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How to buy a Rolex steel Submariner, GMT or Daytona — top tips on how to bag a unicorn watch

Rolex GMT Master and Submariner Hulk

A Rolex authorized dealer speaking to WatchPro recently told me that his team was spending 80 hours per week fielding calls and politely disappointing potential customers who were pleading to buy or even be added to a waiting list for steel Submariners, GMT Masters or Daytona watches.

This is a retailer with four Rolex doors, turnover of $37 million and 85 employees. Three of those people work full time turning away potentially valuable customers. This is how tough things have become.

Demand for these Rolex watches — along with fellow unicorn timepieces such as Patek Philippe’s Nautilus or Aquanaut and Audemars Piguet’s Royal Oak in steel — is so hot right now that customers are prepared to sell their grandparents for enough cash to buy one on the secondary market for double the recommended retail price, or more.

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An unworn Rolex Submariner “Hulk” Ref: 116610LV with an official retail price of $8.895 will sell for around $17,000 on the secondary market so the incentives are enormous.

WatchPro is constantly asked whether this demand might wane in the future or if the brands will make more of the key models to satisfy both their authorized dealers and customers.

The answer to both question is ‘maybe’, but even a small increase in supply will get nowhere near satisfying demand, so the shortage will continue for many years to come.

This leads to the next question: how to get on a waiting list with any chance of securing one of the elusive timepieces before hell freezes over. This is a question WatchPro has put to several authorized dealers for Rolex, AP and Patek Philippe, and there are some common replies that might, just might, help a little.

Top tips on how to buy a unicorn watch:

RULE NUMBER ONE: The first rule of how to buy a Submariner is never to ask for a Submariner. Customers will not see unicorn watches in stores’ windows or cabinets but, unlike unicorns, that does not mean they do not exist.

Authorized dealers (ADs) hold back watches for their own reasons and store them out of sight in their safes. However, simply walking in and asking for one will not do the trick.

In fact, it will take you further away from bagging your dream watch because there are teams of people scouring the globe looking for these watches because they can be flipped on the secondary market at enormous profits. Authorized dealers hate selling to these flippers and will go to enormous lengths to avoid it. I have even heard of Subs being sold without their warranty cards so that they cannot be flipped “with box and papers”. The brands and their partners want their watches to be worn and loved.

It does not matter what you wear (millionaires wear grubby sneakers at weekends); it matters a little what watch you wear, but not much (too easy to fake an expensive horology habit).

RULE NUMBER TWO: Retailers are masters at building and cultivating long term relationships and these relationships cut both ways. In fact, the only way to buy a unicorn watch today is to have a lifelong bond with an authorized dealer. This bond will not begin with a Daytona or Nautilus, these tokens of love will only be exchanged after years of courtship.

The very best first step on the path to bagging a unicorn watch is to buy an engagement ring. This is an intimate process that will require you to sit down and pour your heart out over how much you love your fiancé and how much you are prepared to spend to demonstrate that love. Naturally, from a jeweler’s point of view, the more you spend, the better.

During that consultation, share as much of your personal life as possible. You went to Berkeley, live on the best street in the local neighborhood, you just sold your first dot.com business, you collect vintage Aston Martins, that sort of thing.

All these details are stored in the memory of a professional sales consultant and, more than likely, transferred to their customer relationship management system so they start building a digital avatar of each punter.

RULE NUMBER THREE: Move through the gears. Spending $10,000 on an engagement ring is a start, but follow this up by designing two wedding bands at the same jeweler. This shows loyalty to the dealer, and loyalty is absolutely critical to lassoing a unicorn.

RULE NUMBER FOUR: Be generous. Buying a watch was once a transaction, now it is a multi-year commitment so you will need to become friends with the jeweler.  Does the jeweler know a great florist they could recommend for the wedding is a great question. The likelihood is that jewelers and florists cooperate to create perfect weddings, so there is a bit of mutual back scratching where everybody wins.

RULE NUMBER FIVE: The jeweler MUST raise the subject of watches before the customer does. And they will. You are likely to be in for around $30,000 by this point and the retailer will be thinking about what’s next. Should the Best Man be given a gift to say thank you for their help on the Big Day? Of course, and what better gift than a TAG Heuer or Tudor that can cost far less than the wedding dress.

RULE NUMBER SIX: Rather than jump at the TAG or Tudor, it is time to show a bit of passion and knowledge about watches and start talking about other options. NO NOT talk about Rolexes, Patek Philippes or Audemars Piguets — yet  — show a higher level of knowledge by dropping names of F.P. Journe collections or correctly pronouncing A. Lange & Sohne.

RULE NUMBER SEVEN: The serious spade work is now done and, although you have had to invent a fiancé and spend a sizeable sum on jewelry (a sound investment), you have not had to commit too much time and you are on the retailer’s radar and their database.

They know, or believe, you have money and taste, so you are going to start getting invited to events. You MUST attend. This might seem like a chore when the NFL season has started, but the investment is well worth it. Who knows, you could end up watching the game with your friendly local jeweler and you will move yourself even closer to the inner circle.

RULE NUMBER EIGHT: Bring somebody seriously loaded to the event. You might not have a million dollar watch collection, but introduce somebody that does and you will benefit from the introduction. This guest plays the classic role of a wing man in a bar. Their job is to start the conversation that can be steered towards the object of your desire: the unicorn watch you crave.

RULE NUMBER NINE: Be patient. Even if you get on a waiting list for a hot timepiece, it could take a decade to get to the top. It might take a year to work through rules one to nine, but a unicorn could just drop in your lap if you don’t get over-eager.

RULE NUMBER TEN: And this is the most important. Love, love, love watches and take genuine joy from the pursuit of your beloved ticker.

The likelihood is that none of the rules described here will make much difference, but you will have so much fun along the journey that you will not regret a second of the fruitless pursuit.

2 Comments

  1. Interesting strategy on delayed gratification. The process of purchasing a unicorn watch is completely in the hands of the principal of the retailer. Waiting lists are a ‘suggestion’ and there are no serious attempts to follow a queue. My experience working for a major ROLEX dealer indicated that it was a proven way to coerce loyalty.

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Tags : audemars piguetpatek philippeRolex
Rob Corder

The author Rob Corder