It's official. Starting this month, Rolex will sell you a pre-owned watch.
For the first time, the company plans to offer official certification for its pre-owned watches. It's a major, and unexpected, move from the brand at a time when Rolex watches are harder to get than ever.
If Rolex itself gives a watch the thumbs-up, that'll be good enough for just about anyone — but there are yet many points in need of clarification regarding how the Certified Pre-Owned (CPO) program works and how it'll shake out in practice.
What We Know About Rolex CPO So Far
We hope for more salient details soon, but here's what we know.
How does the Rolex Certified Pre-Owned program work?
Watches that Rolex has certified will receive a guarantee card and a seal similar to the famous green seal accompanying new Rolexes. They'll also come with a two-year international warrantee (new Rolexes have a five-year warrantee). The program applies to secondhand watches more than three years old.
Where can I buy a Rolex Certified Pre-Owned watch?
Initially, starting in December 2022, they'll only be available in Bucherer boutiques in six countries: Switzerland, Austria, Germany, France, Denmark and the UK. (Sorry, USA and everywhere else — MoonSwatches will be easier to get.) The program will be available to other official retailers starting sometime in the spring of 2023. You can already see Certified Pre-Owned Rolex watches on Bucherer's website, but they're not available to buy directly online.
How will Rolex price its pre-owned watches?
It's already a remarkable and awkward situation to see the retail price for a watch alongside an empty case — next to a pre-owned model of the same watch priced for more. Pricing a pre-owned watch is tricky and involves a number of variables. Initial pricing on the Bucherer website appears to follow the market, but the brand now has a lever of greater influence in it.
Why is Rolex doing this now?
"To bring added value to the existing supply of pre-owned Rolex watches" is the brand's characteristically opaque and diplomatic statement. Naturally, Rolex isn't overtly calling attention to the rampant secondhand market that's been rather out of control in recent years — and if Rolex likes one thing, it's control. This move seems like a way to combat prices and insert Rolex's voice directly back into the conversation.
It also gives the brand a chance to benefit further from the demand it's apparently unable to meet with supply of new Rolex watches.
What We Don't Know Yet
There are yet many unanswered, burning questions many enthusiasts have that aren't addressed in Rolex's press release.
What is the actual certification process?
Are watches sent to Rolex or inspected on site? Can you walk into a dealer and sell or trade in your Rolex right then and there? Will certified watches also be serviced? We've got to assume that the brand has thought these issues through carefully, but it remains to be seen how the program will be put into practice. Rolex also loves rules: there'll surely be a range of circumstances that disqualify a watch from certification, but these details are yet to be disclosed.
How will vintage watches be treated?
Vintage Rolex collecting is very much a world of its own. If, for example, the certification includes servicing with the likes of replaced parts and polishing (as is included with standard Rolex servicing), it'll still leave a healthy niche for existing dealers to offer services that leave watches sharp, original and correct — they want that precious patina!
Sometimes even if, say, a watch's hands or dial are authentically Rolex, collectors seek original (as opposed to replacements, even if they're from the company itself) — and there's not much indication of how Rolex will handle this.
What effect will it have on the existing pre-owned Rolex market?
Paul Altieri owns Bob's Watches, one of the biggest pre-owned Rolex sellers online, with its own well established authenticity certification program. He feels that he's still able to offer value by selling online.
"I'm still going to bet on the internet, when it's all said and done," he told Gear Patrol. It's safe to presume that Rolex won't be taking sales online anytime soon.
Some speculate that existing pre-owned dealers will need to lower prices in order to compete — and that could consequently bring the Rolex price bubble back down to earth and under control a bit.
We'll continue to keep you updated as more information is available.