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3 Ways to Get a Modern Rolex on Your Wrist for Less Than You Think

Rolex's overlooked models offer a ton of value and a (relatively) accessible entry point to the iconic brand.

modern affordable rolex
Rolex

No watch brand even competes with Rolex for communicating success and prestige without saying a word. The Submariner, Datejust, Daytona and other models are immediately recognizable around the world, but the Rolex magic is in part based on exclusivity. They're expensive, and these are watches that many people aspire to own as a longterm goal.

A new, current Datejust starts at over $7k retail, and the Submariner is over $8k — and these are watches with only basic functionality, each in their most basic configurations. You're not going to get a Rolex for "cheap," but there are a couple ways to join the club for less dough than you might think. Depending on the model, vintage or pre-owned Rolex watches can be a good option — but there are also overlooked model families that not only offer strong value and the Rolex mojo but something a bit different from that oh-so familiar Rolex look.

The watches below each feature Rolex signatures (like the Mercedes handset and Oyster case) and similar specs, with three-hand automatic winding and no date. They're all under $7k and are relatively easy Rolex watches to buy.

Rolex Oyster Perpetual 36

modern affordable rolex
Rolex

The Oyster Perpetual is Rolex's entry-level mens watch, but it offers a true Rolex look and represents the brand's history in its purest form. Hearkening back to the first "waterproof" watch in 1926 with automatic winding added in 1931, this is the basis of most Rolex watches made since. It comes in different sizes, and for 2020 it got a new 41mm case and a ton of bright color options. The 36mm version, however, is perfectly wearable for many wrists and inline with modern trends, and it's slightly more affordable as well. Though the Oyster Perpetual has a formal look, it has the same 100m water resistance as the sportier models below.

Diameter: 36mm
Price: $5,600
Manufacturer Info: rolex.com

SHOP PRE-OWNED

Rolex Air King

modern affordable rolex
Rolex

Most people will probably think of the GMT Master II and Sky-Dweller as Rolex's aviation-themed watches before they recall the Air King. With its black dial and large Arabic numerals, the Air King stands out from the rest of the Rolex catalog with something of a military look and traces its roots to 1945 — though its modern design is younger and somewhat polarizing. The Air King currently doesn't use the latest generation of automatic movements (as the Oyster Perpetual above does), but it represents a lot of value as the entry point for the Rolex's sport watches. As a less popular model, the Air King perhaps says more about the person who chooses it than the more popular Rolex watches.

Diameter: 40mm
Price: $6,450
Manufacturer Info: rolex.com

SHOP PRE-OWNED

Rolex Explorer

modern affordable rolex
Rolex

For only a tad ($100) more than the Air King, the Rolex Explorer offers a more universally palatable and uncontroversial option. Not to be confused with the Explorer II (which has a 24-hour-marked bezel and GMT hand), the plain-old Explorer is more basic but a handsome and well-balanced sport watch. With three-hand time-telling, it's recognizably Rolex and has the added benefit of its association with adventurers — most famously, Sir Edmund Hillary, who wore a "pre-Explorer" to the summit of Mt. Everest in 1953. It features a similar automatic movement as the Air King above and is a hair smaller at 39mm.

Diameter: 39mm
Price: $6,550
Manufacturer Info: rolex.com

SHOP PRE-OWNED

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