TRR Top 5: Watches With The Highest Resale Value
How does one place value on a watch? Is its price tag based on a compelling origin story, connecting the wearer to a legend that exists “out of time,” so to speak? Does its value lie within the watch’s inner workings, its innovation and technical upgrades? Or is it the craftsmanship and cachet attached to a particular brand name? Perhaps it comes down to materials, zeroes populating with sapphire crystals, platinum bracelets and the addition of diamonds. Maybe it’s all hype, with prices fluctuating depending on how many iconic celebrities or beloved film characters have been spotted wearing a particular model.
Chances are every watch connoisseur you ask will give a completely different response. But when it comes to prices in the secondary market, the answer is a little more straightforward. Resale value refers to how much you can earn back for a timepiece after you’ve bought it, and the styles outlined below retain (or, as is often the case, exceed) those initial investments notoriously well. The RealReal stays competitive with its pricing by assessing the fair market value of brands, product lines and conditions in real time – we also offer
up to 85% commission for certain high-value models.
Read on to learn more about the top five watches with the highest resale values, according to Danielle Shatara, Senior Valuation Manager, Fine Jewelry & Watches.
5. Rolex GMT-Master II
Resale Stats: 126710BLRO (Pepsi on Oyster) 188% of MSRP // 126710BLNR (Bat-Girl) 171% of MSRP // 126710BLRO (Pepsi on Jubilee) 163% of MSRP (Bat-Girl) // 166710 121% of MSRP (classic black, earlier generation)
The Story: Before the 1970s, pilots used Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) to communicate effectively across different time zones. This is where the Rolex GMT-Master gets its name. In the early 1950s, Pan American World Airways approached Rolex, asking them to develop a watch that could display different time zones simultaneously. In 1954, the GMT-Master, or Ref. 6542, an aviator’s dream watch, was released as part of the brand’s “Professional” lineup.
Ref. 6542 was the first GMT-Master, though it bears a resemblance to Ref. 6202, a Rolex Turn-O-Graph. The only difference between the GMT-Master and the Turn-O-Graph was the new, slightly modified movement, with an additional 24-hour hand and a different bezel. Ref. 6542 was pressure-proof up to 50 meters underwater, and was produced between 1954 and 1959. In 1959, Ref. 1675 was introduced and produced until 1980. This model was the first to have “Superlative Chronometer Officially Certified” inscribed on the dial.
In 1983, the GMT-Master II, or Ref. 16760, was released, featuring a rotating bezel. This allowed wearers to reference a third time zone. The new caliber 3285 movement also provided a “quickset date,” giving wearers the ability to adjust the local time without stopping the watch or the 24-hour GMT hand. Ref. 16760 actually gained the nickname “Fat Lady,” since its case is thicker than the original GMT-Master. Other GMT-Master II releases also had nicknames, notably “Pepsi” with its blue and red color bezel, “Root Beer” with its brown and gold (and later black and brown) bezel, “Coke” with its black and red bezel and “Batman” with its blue and black color bezel combination.
Perhaps the most notable GMT-Master to go to auction was Marlon Brando’s. Brando’s Ref. 1675, which he wore in the film Apocalypse Now, broke the world record for one of the most expensive Rolexes sold at auction with the hammer price of $1.95 million dollars.
Why You Should Sell Now: Contemporary all-steel versions in excellent condition will gain you top dollar, as they remain difficult to obtain on the primary market. Watches on an oyster bracelet outperform those on a jubilee bracelet, though both will still achieve more than MSRP when full collateral and a same-year warranty are included. While the all-steel, bi-color bezel variations of the GMT-Master II remain fan favorites, especially when paired with an Oyster bracelet, the classic black bezel/black dial configuration (126610LN), retired in 2018, is still going strong on the secondary market.
How to Spot the Real Deal: Check the GMT hand when inspecting a Rolex GMT-Master II for authenticity. On a genuine Rolex GMT, the GMT hand should be between the minute and hour hand. On replicas, the GMT hand is typically closer to the dial. Counterfeit parts usually do not allow the GMT hand to function if it’s placed further away from the dial.
4. Model: Rolex Oyster Perpetual, 36mm & 41mm
The Story: The “base-model” Rolex watch, the Oyster Perpetual, is typically a no-frills entry into the world of Rolex watches. Only offered in all-steel with smooth bezels and fully-matte Oyster bracelets, this watch family was given a much needed refresh with the 2020 introduction of brightly colored lacquer dials, along with the addition of the 41mm case size. These became an instant success and demand quickly outpaced supply, leading to incredible secondary market demand. Of note, the teal “Tiffany Blue” dial was particularly exciting for Rolex fans, as this light turquoise color is reminiscent of the Glacier Blue dial reserved exclusively for all-platinum Rolex watches. While the OP dial lacks the distinctive guilloche shimmer of the Glacier blue dial, the matte effect creates a bright and fun aesthetic to an everyday watch. In 2023, Rolex retired the turquoise colored dial option for the 41mm OP and launched a “celebration” dial, which features a collection of bubbles in the vivid colors of the lacquered dials introduced in 2020, keeping the turquoise as the background color.
Why You Should Sell Now: While case-size always plays an important part in watch demand, color is key with these watches. The 36mm and 41mm OPs with brightly colored dials are sure to sell quickly, especially when kept in great condition and with full collateral. The turquoise “Tiffany Blue” dial remains especially in demand across the board, particularly in the 41mm size as the dial color was retired for that size in 2023. The green dial is a very close second, as Rolex’s signature color is always a crowd pleaser. There’s no guarantee how long the new Celebration dial will be available, too, so collectors have been snapping them up as they come along.
How to Spot the Real Deal: Keep a keen eye on the dial configuration and crisp clean printing. A lot of rolexes have been cropping up with aftermarket or customized dials to mimic the bright turquoise color, or other brightly colored dials.
3. Rolex DateJust 41mm, all steel
The Story: In 2009, Rolex introduced the DateJust II (116300), a 41mm version of their most classic watch collection, in response to the popularity of and demand for larger watches. That watch, which was only offered on the oyster bracelet, was retired in 2016 with the launch of the Datejust 41 (126300), which featured an updated movement, sleeker caselines and the option for the jubilee bracelet. Being in all-steel, the 126300 remains a fan favorite as the entry price-point for the DateJust line in the popular 41mm scale. Offered with a variety of dial configurations, options changing slightly from year to year, this is one of those iconic watches that will stand the test of time.
Why You Should Sell Now: As with other Rolex models on this list, having a current/active warranty card, full collateral and a high condition grade all ensure a high listing price and a quick sale. This particular reference number (126300) with the smooth flat dial does best when on an Oyster bracelet. Certain dial colors are more popular than others, notably the “Wimbledon” slate grey dial with green roman numerals and the current mint green dial. The stainless steel DJ 41mm with 18K white gold fluted bezel (126334) is also a popular choice on either the Oyster or Jubilee bracelets.
How to Spot the Real Deal: Look at the rehaut ring around the dial of the watch. Contemporary Rolex watches will have “ROLEX” printed repeatedly around this ring, with the serial number printed at the 6 o’clock position. In the DJ 41, the R’s and X’s on this ring should align perfectly with the hour markers on the left and right hand sides of the dial respectively (ie. R’s align with the left hand hour markers and the X’s align with the right).
2. Patek Philippe Nautilus
The Story: Considered the “Holy Grail” watch by most collectors, the stainless steel Patek Philippe Nautilus watch, remains the most coveted and talked about watches in the Patek Philippe catalog. This sporty yet sleek watch was designed by legendary watch designer Gérald Genta (who also designed Audemar Piguet’s iconic Royal Oak sportwatch), and has seen many different variations since its release in 1976. In 2006, when Patek launched the now notorious 5711/1A to commemorate the 30 year anniversary of the watch. In 2021, Patek announced that they were retiring the coveted reference number, with a final, limited run featuring a Tiffany Blue Dial, to be sold exclusively through 3 flagship Tiffany & Co. boutiques. The very first of the 170 pieces achieved a staggering $6.5M when it was auctioned in Dec 2021.
Why You Should Sell Now: While all variations of the Nautilus are popular on the secondary market, the all stainless steel versions are especially in demand. Patek Philippe only produces a fraction of their already relatively low annual production in steel, and as this material equates to a more price-point-accessible msrp, the demand far exceeds supply. This is especially true for the larger models, most notably the now-retired 5711/1A, though the smaller sizes hold their own as well.
How to Spot the Real Deal: As with all Patek Philippe watches, expect perfection in even the smallest details on the watch, from the dial printing, to the crown detailing, to the very screws in the movement. Every element will be expertly finished and pristine in its positioning. With the Nautilus in particular, proportions are everything with the Nautilus, and the ultimate look should be one of balance. The bezel should not look overpowering in comparison to the dial, a common give-away in most counterfeits.
1. Audemar Piguet Royal Oak
Resale Stats: 15000ST.OO.0789ST.06 193.25% // 15500ST.OO.1220ST.04 128% // 26320ST.OO.1220ST.03 132%
The Story: The 1972 introduction of the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak redefined the luxury watch market, leading to the popularity of luxury sports watches as a category. Designed by the legendary watch designer Gerald Genta, it introduced a groundbreaking octagonal case design with visible screws on the bezel, challenging the traditional norms of luxury watches. Its bold and sporty appearance with a touch of elegance has made it an iconic timepiece. Since many other watch brands have since followed the path paved by the Royal Oak, it has become historically significant in the horology world.
Why You Should Sell Now: As with other watches on this list, AP keeps their production of all-steel watches very limited, while demand steadily increases. With a wearable, sporty, entry into the brand, the 39mm “Jumbo” Ultra Thin Automatic Royal Oak (15202ST) in steel maintains its “holy grail” status among the casual and serious collectors alike. The movement used in this version is the Caliber 2121, which is based on the original ultra-thin automatic movement designed by Audemars Piguet in collaboration with Jaeger-LeCoultre and Vacheron Constantin. That said, most all stainless steel variations of the Royal Oak family do exceptionally well on the secondary market. Just make sure to keep your original box and papers, as the lack of those will almost certainly mean a lower achievable price.
How to Spot the Real Deal: Genuine luxury watches will be made with high-quality materials, making them feel substantial and well-balanced. Counterfeit watches may feel lighter and less robust due to the use of inferior components. As with other timepieces on this list, keep an eye on the tiniest of details of the case, dial, bracelet and movement, and expect perfection. How do the screws look on the bezel? Are they crisp and well positioned or somewhat rounded and off center? Luxury is all about attention to detail, even in the most mundane aspects of an item.
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*Earn 85% of the selling price when you consign a fine watch with a list price of $2,495 or more. Earn 70% of the selling price when you consign a fine watch with a list price from $995 to $2,494. Commission rates subject to change at any time.