at 3 o’clock. This date display includes a magnifying lens called a Cyclops, and the watch operates using a self-winding movement that never needs manual winding. Among the various sizes Rolex has created, the Datejust 36 is the most classic choice, as it matches the original model’s size.
Why are Rolex Datejust watches a great option for vintage enthusiasts? If you’re new to collecting vintage Rolex watches, the reliable and time-tested Datejust 36 is an excellent starting point. It embodies all the distinctive qualities of a Rolex watch that’s easily recognizable. You have the added advantage of selecting your preferred material, bezel style, bracelet type, and dial design from the vast selection that has been produced over nearly 80 years. Furthermore, you have the choice of embracing the full vintage feel with features like tritium lume and acrylic crystals on older models, or you can opt for modern upgrades such as sapphire crystals and quickset dates available on newer models.
The 36mm diameter of the classic Datejust is often seen as the perfect size that suits a wide range of wrists. With a budget of $10,000 or less, you can certainly find a vintage Datejust watch that embodies the timeless charm of the past and serves as an excellent starting point for your vintage Rolex collection.
Rolex Submariner 16800
Back in 1953, when Rolex introduced the Submariner diver’s watch, it didn’t have a date display. However, in the following decade, Rolex expanded its dive watch range to include the Submariner Date model 1680. The reference 16800, made from around 1979 to 1989, was the second version of the Submariner Date and is often called a “transitional” Sub by collectors. This is because it blends design elements from earlier watches with features from newer models, acting as a bridge between the two eras.
Just like its predecessor, the ref. 1680, the initial Submariner 16800 models came with matte dials. But around 1984, Rolex switched to glossy dials featuring hour markers with white gold surrounds, known as WGS.
Why are Rolex Submariner 16800 watches a good choice for vintage enthusiasts? The idea of owning a vintage version of the most famous diving watch in the world for under $10,000 is quite attractive. The stainless steel 40mm Submariner 16800 still provides great value as a vintage Rolex sports watch, especially considering its significance in the collection’s history.
The 16800 was the first Submariner Date to include a sapphire crystal, a quickset date feature, a unidirectional bezel, and a 300-meter water resistance rating. These features have become standard for Submariner watches ever since. So, with this reference, you get both the distinctive character and the aged appearance that define vintage Rolex watches, along with these important upgrades.
Submariner 16800 models with glossy dials and WGS hour markers still offer remarkable value and can be purchased for $10,000 or less.
Choosing the Right Vintage Rolex
With the knowledge and suggestions you have gained, you’re now more prepared to step into the thrilling realm of vintage Rolex watches. No matter which specific model you decide to go for within your $10,000 budget, remember that selecting a Rolex you genuinely love wearing, regardless of current trends, is the true measure of success in your choice.