TRR Top 5: Watches With The Best 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. When it comes to prices in the secondary market, the answer is a little more straightforward. “The RealReal stays competitive with its pricing by assessing the fair market value of brands, product lines and conditions in real time,” says TRR Fine Jewelry & Watch Valuation Manager Kamilla Akbarova. In essence, it’s a combination of all of the above, and our experts watch every minute shift in price and public appeal like hawks. (It’s also our mission to make it worth your while, which is why you’ll receive up to 85% of the selling price for watches priced $2,495+ on the site.*)
We wanted to learn which watches are most valuable in the resale market, so we pulled data covering sales from the last year to discover the “what,” and tapped expert Kamilla Akbarova to find out the “why.” Keep reading for Akbarova’s inside scoop on the five models with the highest resale value, which reference numbers you should consign now and key tips for spotting the real deal.
5. Rolex GMT-Master II
The Story Behind The Model: 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 calibre 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.
What You Should Sell Now: Since Rolex is not producing any new models this year, the resale value of many Rolex timepieces is rising in the secondhand market. In March 2020, Ref. 126710BLNR — or the “Batgirl” — was auctioned off for $21,250. The main aesthetic difference between the “Batgirl” and the “Batman” is the Jubilee bracelet. The original “Batman” (Ref. 116710) features an Oyster bracelet. Now would be prime time to sell either of these models.
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. Omega Seamaster 300 Master Co-Axial “Spectre”
The Resale Stats: The Omega Seamaster 300 Master Co-Axial “Spectre” holds an average resale value up to 129%.
The Story Behind The Model: Omega watches have always been associated with precision. After breaking records in time-keeping at the 1931 Geneva Observatory trials, the brand adopted the slogan “Omega — Exact time for life.” Omega watches have been used on numerous high-profile expeditions. Buzz Aldrin famously wore his Omega Speedmaster on the Apollo 11 mission, making it the first watch on the moon. (It’s been known as the Moonwatch ever since.)
In addition to exploration, Omega has a powerful connection to espionage (if only fictional). Omega’s partnership with the James Bond franchise turned twenty years old in 2015 when the Spectre film hit theaters. The watchmaker released the Seamaster 300 “Spectre” and the Aqua Terra 150M “Spectre” to commemorate the anniversary, and Daniel Craig wore both watch prototypes in the movie. The Seamaster 300 “Spectre” (Reference 184.108.40.206.01.001) was a limited edition watch that included a black ceramic bi-directional bezel with a 12-hour scale in their trademarked Liquidmetal, a “lollipop” second hand and the famous James Bond NATO strap. For many years, modern watch connoisseurs believed that Sean Connery wore a watch with a striped NATO strap in the 1964 film Goldfinger. This turned out not to be the case, however, since NATO straps were not created until 1973. Omega finally made that debunked myth a reality, though, with the release of Ref. 220.127.116.11.01.001 .
What You Should Sell Now: Both James Bond fans and watch collectors alike covet the rare Omega Seamaster 300 “Spectre.” In 2016, the Omega Seamaster prototype that Daniel Craig wore was auctioned off for over $100,000. This helped raise the popularity for its limited-edition release.
The Broad Arrow Speedmaster, though not affiliated with James Bond, is also always in demand. The Broad Arrow Speedmaster, Reference 3594.50.00, was produced between 1998-2003, and was made to resemble the original Omega Speedmaster that had 1957-era “Broad Arrow” hands. In 2018, an Omega Speedmaster “Broad Arrow,” Reference 2915-1 (the first-generation of Omega Speedmasters), sold at auction for around $408,500.
How To Spot The Real Deal: One of the ways to spot a fake Omega watch is to inspect the logo. Omega prints their logo and brand name on some watch dials, while applying it in gold onto others. Replica watches are often made incorrectly and are not up-to-date on the brand’s manufacturing standards, typically painting on the logo when it should be applied as a separate piece of metal. For Omega Seamaster 300 “Spectre” models, the logo should be printed— if it is not, it is likely inauthentic.
3. Patek Philippe Aquanaut
The Resale Stats: The Patek Philippe Aquanaut holds a resale value up to 149%, on average.
The Story Behind The Model: In 1997, Patek Philippe introduced the Aquanaut, a watch that was visibly inspired by the brand’s Nautilus model. Patek Philippe released their first Nautilus, designed by Gérard Genta, in 1976. Legend has it that Mr. Genta was dining at a restaurant when he spotted two Patek Philippe executives at a nearby table. Inspired, he proceeded to design a watch on a napkin, which took him all of five minutes. Genta said that the design was inspired by a ship’s porthole, with two “ears” reminiscent of window hinges. Soon after, the original design Ref. 3700-1A “Jumbo” (42mm) was released, with a tagline: “One of the world’s costliest watches is made of steel.”
The Aquanaut emerged twenty years later. The Nautilus was already well-established among collectors, but Patek Philippe made it known that the Aquanaut was made for a new generation of young, sportier customers. Ref. 5060A was the first Aquanaut released, measuring 35.6mm — smaller than the Nautilus. Both the Nautilus and Aquanaut shared the same shape, but the Aquanaut had a more rounded octagonal case. Both were water-resistant up to 120 meters. The Aquanaut also included a guilloche black dial and a “Tropical” strap that was UV, saltwater and bacteria-resistant. Though some naysayers called the Aquanaut a “Nautilus Junior,” many people praised Patek Philippe for its innovation and modern adaptation.
What You Should Sell Now: Patek Philippe’s modified Aquanaut, Ref.5164A-001 or the Aquanaut “Travel-Time,” is incredibly rare. It includes a second time zone, a date complication and two night and day indicators. It notably sold at auction for over $50,000 in 2019, so if you have one in your collection, it’s likely to sell in the secondary market for more than its original retail price.
In general, though, all of the brand’s models hold a certain allure for Patek Philippe fans. The brand’s collectors and devotees are unlike any others. Patek watches’ popularity and value are attributed to scarcity, as the brand releases an undisclosed number of watches, some of which can take up to two years to produce. In the primary market, some watches require customers to submit an application — and have that application be approved — before they are able to purchase a sought-after watch. The beauty behind Patek Philippe watches also lies in the movement. Every part of a Patek Philippe watch is hand-finished.
The concept of passing on a Patek Philippe to someone else is built into the brand. Following the 1997 release of the Aquanaut, Patek Philippe released an ad campaign with the phrase, “You never truly own a Patek Philippe, you merely look after it for the next generation.”
How To Spot The Real Deal: When checking for authenticity, inspect an Aquanaut’s caseback and look for a reference number. On Patek Philippe watches with crystal casebacks, you should be able to see the serial number and calibre, but the reference number should not be visible, engraved only on the inside. If the reference number is visible on the exterior surface, it is likely an inauthentic timepiece.
2. Rolex Submariner
The Story Behind The Model: Before the Submariner was introduced, Rolex had already gained a reputation for water-resistant watches with the hermetically sealed Oyster case. The Submariner, however, took things a little deeper. In the 1950s, Rolex director René-Paul Jeanneret requested a diving watch that was elegant enough for everyday wear. By 1953, Rolex was ready to put this watch to the test, as Jeanneret wanted to attempt to set the world diving record. After being submerged deeper than 3,000 meters (more than 10,000 feet) and brought back to the surface, the watch was still fully functional. In 1954, Rolex introduced two Submariner models to the world at Basel Watch Fair: Reference 6204 and 6205, the first water-resistant watches up to 100 meters.
In the years following the Submariner’s initial release, Rolex continued to make modifications to the watch. The brand added the iconic cyclops lens for the date complication, created a model in gold and a model in gold and steel, outfitted it with a unidirectional rotating 60-minute dive bezel and improved water resistance up to 300 meters.
When it comes to pop culture, James Bond movies have helped contribute to the Submariner’s popularity. In Dr. No, Sean Connery wore Reference 6538, which featured an added chronometer-certified Rolex 1030 calibre movement. The Submariner also made appearances in other Bond films: Ref. 6538 in From Russia With Love, Goldfinger and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service; Ref. 5513 in Live and Let Die; Ref. 5513 in The Man with the Golden Gun; and Ref. 16610 in License to Kill.
What You Should Sell Now: A “James Bond” Submariner went to auction in 2018 and sold for over one million dollars, making it the most expensive Submariner ever sold at the time. The Bond-featured Reference 5513 is in demand, but note that these models can shift dramatically based on the era produced. Reference 5513 was introduced in 1962 and remained available until 1989. The closer the model to its original release date, the higher the resale value.
In 2003, after maintaining the overall appearance of the watch for decades, Rolex unveiled Reference 16610LV for the brand’s 50th anniversary. This was the first Submariner with a green bezel and a black “maxi dial,” which had larger hour markers previously found on the 1991 YachtMaster. The green bezel earned the watch the nickname “Kermit” in horological circles. It was produced for seven years, which was much shorter than many other Submariner releases.
In 2010, Ref. 116610LV was released at the Basel Watch Fair, replacing Ref. 16610LV. Due to its green dial and bezel, the watch earned the nickname “Hulk” by its collectors. The watch’s recognizable monochrome color scheme made it a fan favorite. Prices for the “Hulk” vary in the secondary market due to the watch’s exclusivity. Many authorized retailers and dealers have closed their waiting lists because it exceeds the number of “Hulks” they receive per year. (Hint: If you’ve got a “Hulk” on hand, there is definitely demand for it.)
How To Spot The Real Deal: One way to spot a fake Submariner is to check the heft of the watch. The real version should be heavier due to higher-quality materials used, while replica watches typically use cheap, lighter-weight parts.
1. Rolex Cosmograph Daytona
The Story Behind The Model: In 1958, NASCAR replaced the original Daytona Beach Road Course with the Daytona International Speedway. In 1962, Rolex became Daytona’s official timekeeper, and a year later the Swiss house debuted its first Cosmograph Reference 6239. Its nickname? “Daytona,” of course. This model was popular amongst race car drivers due to its tachymeter scale, which is used to measure production rates, or speed per hour. The tachymeter is engraved on the bezel — instead of on the dial, as was common at the time — and was made slightly larger and more visible for drivers.
Reference 6239 attracted Paul Newman, who was not only a successful actor, but also a prestigious race car driver. His Daytona was a gift from his wife, Joanne Woodward, and he wore it to almost all of his races. In the 1980s, many people started referring to Ref. 6241, which was one of the first “exotic” multi-colored dials Rolex ever released, as the “Paul Newman” after he was spotted with one in a photo. Today this watch is referred to as the “Holy Grail” and can garner up to $100,000+ at auction. In 2017, Philips auctioned Paul Newman’s own watch for a staggering $17.8 million dollars.
What You Should Sell Now: In 1988, Rolex released their first generation of automatic Daytonas, which had a Zenith-based calibre. Due to the Zenith El Primero movement, Reference 16520 was the first self-winding Daytona model, and is historically significant amongst collectors.
The black dial on Reference 16520 typically contributes to the watch’s higher resale value due to the “Patrizzi” effect. Black dial 16520s produced between 1993 and 1995 used a varnish called Zapon to protect the Daytona’s dial. At the time of the release, Rolex did not realize that the lacquer did not provide enough coverage. Over the years, the “Patrizzi” effect caused silver outer tracks on the subdials to oxidize and turn brown as they react to sunlight. The color of the subdials does not stabilize and continues to darken over time, which makes it a more valuable and unique collector’s piece.
Reference 116506 is another Daytona that became a collector’s piece upon its debut. It was released in 2013 for Daytona’s 50th anniversary and was the first Daytona ever produced in platinum. It also features a brown cerachrom bezel and a coveted ice blue dial.
Today the value of stainless steel Rolex Daytonas continues to rise, as they are not produced as heavily as their gold counterparts. The Cosmograph is also one of the more “complicated” watches Rolex ever produced. Its complications include a chronograph with three subdials and a tachymeter to time laps, which is not available on any other current Rolex releases.
How To Spot The Real Deal: One of the ways to distinguish a real Rolex Daytona from a replica is to inspect the dial’s fonts and spacing. Many Daytona replicas will have a sloppy font and will crowd the lettering on the dial. On a genuine Rolex Daytona, the lettering and spacing is precise, and no detail is too small.
All items are pre-owned and consigned to The RealReal. Trademarks are owned by their respective brand owners. No brand owner endorses or sponsors this ad or has any association and/or affiliation with The RealReal.
Please note: Brand standards, logos and other identifying features may have changed since the time of publication.
*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.