Originally Posted by no frills
Yeah, it's a very personal-preference thing. I believe the 39mm models are all that's available from ADs nowadays unless they have a 36mm lying around from days gone by.
You should be able to find a 36mm Explorer on rolexforums, either up for sale or by contacting one of the high volume grey sellers who are usually able to source upon request. For example here is one in decent but not mint condition:
As for perceptions on Rolex, it's a personal thing but watch aficionados tend to hold them in high esteem for reliability and classic styling. Here is an interesting forbes article on the phenomenon:Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
The Rolex Problem: A (Semi) Rational Look At The World's Most Recognized Watch
I have a friend who is a watch journalist (strange, but true.) This individual, who shall remain nameless, has been covering the watch industry for decades; there are few who know the ins, outs, industry gossip, and inside stories as well. And this person hates Rolex –the mere mention of the name is enough to evoke the visceral hostility most of us reserve for things like Bernie Madoff, or the DMV. The loathing this person feels for Rolex is beyond appeal, argument, or reason –to the journalist in question, they are an uncommunicative, arrogant, unimaginative brand the ownership of which marks you as hopelessly uninformed at best and a pathetic, tasteless, ostentation-loving parvenu at worst.
I have another friend, who is a watch blogger (I know, what were the odds.) As with the aforementioned journalist, this is a person who has known and loved watches for decades –not professionally (this particular individual’s real occupation is on a much more global stage than watches) but as a collector, who has over the years amassed a number of the most elegantly crafted, classically beautiful watches –gorgeous openworked movements, exotic complications, drop-dead gorgeous classic time-only dress watches –I’ve ever seen. The last time I saw him, he was wearing a vintage Rolex Submariner on a NATO strap –a NATO strap, sacré bleu! –and looking at it with the uncritical adoration of a mother for a dewey newborn.
Rolex Submariner, Model 16610
The latter event was by far the more jarring –cognoscenti have loved to hate Rolex for years, but seeing that Sub on the wrist of a collector with undeniably great knowledge and indisputably refined taste was a bit of a shock; not because I dislike the company or the watches (I don’t) but because it was so out of character, and as such, a symptom of something very interesting. Rolexes, especially vintage models, have in record time gone from being –at least among many serious connoisseurs –red flags for the worst kind of tasteless conspicuous consumption, to being, for lack of a better word, cool. (And expensive.) The boom in interest in vintage Rolex is all the more fascinating for having been largely autonomous (not only did Rolex not have anything to do with it, the company rather charmingly didn’t seem to know what to make of it at first) as well as for having renewed enthusiast interest in its current collection.
It’s one of the bigger ironies of the watch world that a company which is famous for its staid designs, glacially slow product evolution, and dispassionately frosty corporate façade (in a 2011 interview with Bloomberg, Rolex’s Jean-Noel Bioul, the firm’s international sponsorship director, said, “We have the reputation of operating like a Swiss bank,”) should inspire such diametrically opposed, apparently irreconcilable, and equally passionate views. For someone who’s just getting interested in watches, sooner or later the phenomenon that is Rolex has to be dealt with, and few leave the encounter unmoved.
To some extent both the haters and fans are moved by the same lever: the sheer success of Rolex as a watch brand (the single largest luxury watch brand in the world, with an annual production approaching one million watches a year) as well as its habitual secretiveness (Rolex is privately held and notoriously reticent; one sometimes feels its entire global PR department consists of a solitary bored functionary in a small room with a well-worn rubber stamp that says “No Comment”) make it a lightning rod for comments fiercely pro and devastatingly con, and the incredible boom in the last few years in prices paid for vintage Rolexes has only made the arguments more heated. (In 2010, a Rolex model 5510 Submariner –a very early version of the company’s most bluntly utilitarian diver’s watch –sold at auction at Christie’s for $98,500, and prices have only gone up since then.)
Less rare vintage Rolexes can be had for less –recently pre-owned models for much less –but for older, more collectible vintage models in original condition –collectors want that yellowed, faded, scruffy-looking original dial and you can destroy the value of a $100,000 watch by replacing the old dial with a new one –the general rule of thumb is that the watch will sell for several orders of magnitude more than the original owner paid for it.
Over the years I’ve been interested –in sickness and in health, for richer and (usually) for poorer –in watches, I’ve watched the attitude of the collector community change drastically with respect to Rolex, and it seems to me a good place to start is with as straightforward a statement of fact as one can: Rolex is the world’s largest manufacturer of mid-priced luxury watches, whose most popular models have changed relatively little in design over several decades, and which makes extremely reliable, accurate watches with durable, well-designed movements.
With that basic proposition in place it is possible to characterize three basic levels of Rolex appreciation.
1. Rolex Is The Best (New Guy Version.) The fact that Rolex designs evolve so slowly has done something very important –it’s ensured that if you have one on, a disproportionate number of people are going to know you are wearing (a) a Rolex and (b) an expensive watch. The upside is that it can and does say you’re a person of means (there is nothing wrong, per se, with conspicuous consumption if that’s what you know you want) but the downside is that a certain percentage of observers will conclude, rightly or wrongly, that advertising your affluence is the only (or at least the main) reason you bought the watch. You may have bought a Rolex simply because you’ve decided you like watches, and you’ve heard Rolex is a good watch –unfortunately, that’s not going to stop some people from assuming you had more ignoble motives. Sooner or later, though, the new owner may wonder why so many self-styled watch experts are sneering, which leads to . . .
2. Rolex Is For Suckers (New Connoisseur Version.) This stage of appreciation –well, of recognition, anyway –is usually the result of one’s first exposure to the enormous range of other luxury watch brands, and the onset of suspicion that what you get when you buy a Rolex is an overpriced, uninteresting watch from a company that is too lazy to update its own designs, too rich to risk change, and is generally happiest resting on its generously proportioned laurels. This stage is often marked by a discovery of, and fascination with, the vocabulary of hand-finishing of movements, largely absent in Rolexes; one swoons to the alluring exoticism of côtes de Genève, anglage, oeil-de-perdrix, and the whole rich world of finissage. The awareness that Rolex, rightly or wrongly, is associated with a certain kind of person in many minds –generally male, American, McMansion-owning, loud, golf-obsessed, sartorially challenged and gastronomically undiscriminating, and fond of unnecessarily large and inefficient automobiles –merely serves to confirm the prejudice that unless one wants to be taken for an illbred, reactionary lout, Rolex and all it stands for is best avoided. This stage can persist indefinitely, potentially, but if one continues to inquire one may arrive at . . .
3. Rolexes Are Actually Pretty Good Watches (Grizzled Veteran Version.) There are several paths that can lead to this stage. One observes bemusedly that it is, oddly enough, one’s Rolex –usually in the context of being worn when you don’t want to wear one of your “good” watches –that seems to keep time best. One observes bemusedly that it is, oddly enough, one’s Rolex that seems to be the most free of irritating and expensive prima donna temperamental behavior. One finds, bemusedly, that it is –quelle surprise –one’s Rolex which seems to be migrating more and more frequently onto one’s wrist, like a faithful Jeeves tolerant as the years go by of the mad whims and fads of its master. One may even find, as I did, that Rolexes are worn by a rather surprising number of watch industry executives working for other brands (on their days off, of course!) and are preferred, for their extremely reliable engineering, by an awful lot of watchmakers. And one discovers that what one thought was lack of personality was merely a refusal on the part of the watch to impose one on you –its very simplicity is what lets it become, as it develops its palimpsest of scratches, marks, and nicks through the slings and arrows of daily use, your watch, and not a brand billboard.
The beauty of this last level of Rolex Appreciation is that it is a temperate one; you are not wearing a Rolex (or refusing to) because of what other people think –good or bad –but because you have made up your own mind, and for your own reasons. You like the watch largely for what it is, not what other people think it means, and you have the very special pleasure that comes from being well informed and doing what you damned well please anyway.
Not everyone gets to this stage, of course –Rolex is not for everyone, first of all –de gustibus non est disputandum –and many want a watch that is rarer, or the subject of more hand-finishing, or any number of things that a Rolex is not. But a surprising number of watch veterans reach Stage 3 in the fullness of time, and find in Rolex a watch that rather refreshingly seems to have been designed to not “emphasize the heritage and integrity of the brand’s DNA” (as one particularly awful press release I’ve recently read put it; using “brand DNA” in what’s supposed to be a consumer oriented press release should be a hanging offense) but rather, to be a good watch.
In the current hothouse luxury watch climate, where the scramble to distinguish oneself becomes more and more every year a scramble for novelty for novelty’s sake, such an approach is not merely refreshing –it’s positively revolutionary.
Post Scriptum — Rolex Is The Best Stage 1 Subtype A. This is the diehard Rolex collector –the true enthusiast, the keeper of the flame whose heart is warmed by by a white hot passion not known by loose-minded types like me who tend to go soft-headed at the sight of all sorts of watches. This type may bypass or fail to fall into any of the classic 3 stages of Rolex Appreciation. Often younger (though not always) they’ve discovered in Rolex a history they admire and a sense of connection to a certain spirit of uncontrived, utilitarian honesty that at its best is . . . well, uncontrived, utilitarian, and honest, and at its worst is the kind of insultingly ironic appropriation of blue collar values that makes trust fund hipsters and young bankers with a fresh bonus buy workboots and Carhartt overalls.
Seeing two such members of the species together is anthropologically fascinating, and marked by a virtually Masonic sense of ritual –there is the mutual exposure of some exotic vintage Rolex model, an almost avian explosion of excitement as mutual recognition ensues, and then an impenetrably rapid-fire, Cabbalistic exchange of reference numbers, years of manufacture, and minute variations in design which gives pleasure to the participants to the extent that it excludes non-initiates. (Unfortunately the cost of entry into this exclusive domain has skyrocketed.) Serious watch enthusiasts may bypass the conventional Stage 3 entirely before reaching this stage, or they may jump to it immediately from Stage 2 (see, vide supra, my buddy the haute de gamme watch collector) but even if the substance of the dialogue of this now-flourishing subtype is lost on those without a genius and motivation for memorizing the requisite minutiae, there can be no doubt about one thing: they’re having fun.
No James Bonds were injured during the making of this review.
Personally I would hesitate to wear one only because I've seen first hand how Rolexes are noticed in a bad way and associated with the fratty McMansion lifestyle, but I recognize this is silly. As for resale, judging by TZ and rolexforums, I think SS Subs and Daytonas are the only modern pieces that hold their value especially well, and even then only about as much as the popular Panerai/IWC/etc. models when compared to AD pricing.