When I took over Bob’s Watches in 2010, the pre-owned market for Rolexes was like the Wild West. And buying a Rolex online was a bit like playing Russian roulette—you never knew what you’d get, and sometimes it could end really badly. There was said to be a darkened chamber at the old Rolex building in New York City known as the Crying Room. Many people had supposedly walked in with their watches for repair or service, only to be led into the Crying Room and told their precious timepiece was a fake, or otherwise worthless. Clearly, there would be big rewards for anyone who could make sure that never happened to responsible buyers.
Having gotten a business degree at Boston College and been a serial entrepreneur, I saw a huge opportunity to transform the pre-owned Rolex market; I put everything I had into relaunching the business, and it paid off. Twelve years later we are the world’s largest e-commerce retailer of pre-owned Rolex and luxury watches. All of this is due in large part to the relentless work of the Bob’s Watches team, including my wife and Co-Founder, Carol Altieri (she’s also our COO), and our CFO, Joe Alessandrini. Our total revenue is at the $500 million mark, we’ve sold over 60,000 watches, and our site gets 1.3 million unique visitors a month. It’s a roaring success, to say the least.
Essentially we took what had been a small local business in North Carolina, which we purchased for $8,000 at the time, and created the world’s first publicly listed Rolex exchange, meaning that we listed the price that we’d be willing to pay for each watch, alongside the price we’d sell it for, allowing us to serve as a trustworthy online marketplace for buyers and sellers. It would be another ten years before Rolex published prices on its own website, mainly due to the fact that we’d created this expectation of transparency.
We didn’t stop there, however; we also built up a world-class team of experts and technicians to repair and authenticate each and every watch that came through the door, in order to be able to offer buyers a money-back guarantee—another first for the industry. We then expanded into other top Swiss luxury watch brands, applying the same principles. In the years since I took over the business, acquiring an authentic Rolex hasn’t gotten any easier—unless you’re buying from us. You cannot just walk into a Rolex boutique and buy the watch you want, even if they have several on display. Demand so far exceeds supply that there is a waiting list, often several years long, to buy brand new examples of the most desirable Rolex sports models like the Submariner and Daytona.
Thus many buyers are driven to the secondary and resale market; but it is still downright hazardous to navigate these waters unless you’re dealing with Bob’s Watches, and have an ironclad, money-back guarantee of authenticity. Between grey market goods, watches of dubious provenance or condition, and ones with replacement parts or bad repair jobs that ruin their value; not to mention the increasingly impressive “superfakes” that can pass for the real thing unless carefully scrutinized by an accredited expert, it’s pretty much madness to buy a random Rolex online. Clearly, our numbers show that, outside of the brand itself, we are the most trusted retailer of Rolex watches. From brand-new models to vintage pieces whose value has skyrocketed in recent years, we’ve handled them all.
As a side benefit, along the way, I have personally built up what is perhaps the world’s top collection of vintage Rolex watches in private hands, and probably anywhere in the world, outside of Rolex’s own museum (which isn’t, of course, open to the public). The collection is worth millions and may be exhibited someday, at least in part, once it can be fully cataloged. This is an incredibly valuable resource, a reference library of sorts that enables us to be undisputed experts on every Rolex model ever made, including some extremely rare examples. We are frequently consulted by officials at the world’s premier auction houses, and in 2017 we collaborated with Sotheby’s, the world’s top auction house, on a special sale of driving and racing watches. Since then we have launched our own in-house watch auction division, offering buyers yet another way to acquire the watch they want at a fair market price, and our sales often focus on rare examples such as the “tropical” dial Rolexes with their amazingly desirable patina.
In 2018, we opened our new headquarters in Newport Beach, spanning over 10,000 square feet, making it the largest retail space for pre-owned Rolex watches in the world. The new Bob’s Watches headquarters demonstrated our commitment to growing our operations in Newport Beach; allowed us to have a more intimate relationship with our audience; and delivered a world-class experience for our employees, partners, and customers who are at the core of our success.
It also gave us the infrastructure needed to grow our offering of other Swiss luxury watch brands and partner with like-minded brands such as Nobleman to build out our lifestyle space. We are a company that stays on the cutting edge of horology and digital technology so that we can continue evolving our offerings to the consumer. Newport Beach offers a professional, well-educated workforce that allowed us to recruit top talent and continue to grow the business exponentially, and we’re extremely dedicated to and invested in Orange County.
This year we compiled ten years’ worth of sales data to produce one of the most comprehensive reports on the value of Rolex watches ever recorded. Our in-depth analysis showed that, as an investment, Rolex watches have outperformed both gold and real estate over the past decade, a staggering result. The stainless-steel Submariner Ref. 16610 was easily the highest-selling Rolex over the time period, while the Daytona is the model that has appreciated most, with an average pre-owned price of over $30,000. Since we hold a considerable amount of inventory, another unique facet to our business, the value of our stock has shown a huge increase as Rolex prices have risen. Here’s a rundown on our most popular and best-selling models from Rolex and other top Swiss luxury watch brands:
Rolex Daytona: Paul Newman made the ultimate race car driver’s watch famous in the 1960s, but the Daytona models that Rolex produces to this day are extremely desirable as well. Newman-era examples routinely sell for six figures. This is the most difficult to acquire of all Rolex watches.
Rolex Datejust and Day-Date: These are the classic dress watches in the Rolex stable, yet still retain their sports-derived heritage. A Rolex Datejust is the most recognizable symbol of success in the world, especially in gold.
Rolex Submariner: Steve McQueen is the most famous Submariner devotee, and this watch is perhaps the most coveted, and most copied, watch in the world. Like a Porsche 911 it will never, the iconic dive watch will never, ever go out of style.
Rolex Explorer: This watch is closely associated with Sir Edmund Hillary, the first man to conquer Mt. Everest, in whose honor it was named. Less popular than the Submariner, it is more of a connoisseurs’ Rolex and has its own cult following.
Rolex GMT-Master: Originally developed for Pan-Am pilots flying new transatlantic routes who needed to keep track of two time zones, it remains hugely desirable thanks to Rolexes many clever variations on the original “Pepsi” colorway, from “Coke,” to “Rootbeer,” “Batman,” and more.
Omega Speedmaster: Next to the Rolex Submariner, this is the most iconic sports/tool watch in the world, and was the first-ever watch to be worn on the Moon, hence becoming known as the “Moonwatch” in its Professional iteration.
Omega Seamaster: This is the watch that has been worn on-screen by James Bond since the 1990s. Daniel Craig has helped make it nearly as cool as the Speedmaster, thanks to the special 007 editions he wore and, in later years, helped develop.
Cartier Tank: The Cartier Tank, in gold or classic stainless steel, in various shapes and versions, remains the most elegant gentleman’s dress watch ever made; Cary Grant wore one, which is all you need to know.
Cartier Santos: Before the Tank, Cartier fashioned the square-cased Santos for pioneering aviator Alberto Santos-Dumont, in 1904, and the first-ever pilot’s watch soon gained popularity; Cartier relaunched it with great success in recent years.
Audemars Piguet Royal Oak: Originally launched in 1972, the Royal Oak was deemed outré for many years; though top collectors always knew its value, and today it is one of the most coveted luxury watches in the world for those like Jay-Z with a bit of a bolder sense of style.
Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore: A chronograph evolution of the Royal Oak, the Offshore debuted in 1996 and immediately captured the interest of collectors as a more modern and complex design than the original. It is definitely a statement watch.
Panerai Luminor: Originally developed for the Italian navy’s elite underwater commandos, the Luminor was first made popular by Sylvester Stallone who found one in a vintage watch shop. It is known for extra-large case sizes.
Panerai Radiomir: An even earlier military watch, named for its luminous markings easily read in the dark and underwater, it is a more understated design than the Luminor.
Panerai Submersible: An even tougher and more technical version of the Luminor, Panerai recently came full circle by announcing special Submersible editions in partnership with the Navy SEALS.
Breitling Navitimer: One of the most iconic pilot watches ever made, the Navitimer’s extremely complex dial and classic looks have endeared those who prefer professional timepieces.
Breitling Superocean: Breitling’s first-ever dive watch was released in 1957, just a few years after the Submariner appeared on the scene. The brand’s heritage Superocean models are among their most appealing offerings.
Oris Divers: While not as well known as some of the other Swiss watchmakers on this list, Oris is a brand that we at Bob’s Watches have gotten behind in a major way, as they are a terrific value proposition. Their dive watches are particularly attractive.
Oris Big Crown: The brand’s marquee pilot’s watch is a masterpiece of elegant, sporty aesthetics and practicality plus technical excellence. If you’re not quite ready for your first Rolex, this is a great way to get in on the ground floor. From modern marvels to vintage rarities, we’re constantly curating the best watches on our website: BobsWatches.com. Whether buying, selling, or trading, we’re committed to being your trusted source for luxury watches. No matter where you are in the world, we’re here to help with all of your watch needs.
Words by Paul Altieri