Rolex timepieces, or Chronometers, as the company calls them, are the manifestation of the life's work of the co-founder of the company, Hans Wilsdorf. Originally founded in 1905 as Wilsdorf and Davis, the company adopted the name Rolex in 1908.
Each modern Rolex timepiece features an innovative precise, self-winding movement that vibrates tens of thousands of times every hour. In shopping for a woman's vintage Rolex watch, knowing what to look for can help you find the right timepiece without being ripped off.
In 1910, just two years after Wilsdorf founded the company, the Rolex movement was awarded the Swiss Certificate of Precision, the first watch to receive this distinction bestowed by the Official Watch Centre in Bienne. The highly-prized "Oyster" design, a sealed casing that protects the movement from water and dust, was introduced in 1926. The waterproof design proved its claim when Mercedes Glietze wore a Rolex timepiece during a 10-hour swim across the English Channel. The self-winding mechanism was introduced by Rolex in 1931.
If you're shopping for a vintage Rolex expecting to find a bargain, you may be in for sticker shock. These highly collectible timepieces retain much of their value over years and even decades, even for timepieces in poor repair or even nonworking timepieces. Rare models in mint condition are nearly as expensive as new Rolex timepieces, if not more so.
Check out reputable online and retail dealers that provide rigorous tests to determine the authenticity of their timepieces. So-called bargains on online auction sites are often scams. Check out any merchant with the Better Business Bureau or other consumer protection agency. Determine how long the company has been in business and what, if any industry affiliations it has. The truism "if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is," definitely applies in this case. In looking over the watch itself, determine if the screws on the oyster cases are tight and if the movement is in good working order.
Each Rolex timepiece manufactured since 1927 bears a unique serial number engraved somewhere on its casing to distinguish it from every other Rolex watch. However, the company has utilized different numbering methods over the decades, sometimes overlapping different numbering systems. This means that it is often impossible to determine the exact age of a Rolex timepiece. However, one way to determine the authenticity of a Rolex is to consult with a reputable serial number list, such as the "Round Number" serial list. If the serial number on a watch you are considering doesn't correspond with the appropriate serial number for claimed manufacturing date, the watch is likely to be a fake.
The complex Rolex numbering system started with20,000 and continued until the early 1950s, when the company started over after the numbering system reached 999,999, although it is unclear whether the renumbering started with 10,000, 20,000 or 100,000. Also during the early 1950s, Rolex introduced Roman numerals representing the "quarter," or portion of the year a watch was manufactured. Thus, a watch manufactured in 1953 might bear the mark of III 53, or the third quarter of 1953. This Roman numeral system persisted until about 1970.
In the late 1960s, the Rolex numbering system adopted a seventh digit which continued until 1987 when the numbering system reached 9,999,999, at which time the company adopted a new numbering system that began with the letter R, then continued with L, E and X, with the letter O omitted to prevent confusion with the number zero. From 1991 to 1994 Rolex numbered its timepieces with prefixes N, C and S. In 1994, the numbering system was changed again, with prefixes beginning with the letters W, T and U, then the letters A, P and K.
Women's Rolex timepieces manufactured early in the company's history are generally 9K gold casings, with one of the following markings, "Rolex, RolWatch, W&D, RWC Ltd; Rolex 20 or 30 Records." Watches with 18K gold casings are very rare and make excellent investments. Women's watches manufactured after World War II are usually stainless steel with gold bezels and sometimes with two-one bracelets. Look for the markings "Montres Rolex or Rolex" somewhere on the casing.