The definitive guide to buying Rolex watches at auction

Rolex is the best known and most popular luxury watch brand in the world.


1973 Rolex Explorer II – £18,500 at Richard Winterton, July 5, 2021.

Although the Rolex company is famous as a Swiss manufacturer renowned for its precision and simplicity, the firm has its roots in the UK.

It was founded as Wilsdorf and Davis by Hans Wilsdorf and Alfred Davis in London in 1905. Three years later the company registered Rolex as the brand name of its watches and became Rolex Watch Co. Ltd. in 1915.

After the First World War, the company moved its base of operations to Geneva. Today it makes gentlemen’s and ladies’ wristwatches sold under the Rolex and Tudor brands.

Desirable because…

Owning a Rolex is perhaps the ultimate statement in the wristwatch hierarchy – a wonderful piece of Swiss manufacturing coupled with a prestigious, luxury brand.

But it is not so easy to get your hands on a new one. For some of the fresh ranges that are coming out there is a waiting list and the high price of a brand new Rolex can deter many.

However, there is a thriving market in good quality, affordable pre-owned Rolexes, putting one within reach for most people who wish to own a watch made by this most desirable of brands. Prices are rising so buying one now could also prove to be a shrewd investment.


1973 Rolex Explorer II – £18,500 at Richard Winterton, July 5, 2021.

Buying at auction

Many auction houses hold regular specialist watch sales or watches and jewellery sales while others include a selection of watches within a bigger auction, making it easy to find plenty of Rolexes to choose from at any time of year.

With so many examples on offer you will find plenty to suit your budget.


A Rolex Cosmograph Daytona c.2009, sold for £14,000 at Batemans, May 21, 2021.

Price range

Condition, age and rarity determine the prices Rolexes will sell for at auction.

A 10 year-old Rolex in good condition might attract bids at around £2000-3000 whereas the rarest and older examples such as some of the Oyster Submariners can sell for 10 or 20 times that amount.

A watch’s value can also be enhanced if it was owned by a celebrity or has an interesting backstory.


Rolex Milisub Ref 5513 – £123,000 at Sterling Vault, February 25, 2021.

What to look out for

Check the auction house’s lot description. It will typically state whether the Rolex you desire is in working order or needs repair. Some Rolexes may have been repaired in the past in which case the hands, for example, may not be the originals. That would make it less desirable for a specialist collector and thus more affordable for you.

The lot description will also usually detail condition issues such as any scratches. These may often be typical wear and tear for a watch that was worn every day by its previous owner or they may be more severe.

You can request a condition report from the auctioneer if it is not already in the lot description. Attending a viewing in person will also enable you to try on the Rolex you are considering bidding for and inspect it for yourself close up.

Auction houses with a watches department will employ a specialist you can contact to discuss your requirements and answer your questions.


Rolex Submariner Ref. 5513 with Explorer dial – £150,000 at Lockdales, February 19-20, 2020.

What to do next

Decide how much you’d like to spend and use the search facility on to find Rolexes coming up for sale. You can filter your search by, among other things, price and by location of the auction house to narrow down your selection.

To research recent prices at auction so you can see how much each type of Rolex sold for you can also try out the Price Guide.

If you are new to bidding check out our guides to buying at auction – it’s easy once you know how.

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