Around 12 years ago I considered whether I should buy myself a Rolex. For many this may appear a simple decision, but not for me.  I had already acquired a some nice watches but had steered clear of Rolex – possibly subconsciously. Why? Well, although they tick most appeal boxes in terms of; history, design, functionality and quality, there was always this little voice nagging away saying, “no, don’t do it, don’t join all those folks who, when they have some cash, must get a Rolex “! Even when I quiz my friends (most of whom alas have no real interest in watches) over which watch they may aspire to, the majority will cite Rolex but have no real clue as to all the history and inner workings. Ownership for some means “I have arrived, I am someone important, I now have status”! It was this that I wanted to avoid, as by nature I cannot stand the concept of “buying” an image, which, for the most part is simply bogus and self-delusional. Undoubtedly worse though is buying to emulate social superiors – a totally pathetic concept of course, but does in large part sustain the “luxury ” industry. Naturally, and to appease genuine Rolex aficionados, I accept that not all Rolex buyers do so purely for such shallow reasons.

Leaving the dubious side for now, many of Rolex’s vintage watches from the 40s, 50s and 60s – such as chronographs and triple dates are rare and true delights, albeit getting very pricey. There are of course more modern models that are appealing, but for me the more exuberant references – gold/diamond/coloured dial/bezel versions, are not for me, and frankly, I would not want an overt advert on my wrist saying “come and get it”!   There is an analogy here.  As a lover of baroque music I am saddened that Vivaldi’s Four Seasons has been somewhat trivialised being used in adverts, lifts and telephone-hold music. The reality is that it is a tour-de-force of its type, and should therefore be treated with seriousness and respect and, of course, is by connoisseurs. You get my point!

So, did I succumb? Well I did – but for all the good reasons. After all Rolex is a great brand and does have some super watches. Bearing in mind my requirements though, my plan was to acquire a vintage low key model and, moreover, perhaps one made in the year of my birth, so, ahem, 1960.

I had done some research and decided that a steel Oyster Precision would fit the bill. I liked the look of them – not bling, not too small (for the times), and would be useful with a date and all. Additionally, it would fit my budget of up to maybe £1,400. So, armed with these specs I decided when next in London I would wander down Burlington Arcade. I will skate over this next bit a bit, but let me just say that there is a retailer here who specialises in used Rolex pieces. I saw the exact one I wanted in the window and went in the enquire over the price and if memory serves  was the thick end of £2,000. This of course was not only well over my budget, but also pretty much double of what I had been seeing in the market.  However, out of interest I asked if they would discount at all. I got a flat refusal – no discussion or debate, so I left. I then paused outside David Duggan’s premises and in the window was a very similar watch – but for £975! I went in, scrutinised, and bought – I knew David had a good reputation and will have checked (if not serviced) each piece.  OK, it was a 1954 version and had no Rolex box, papers or strap, but, David supplied his own nice wooden box and put on a new black crocodile Hirsch for me. I expect if it was all original with accompaniments it would have been nearer my budget.

Clean and simple – ref 6694 from 1954

Like most new owners, initially I wore the watch for most of the time. It was in good condition and kept excellent time and for me it was pretty discreet – which is what I wanted. However, of course I discovered there were some short-comings. Really it needed winding every 36 hours (so for practical purposes each day), plus, when I started to intersperse wearing with other watches, having no quick date set was a real pain. So, alas today it is confined to my watch archive!!

I have average wrists but the watch at 34 mm does not wear that small

OK, let’s shift the timeline to April 2018. By this time there were certainly stirrings that some Rolex models were becoming more popular and that demand was outstripping supply – well certainly on the new front. Daytonas, Submariners and GMT Master IIs were all targets for the “must haves”. One model which seemed to be assuming mania interest was the GMT and in particular the blue bezel “Batman” version and to a slightly lesser extent the “Pepsi” These, and other versions, were now being sold for far more than their rrps on the used market, and the fact that Rolex was not going to materially increase production was going to exacerbate the situation.

I was of course not wearing any Rolex watch, having “retired” the 6694 years before. I now had a rethink. Before prices went too nuts should I at least consider nipping in – for investment purposes at least in part? But which one? The Daytona was not of interest as it has no date and I already had 8 other chronographs. The Submariner was OK but a bit boring, and well, I am not keen on swimming let alone diving, so, that just left the GMT. Due to my previous prejudices and my anti-bling feelings – along with a bit of practicality, the GMT fitted the bill quite nicely. Additionally, with a more modern version I could go pretty low key with a black bezel.

A classic tool watch for sure, and with black bezel, understated.

As coincidence would have it, the Swiss Watch Shop in Manchester had opened a boutique a year or two earlier. If passing I would always cast an eye over offerings, which would mainly be from Rolex. I had in fact had some dealings with the owner, Peter, a few months earlier when I disposed of a few “cheap” watches I had bought recently at auction, but no longer wanted. Anyway, I called in and asked if they had any black bezel GMTs and hey presto there was one on a shelf that had escaped my eye. It turned out to be a 2017 ref 116710LN – one owner, locally main agent sold and with full box/papers. It was up for £6,500 and I thought that was actually pretty good value at the time as the rrp was some £6,200. More so as I shaved £100 off from Peter!

At 40 mm I would not want anything much larger – but a comfortable wear.

So what have we got. Well, a stainless steel cased and braceleted automatic travel watch! The reference was launched in 2007 and received some useful upgrades including; a new calibre (3186) – which has the Rolex Parachrom hairspring (which resists being magnetised amongst other things), 48 hour power reserve, 31 jewels, triple lock crown (as per their dive watches) and ceramic bezel (which should resist fading) and a non-reflective lens/cyclops. The dial was now a maxi type and this model has a green GMT hand. The calibre is certified +/- 2 seconds accuracy per day (guaranteed for 5 years) and the case is waterproofed to 100m. The watch was on the Rolex sales list until early 2019 but had been superseded by the 3285 calibre models from 2018.

So am I a happy bunny? Well yes, as the GMT is a great watch – nice looking, useful, wears well and very accurate. I also prefer the understated aesthetics of this particular Lunette Noir model. Oh, and of course through 2018 and 2019 used prices just kept climbing up to, well, spectacular levels. I have seen similar models to mine now going for £10 – 12,000 so was fortunate to sneak in when I did.  Oh, do I wear the watch? Of course, how silly of you to think otherwise. I think twice since purchase, so, maybe my prejudices are hard to shift!!

Lastly, on another matter. For those that are partial to the odd nice cigar, one of my favourites is the Partagas Maduro No 1 – featured as a backdrop in some of the photos. It is one of the staples in my humidor and at a ring gauge of 52 and a length of 5 3/8 ins makes for a nice 45 minute smoke. Being a maduro (dark wrapper leaved), it is on the full-flavour side – but never too strong. I am also impressed with the rolling consistency, resulting in a good even draw and burn. Oh, do I need to say here “Smoking may damage your health”? I don’t really know, but you have been duly warned – yawn.

Words & pictures: The Writer