A Rolex Sea-Dweller and Submariner. The “Double Red” Sea-Dweller pictured features the desirable red printing on the dial, while the Submariner features a small, tritium dot below the 6 o’clock marker, a rare marking known by collectors as the “exclamation point.”
For example, early iterations of the Rolex’s deep-diving Sea-Dweller featured two lines of red text reading “Sea-Dweller” and “Submariner 2000.” But Rolex, acording to watch lore, saw that consumers were getting confused with the “Submariner” moniker, mistaking it for the brand’s entry-level dive watch. Rolex eventually axed it, then swapped the red for all white text to increase legibility. The earlier watch, dubbed the “Double Red” by collectors, goes for around $25,000 today, while later iterations of the watch with the white text (known as the “Great White”) are valued at about half as much.
“Everyone wants something that’s more special and rare to show other collectors. It’s kind of like saying to them ‘I have something you can’t have.'”
As with any grail, the hunt for these hard-to-find references and dial variations adds to their allure. But given the soaring values for specific references and dial variations, shysters and counterfeiters have capitalized on the growing demand. Seeing knock-off versions of, say, Paul Newman Daytonas for sale online is not uncommon, and the abundance of fake watches and “Frakenwatches” (knockoffs pieced together from unoriginal parts) has made collecting vintage Rolexes “the murkiest, seediest, ugliest realm of watch collecting there is,” according to Hodinkee founder Ben Clymer.
It’s important for collectors, then, not to jump in headfirst, but spend their time researching specific references, a task made easier by a wealth of knowledge readily available online. Going through vetted dealers and auction houses is helpful, too. In the end, it will only add to the gratification of finally owning the right watch. “It’s very frustrating because the search for a good version of a particular sample can take years,” Wind says. “But it’s also one of the most amazing things about trying to find something particular — there’s all this anticipation, and once you find what you’ve been looking for, it is elation.”
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