I Bought a Rolex

Late last year I made the most expensive purchase of my life. No, I didn’t buy a new car or a house. I bought a watch. I know what you’re thinking, “What kind of personal finance blogger buys an expensive watch?!”

This one does. And it’s one of the most meaningful purchases I’ve ever made. Let me explain.

I first started getting into clothing my last year of college. Once I moved to Korea this jumped to another level as I had a full time job and could get custom suits and shirts made inexpensively. Around 2010 watches started to catch my eye. I loved everything about them. The movement, the history, the look, how they were made by hand in Swiss factories. Also what jewelry can a man wear besides a wedding band and a watch?

After much research I decided I was going to buy a vintage Omega Seamaster. This was pre-PF days but I was still frugal. I felt this watch was the best bang for the buck. I bought it with the cash I made teaching some extra Saturday classes.

However the watch I really wanted, I didn’t think I would ever be able to afford. That was the Rolex Explorer 1016 that I wrote about here. This was by far my favorite Rolex model. The only other vintage models I really enjoy are the “Pepsi” GMT and Daytona. 

After years of saving I finally decided this was the time to move. I set the price I was willing to pay and scoured websites for months. The watch was common enough that I could purchase it at any time. But it was typically 25-50% more than I was willing to pay!

Think Slow, Move Fast

Everyday I would search on HQ Milton and Bob’s Watches among others, only to be disappointed I couldn’t find a 1016 at a discount.

And then it happened. A random workday afternoon I went on HQ Milton and saw a 1016 for below my price-point. They must have just put it up because I had been browsing on the site that morning and saw nothing new. I was in shock and started to get very nervous. I looked through the pictures and re-read the description multiple times before sending an inquiry. Then I started to get really nervous. Will someone swoop this up before I have a chance? Am I REALLY ready to spend all this money on a watch? Why is it priced at a discount?

I couldn’t wait to find these answers so I called the shop ten minutes after sending the inquiry. A friendly guy named Kazu answered the phone and told me he would mark the watch as sold while he answered all of my questions. I felt relieved and went through each question one by one. 

We agreed that I could make my final decision by the following morning. He was also free to answer any additional questions that popped into my head between now and then. I felt a sense of relief and spoke with my wife about my decision that evening.

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Watch Imperfections

As I said the watch was less than my original budget and I was surprised as to why. Through my questioning these were the reasons for the discount:

  • Slight fading around edge of the watch face
  • Patina on the numbers is more cream than yellow
  • Watch had been polished before
  • No original box or papers
  • No original watch strap

I didn’t notice the fading until looking very closely in person. This did not bother me in the least. And I enjoyed the creamy numbers and polished case because it made the watch look new even though the serial number dates it back to the late ‘60s!

Don’t get me wrong, I would have loved to have the original strap and box but that would have probably doubled the price. They sold me a newer replacement Rolex strap which closely matches the original but is much stronger.

After deciding this was the deal I was looking for I scheduled an appointment to stop by early Friday afternoon and pick up the watch in person in San Francisco.

HQ Milton had been featured in many publications including GQ and Hodinkee. However, I was still paranoid that something could potentially be wrong with the watch. Remember, this was my biggest purchase ever! As soon as I left the store, I went to the official Rolex Service Center on Post St. in San Francisco to have them take a look at it. A man in a white coat asked me it was keeping time correctly. I sheepishly replied that I had just purchased the watch less than an hour ago so I had no idea. He put it on a machine to check the accuracy and opened it up.

Fifteen minutes later he told me it was running well and everything was authentic. He confirmed not only the serial number but also the last time it had been serviced: 2005 in Beverly Hills. He suggested I may need a service in about three years. I thanked him and off I went!

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Watch History

While this watch didn’t come with the original box and papers, it did come with some information on the last time it had been serviced as well as the name of the original owner. He’s a lifelong San Francisco resident, who bought his Explorer new in 1968 and had been all over the world with it, including Mt. Everest. Now in his 80s, he decided to let the watch go. I found his address and landline with a search and will try to buy him lunch at some point this year. I want him to know how much I appreciate his timepiece.

I’m as frugal as they come but every now and then it’s great to celebrate success. I’ve wanted this watch for 5 years. Delayed gratification was worth it! Also for what I paid I don’t think this watch can go down in value. In fact if I even want to sell it down the road, I’m sure I can get more than I paid!

But I hope to keep this watch into my 80s and pass it down to someone who will appreciate it. That will be around the Explorer’s hundredth birthday. 

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This article has 6 comments

  1. Katie Reply

    I am so happy for you! 🙂 I hope to find a purchase to look forward to and cherish that much one day as well.

  2. ambertreeleaves Reply

    What a nice story! I am happy for you you got your hands on such a nice watch. It is a bonus that you also got to know the history: the watch has seen the world!

    When it comes to watches, I have none for now, but deep within, I would not mind to own one day a jaeger-lecoultre reverso. There is no plan yet to start saving for this.

    • Steve Reply

      JLC watches are some of the few that I can 100% endorse. The Reverso is an amazing choice. There are lots of options on the used market as well. Just make sure you don’t get the quartz model (battery). They make it in one of the women’s sizes.

    • Steve Reply

      A new watch is like a new car… Loses a ton of its value right after purchase. Buying used allows the original owner to take the depreciation hit. Let me know if you get serious down the road. http://www.chrono24.com is great for the used watch market.

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