Rolex Beats Resellers At Their Own Game With New Pre-Owned Programme

The best way to buy a second-hand Rolex?

Rolex Beats Resellers At Their Own Game With New Pre-Owned Programme

Image: Rolex

The world’s most in-demand watch brand has thrown a cat amongst the pigeons by announcing its very own Certified Pre-Owned (CPO) programme. But will this make it any easier for us mere mortals to get our hands on a Rolex?

The programme, which Rolex is initially launching with Swiss boutique chain Bucherer in six different countries (Austria, Denmark, France, Germany, Switzerland and the UK), will allow customers to buy second-hand models that are certified as authentic by Rolex and which come with a new two-year international Rolex guarantee – which is some pretty huge news.

“The new programme makes it possible to purchase pre-owned watches that the brand itself has certified and guaranteed. Its aim is to bring added value to the existing supply of pre-owned Rolex watches,” the famous Swiss watchmaker shared in a press release last week.

While no doubt part of the reason Rolex has done this indeed to protect their brand and customers (from both the scourge of fakes as well as the unpleasant profiteering that’s rife on the grey market), there’s no doubt that this move is partly motivated by Rolex’s desire to get in on a share of that aforementioned grey market profit.

We don’t see that as a bad thing, necessarily. Better Rolex or Rolex authorised dealers (ADs) than random resellers, speculators or ‘flippers’. It’s also a win for consumers, who’ll be able to buy second-hand Rolexes with complete faith that they’re the real McCoy, as they’re backed up by Rolex itself, rather than rolling the dice on grey market listings.

Second-hand Rolexes on display at a vintage watch dealer in London. Image: Burlington Arcade

How does it work?

Rolex’s CPO programme isn’t just a complete open slather. Only watches that are at least three years old at the time of resale will be sold/accepted through the programme (a canny move clearly designed to head off flippers and not compromise new Rolex sales).

As alluded to above, watches sold through the programme will receive a special Rolex Certified Pre-Owned plaque, seal and guarantee card – all important and official certificates of authenticity.

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It’s not clear whether (initially, at least) the watches will be sent to Rolex to be certified, or if Bucherer/dealers will be in charge of the certification process. If Rolex expands the program, the latter is a more likely scenario.

We can also guess that Rolex will likely treat these second-hand pieces to a fairly comprehensive service – which could be rather controversial for real vintage pieces. Rolex will no doubt just want the pieces running as well as possible while using official Rolex components, but there’s a chance that when overhauling some of these pieces, they might affect their ‘purity’ (at least from a collector’s perspective).

A 1989 Rolex Explorer II (ref. 16550) for sale as part of Rolex’s CPO programme. Image: Rolex

How will it affect Rolex prices?

But the question on everyone’s lips is this: how will it affect aftermarket prices, as well as new Rolex supply?

DMARGE spoke exclusively with Paul Altieri, CEO of Bob’s Watches (one of the world’s biggest second-hand Rolex dealers), who welcomes Rolex’s CPO programme – even if he remains somewhat sceptical about Rolex’s motivations for doing so, as well as how it will affect either aftermarket prices or new Rolex supply.

“My guess is that this has been in the works for years… [But] I think many of us are asking why Rolex has decided to directly enter the second-hand market,” he questions.

“[Rolex] are a manufacturer that designs and produces new product. Will second-hand watches at the local AD someday become competition for the new products they sell?”

Paul Altieri

That is indeed a major concern that many Rolex fans have already expressed. Will we end up with a situation where dealers end up pushing customers who are stuck on the waitlists for new models towards second-hand Rolexes, which if sold at current market rates could cost significantly more than equivalent new models – just without the standard factory 5-year warranty and no waiting list? That’s not a win for consumers.

Rolex’s new ‘Certified Pre-Owned’ seal. Rolex wants consumers to be able to trust their CPO watches. Image: Rolex

It’s also worth pointing out that only days before announcing this CPO programme, Rolex also unveiled plans to invest around AU$1.5 billion in building a new production site in western Switzerland, but that factory won’t be operational until 2029.

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In that sense, then, perhaps the CPO programme could be seen as a stop-gap to address the ongoing new Rolex shortage… Or, at the very least, a way to give consumers more of a choice. In any case, this whole CPO thing is an uncharacteristically progressive move from Rolex – a brand that doesn’t even have an e-commerce offering.

“The watch market, like most industries, has undergone a rapid change with the massive growth and influence of the Internet,” Paul explains, adding that “over 90% of our business, for example, is conducted over the Internet.” Perhaps this is Rolex trying to move with the times; their way of doing something different?

Paul also points out that “Bucherer is an ideal partner for rolling out this pre-owned business since they now own Tourneau, who has many years of experience dealing in pre-owned Rolex watches,” explaining that Tourneau has had a ‘Certified Pre-Owned Rolex’ programme offering in place for many years.

(Rolex has said that other official Rolex retailers who want to be part of their CPO programme will be able to do so from spring 2023.)

Bucherer’s flagship boutique in Luzern, Switzerland. Bucherer has had a long and fruitful relationship with Rolex, being one of the first jewellers to stock the brand back in 1924. Image: Bucherer

Crucially, Paul doesn’t see the CPO programme having any immediate short-term effect on second-hand prices.

“There are many local ADs that already buy and trade pre-owned timepieces and many use and other industry leaders to price/value the watches customers bring in to trade,” he points out. “Many [dealers] have offered certified pre-owned Rolex watches for over 5 years, like Tourneau. We rolled out our certified pre-owned program almost 5 years ago [too].”

That is to say: boutiques have been offering certified pre-owned Rolexes for years, but they haven’t helped bring down prices on the grey market.

Our verdict

While it’s easy to be sceptical about Rolex’s CPO programme, we ultimately see it as a good thing. One of the worst aspects of watch culture is how exclusive and difficult purchasing a new watch at retail is, as well as how outrageous some of the price-gouging is on popular models on the grey market.

The grey market is also a Wild West rife with bad actors, inconsistent standards and unpleasant shopping experiences.

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Rolex’s CPO programme might not make it any cheaper to get your hands on a Rolex, but it might make it easier. More importantly, provides customers with a much more trustworthy way to buy second-hand pieces in a market filled with shonky sellers.

WATCH our guide to the top 5 most expensive Rolex watches of all time below.

As discussed, we doubt it’ll do much to take the heat out of the grey market, and there’ll still be a role to play for trustworthy established dealers like Bob’s Watches, for example.

We see it as being particularly valuable for customers looking for properly vintage Rolexes, where the risk of fakes and swindles is even higher. Being able to buy a rare vintage piece that’s backed up and checked by Rolex themselves – that’s pretty confidence-inspiring.

Watch this space, we say.

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