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The Most Affordable Vintage Rolex Is Worth Your Time

The Most Affordable Vintage Rolex Is Worth Your Time

Don’t you long for the days of John Mayer telling you about five vintage Rolex watches you can buy for under $8,000, including stalwarts like the refs. Explorer 1016, GMT-Master 1675, or replica watches Submariner 5513? The bread-and-butter of vintage Rolex collecting, all for under five figures? Simpler times.

Nowadays, a decent 1016 costs roughly the same as a used Toyota Corolla – I’ll take the bus with an Explorer on my wrist, thanks – but the premise of John’s article is still true: you don’t have to walk around with a compact car on your wrist to get into vintage Rolex.

The value proposition for vintage Rolex is a little watch called the Rolex Oyster reference 6426. The ref. 6426 is vintage Rolex at its simplest and most affordable: 34mm Oyster case; silver dial (mostly, we’ll get to that), manual-wind movement. This is a real sports Rolex and you can grab one for just a few thousand bucks – call it $3,000 to $4,000 for a standard example with a silver dial, depending on condition, if a bracelet is included, and whether the dealer styled the watch for some lifestyle photos with a cup of coffee.

You’re not going to find it in an auction catalog anytime soon, and that’s just fine. With auction season coming up, we’ll focus on watches worth untold millions over the next few weeks, but for now, I just wanted to write a humble ode to the humble 6426.

The main difference that sets the ref. 6426 apart as a little less expensive than other vintage Rolex models – say an Oyster Perpetual ref. 1002 or Air-King ref. 5500 – is the manual-wind movement. It’s ridiculously anachronistic: You’ve got to unscrew the screw-down crown of the Oyster case almost every morning to give the movement a wind (in most 6426s, that’s a caliber 1225, which, at its best, has 58 hours of power reserve). But if vintage Daytona owners are winding their chronographs every day, you can manage, too.

To get a first-hand impression, I visited a friend who owns an honest reference 6426. He actually inherited it from a family member with the box and papers, which show the watch sold at Marshall Field’s here in Chicago for $860 in 1980 (about $3,000 in today’s dollars). It’s about as simple as a watch can get: the words “Rolex,” “Oyster,” and “Precision” on the dial are as much factual statements as they are branding. Oyster = waterproof case. Precision = “if you wind it, it tells time pretty good,” as Paul Newman said to James Cox when handing over his manual-wind Daytona. (“Precision” was how Rolex designated its non-COSC-certified movements.) I hesitate to use the hackneyed “Bauhaus,” but that’s basically what we’ve got here. A sports Rolex and a Calatrava walk into a bar, and out comes the 6426.

replica watches

On wrist, it wears a touch thinner than a typical vintage Rolex with an automatic movement. On a vintage Rolex bracelet – the one I tried on was riveted – it just melts on the wrist. To someone more familiar with modern quality, it might read as flimsy, but it’s withstood years of wear, so it’ll be fine. With a 42mm lug-to-lug and 19m lug width, some say the Oyster case wears a bit larger than you might expect; these measurements are a bit bigger than the modern Oyster Perpetual 34, for what it’s worth.

The ref. 6426 – even the best or rarest one – isn’t nearly rare enough to be an “investment” or “collectible,” but it’s also not obscure enough that people have forgotten about it altogether because, well, people never forget about Rolex. It’s just a great watch for someone who’s curious about vintage replica omega Rolex. You’re not going to find it in an auction catalog anytime soon, and that’s just fine. With auction season coming up, we’ll focus on watches worth untold millions over the next few weeks (literally, I’m working on an article titled “What Makes For A Million Dollar Watch At Auction Today?”), but for now, I just wanted to write a humble ode to the humble 6426. Most watches don’t need to be “exceedingly rare” or “possibly unique,” they just need to be fun and wearable. I’m here to say: starting out in vintage Rolex doesn’t need to be expensive, scary, or confusing.

Getting Dialed In replica watches

Even with the innocent-looking ref. 6426, there are variations and details to nerd out on. That’ll happen with a watch that was produced from the late 1950s through the 1970s. Over this time, Rolex made so many changes: different lume, bracelet styles, and movements. Most noticeably, you’ll see some different words on the 6426’s dial. The “stock” model simply says “Oyster” at 12 o’clock and “Precision” at six o’clock. You’ll also find some early examples that say “Royal” at 12 o’clock – I’ve always thought it was kind of cool that the brand with a crown for a logo would call just one model Royal, and one of its entry-level ones at that.

Of course, you’ll find some reprinted dials on old 6426s, so if you’re evaluating one be sure to compare it to other examples to make sure everything makes sense. Here’s someone asking about a reprinted dial after they bought a 6426 – don’t be that person and ask first.

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You’ll see all kinds of dial, hand, and marker combinations on the 6426, especially in the early years. Beautiful gilt black dials complemented by gold hands; creamy white dials with alpha hands that give the watch a slightly dressier look. Later in the 6426’s production run, Rolex seemed to standardize around the simple silver dial and baton hands, though you’ll still see examples with linen, sunburst blue, and too many other dial variants to count. I can’t claim that any particular type is rarer or more desirable than any other – it’s mostly a matter of personal taste. Full disclosure, I love late ’50s Rolex, so some of the early white dials that have developed a nice, warm patina are my favorite. But hey, I’ve been wearing around a manual-wind ref. 6082 that’s something of a precursor to the ref. 6426, so I might just be talking my book now.

In fact, a favorite vintage Rolex I’ve seen over the past couple of years (one of those “shoulda bought it” ones) is a simple ref. 6426 with a creamy three-six-nine dial, sold by Archiwatch. It looks like a polar Rolex Commando, another super rare manual-wind Rolex. The watch wasn’t expensive – less than your average vintage Submariner, for sure, but way rarer – and more fun – if you ask me. It shows how, even today, there are still weird vintage Rolexes waiting to be discovered.

By the way, the cousins of the ref. 6426, the refs. 6694 and 6494, feature a date window. Besides that, they’re pretty similar to the 6426 in every other way.

A Watch to Wear

Listen, you’re not going to refer back to this article in ten years like I am with Mayer’s recommendations and say, “wow, Tony, thanks for the investment advice, my 6426 is worth beaucoup bucks now, I’m gonna trade it in for a Toyota Corolla.” And that’s just fine. At their best, I see watches as decent stores of value, not investments. The ref. 6426 is a perfect way to try out vintage Rolex and see if it’s for you. You can dive into some of the details here, too – want one of those earlier examples that’s aged to a nice warm patina, or maybe a later example with tritium lume and a folded bracelet? These details are what can make vintage Rolex replica watches so addicting. Or maybe you don’t care and just want something that looks good and tells decent time. That’s fine too, and is again what makes vintage Rolex great – it can be whatever you want it to be. The ref. 6426 lets you experience all that for way less than those Explorers, GMT-Masters, and Subs that all cost five figures nowadays.

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