The typical telephone call to the nearest Rolex retailer is usually answered by a very polite and professional retail assistant with an “I’m afraid the waiting list for [insert basically any Rolex model here] is really quite long”.
But how did this situation come to be? Presumably Rolex – like any business– wants to sell as many products as it can. Was it always like this? Can it be avoided?… Does a Rolex waiting list even exist?
To answer these questions, we’ll need to understand a lot more about Rolex, its distribution network and supply chain, and its very special place at the throne of the luxury watch market.
Watches have always been a peculiar and exclusive business, and companies manufacturing them have always been extremely tight-lipped about everything from development to production to sales. We’ve got the goods, and to help you figure it out, here’s everything we know about the Rolex wait list.
Or read on for the ultimate guide to the Rolex waiting list.
Was there always a Rolex waiting list?
No. In fact, in the 1990s, anyone off the street could have walked into a Rolex dealer and bought a Steel Datejust or Rolex Submariner No Date at list price, likely even with a discount. Some two decades later, this scenario is basically an urban legend.
Let’s talk through what we know about Rolex’s manufacturing and distribution strategy to understand the development of the Rolex waiting list over the last couple of decades.
Oh, and now would probably be a good time to break it to you – there isn’t really a “Rolex waiting list” – at least not one with any particular rules that we can figure out.
Why is there a wait list for Rolex?
Put simply, the Rolex “waiting list” is the result of market economics: supply and demand. In short, watches (and luxury watches in particular) have exploded in popularity over the last decade, and demand for Rolex watches far outstrips the estimated one million watches per year that Rolex produces. Let this number seep in.
One million watches is an often-quoted production figure, but it’s not been verified by Rolex – like its competitors, Rolex is quite secretive about its data, and doesn’t disclose its yearly production. Compare this to the estimated production of some comparable watch manufacturers:
|Brand||Estimated Yearly Production|
Other manufacturers in the luxury space are widely dispersed, producing 100,000 or so watches per year or a lot less, except for Tissot, which has a production of around 3.5 million units, but also, at a much lower price point.
Assuming the one million figure is correct, Rolex is roughly in line with Omega, Longines, Tag Heuer, and Cartier for production figures, but these brands generally don’t have waiting lists except for their most coveted models. If demand is so high, why doesn’t Rolex just make more watches? Let’s dig into the Rolex manufacturing process to understand more.
Why Doesn’t Rolex Increase Production? A Look at Rolex’s Manufacturing Process
While Rolex’s MSRP list prices are way higher than most competitors producing watches for similar uses, the company has implemented an integrated manufacturing process that uses in-house resources for much of its production. For example, the gold and platinum used in Rolex’s precious metal models are produced at Rolex’s small in-house foundry and made to be anti-corrosive and to polish to a very high luster. Oystersteel – Rolex’s durable and highly polishable stainless steel – while not made in-house, is proprietary, as are their fairly recently introduced and virtually indestructible Cerachrom bezels. This all said, we haven’t heard about a materials supply shortage – can’t Rolex just buy more gold and steel and ceramic and make more watches?
What’s more, as you’ve probably heard, Rolex’s parts manufacturing is largely automated, with watchmakers assembling the timepieces with care and precision – “hand-made industrial” it’s sometimes called. This suggests that the company likely has much more flexibility to tighten or loosen production quantities than its pure hand-made luxury manufacturer competitors such as Patek Phillipe, whose production depends almost exclusively on the work of skilled laborers.
While we can conclude that it may be possible for Rolex to increase production, Rolex has confirmed that it has no intentions of doing so. In a rare public comment, Rolex addressed the global Rolex shortage in a Yahoo! Finance article:
“Our current production cannot meet the existing demand in an exhaustive way, at least not without reducing the quality of our watches – something we refuse to do as the quality of our products must never be compromised. This level of excellence requires time, and as we have always done, we will continue to take the necessary time to ensure that all our watches not only comply with our standards of excellence, but also meet the expectations of our customers in terms of quality, reliability and robustness. Rolex does not compromise on what it takes to produce exceptional watches.”
The Company’s claims about absolute quality in its field are valid and proven. The movements, cases, and bracelets of Rolex timepieces are virtually flawless. They represent a standard of quality that so many other companies try to achieve.
Read more: Five Reasons Rolex is Popular and Successful
We won’t try to tell them how to do their job, as it’s clear they’ve got watchmaking covered. But Rolex doesn’t sell to customers directly – Rolex has stated publicly that its official retailers independently manage the allocation of its watches to its customers. Because of this, each official retailer decides independently how their Rolex waiting list operates, or whether they keep one at all.
How the Rolex supply chain impacts the Rolex waiting list
Like everything Rolex does, not much is publicly known about its distribution strategy. We do know that there are two main types of stores in the Rolex distribution system: the traditional multi-brand stores (called Rolex Authorized Dealers or ADs) and the newer mono-brand stores (called Rolex Boutiques).
Both types of stores are generally owned by independent entrepreneurs, but some Rolex Boutiques are owned directly by the company, or by a sort of joint-venture between the company and an established retailer in the area. Relying on a hybrid model allows Rolex to distribute its products globally without investing directly in opening stores in unfamiliar markets. The company prefers to rely on selected and trusted intermediaries to buy the brand’s watches wholesale, and then resell them at a suggested MSRP to the public (fairly standard practice for any products sold by a distributor).
Rolex’s Distribution Model
However, what Rolex customers do not really know is that the Rolex distribution model is very strict – Rolex uses a “package” system to deliver watches in batches including watches in high demand and others that are less so. Dealers can’t just buy all the models they want in the quantities they need. If they want a particular watch reference for a client, they need to buy a “package”, which includes that specific reference plus some others that are – let’s just say – less sought after by the general public, and therefore more difficult to sell.
Let’s use an example. If you were an Authorized Dealer and wanted a Rolex Submariner Kermit for your store, you would also have to buy a few other two-tone (steel and gold) or precious metal references. The effect is that you would – as a retailer – be selling the steel Kermit outright, with no effort at all, but end up having to stock three other models with a much higher ticket price that is much more difficult to place and that you have already paid for in cold, hard cash.
According to a confidential Luxury Bazaar source who is a Rolex Authorized Dealer, the wholesale price of any Rolex model is typically 60% of the retail price. This means that to a Rolex Retailer, selling a Yellow Gold Submariner Date is worth about 4x more than selling the coveted steel version of the same watch.
And this explains the reluctance of a typical Rolex reseller to sell very popular models except to selected customers who have developed a relationship of knowledge and trust with that particular retailer – especially those customers who are willing to dish out for the harder-to-place models to obtain the most popular ones. A win-win situation for the company but far less rewarding for buyers, who struggle to get the most coveted Rolex watches.
Differences in practices between Rolex retailers
As discussed above, an Authorized Dealer has full discretion in deciding its watch allocation to customers, so it benefits Authorized Dealers to keep lists of customers interested in particular models so they can be easily placed when they are delivered as part of a package.
As each AD or Rolex Boutique is actually independent, waiting lists apply only and exclusively to that store and do not affect other Rolex stores, even those in the same city. Exceptions are large jewelry chains such as Tiffany and Tourneau, which often have a shared inventory and more flexibility to address customers to a specific store in the same sales network for that coveted model. Based on the stories we hear, many ADs keep a small treasure trove of timepieces in their safes, from where they are taken to test on the wrists of people who request them and then put away again. Again, this is for simple sales logic: if a good customer wants a Rolex, having it available quickly is a bonus.
The cold hard truth: whether an AD keeps a written waiting list, a waiting list in their mind, or chooses not to keep one at all is entirely up to them. If they do keep a list, they definitely don’t have to follow it.
In short, “getting on a Rolex waiting list” usually just means that you’ve expressed interest in a particular model to an Authorized Dealer, and hopefully they will remember that if and when they receive it. Oh, and if they like you, that helps too, but we’ll get into that in a bit below.
What does this all mean for the Rolex waiting list?
Considering all of this, it is fairly easy to understand the implications of this distribution model on the market, which perfectly explains the current situation:
- The supply of some references is very limited because it is difficult for an official retailer to sell the other members of the “package”. Usually, a dealer will place the other watches first and then the “jewel” of the crown (the reason they bought the package in the first place) goes by itself next. When it is done, you start all over again with another package.
- It’s next to impossible for a casual buyer to wander into a store and get a sought-after Rolex in no time. Irrespective of any waiting list, Authorized Dealers favor their long-standing clients and when a particular watch becomes available, these are the customers that immediately get “the call”;
- More often than not, store sales teams practice upselling to get rid of the less desirable watches from a package. If you are on a waiting list for a GMT Master II for instance, you might get offered a less popular reference. As you have to wait years for the Pepsi you want, you might as well accept the offer, and signal that you are a serious customer who values the brand not only for its popular pieces.
- Watch flipping (buying from an Authorized Dealer and immediately reselling) is watched closely. Rolex closely monitors the serial numbers of the watches and their buyers, so if one model is sold right after it is bought for a profit, and the company notices, it is extremely unlikely that this particular buyer would be able to find another Rolex at list price, ever. If there is any Rolex list, there is definitely a Rolex blacklist.
Whether any particular Rolex waiting list actually exists, we can confirm that the wait times for the most sought-after models are insane.
Is there a waiting list for all Rolex models?
Probably. If you happen to want a less desirable watch that an AD just happens to have on hand and unallocated when you walk in, you might get lucky. That said, there is a waiting list for most Rolex watches, whether it’s one month or five years.
The length of a waiting list for a Rolex varies by both model and configuration. If you’ve been following the market it won’t come as a surprise that the most sought-after Rolex models at this moment are the stainless steel references of three iconic models – the Submariner, the GMT Master II, and the Daytona and within these, we find some models which represent the modern “Holy Grail” for Rolex aficionados. Let’s take a look at them.
Rolex watches with the longest waiting lists
Rolex GMT Master II “Pepsi” – ref. 126710BLRO
While the Rolex GMT Master II is one of the most well-known Rolex models, as it came from the 1960s, its “Pepsi” flavor, with its distinguishing bright red and blue bezel, has always been one of the best-received variations.
So, it was not a huge surprise that when it was relaunched, featuring a ceramic bezel, in Baselworld 2018, with a stainless steel version featuring a Jubilee bracelet.
While not overly innovative, the demand by the fan base soared to almost impossible heights, reaching an appalling ten years estimated waiting time: so long that you cannot order it anymore.
Rolex Cosmograph Daytona “Panda” 116500LN
The fame of the Rolex Cosmograph Daytona is almost unmatched.
Part of it comes from the legendary Paul Newman’s personal Daytona, which recently sold at auction for $17 million dollars, making it the most expensive watch sale in history. But the present-day Daytona, with its signature black and white tricompax dial, is equally coveted by Rolex admirers – so much so that a pre-owned Daytona can be easily sold for double list price, and the retailer wait-list for one can reach the ten-year mark.
Rolex Submariner Date “Hulk” – ref. 116610LV
As you all know, there are several variations of the Rolex Submariner, but the Hulk – that is, this lovely green beast – is one of the most appreciated by the public, and as such, one of the most requested.
Its merits are not only aesthetic, as a Submariner is a beautiful timekeeping instrument, very rugged, and extremely precise. And while not being worn today for its original function, that is, being a divers’ watch, the Hulk, with its beautiful green dial and bezel, finds itself pretty at ease in every occasion, from the most casual to the most formal. Also, it is always in short supply, and its values in the “grey market” are always well over the list price. Expect a waiting list of at least three to five years to get one.
Rolex GMT-Master II “Batman” – ref. 116710BLNR
Another superhero for your wrist, the Rolex Batman, with its distinguishing black and blue bezel, has been a bit overshadowed by its brighter brother, the Pepsi – but the demand for the Dark Knight watch remains steady, as does its value on the “grey market”, resulting in a very steady valuation.
This also means that you have to factor in a waiting time of around three to four years to snatch one.
Rolex Cosmograph Daytona “John Mayer” 116508
John Mayer recently popularized this model enough that the Rolex community nicknamed it after him. The stunning green dial in Rolex’s signature color matches the yellow gold perfectly. The waitlist for this model is estimated to be around 7 years.
Rolex Sky-Dweller 326934
Out of all variations of the Sky-Dweller, the relatively simple stainless steel and blue dial configuration has come out as the champion in the sense of price appreciation, demand, and difficulty to find. The wait list for this model is reportedly 3 – 4 years.
The Sky-Dweller is soaring in popularity, with some speculation that it might even replace the Daytona as Rolex’s most popular model.
Rolex Sea-Dweller Deepsea – ref. 126660
Another star of the Rolex line is the Rolex Sea-Dweller Deepsea. Debuting at Baselworld 2018, it has wowed audiences with its excellent technical features: a water resistance that borders on the mindboggling, 3,900 meters.
This performance, coupled with the new 3235 movements, one of the brand’s latest mechanical creations featuring a slew of advances, have positively motivated the Rolex fans so that the waiting list to fish one of these averages two to three years.
In November 2022, Rolex released the Deepsea Challenge in Titanium. We expect the wait for this new release to be much longer.
See it on the wrist: Rolex Sea-Dweller Wrist Roll
While these models are the tip of the iceberg, the rest of Rolex’s production is not that accessible either. A simple Rolex Submariner with date in steel, the ref. 116610, is expected to need 2 – 3 years on a waiting list, while its no-date version, the ref. 114060 has a waiting list of between 1 – 3 years. Datejusts can be days or many months, depending on the configuration you’re looking for.
You could fare much better in less requested Rolex models, most of which are available with minimal wait times – but this is life. No one ever said it was a cakewalk.
Remember, there is no single Rolex waiting list, so three to five years at one AD might be only a few hours at another if you’re really, really lucky. But as Reddit’s mind hive in the AD Wait Time Megathread suggests, most people aren’t that lucky when it comes to Rolex waiting lists.
Rolex watches with no waiting lists
Do not exist. Full stop. Although there’s basically no Rolex without a waiting list, among those most traditionally accessible to the new purchasers are the Air King, Rolex Explorer, and Yacht-Master. Typically, the larger the size, the harder the watch is to find. So, if you love the timeless style of the 36mm Datejust, you might even find one in a few weeks or months. The same is also true when it comes to the bracelet and case composition: models in Rolesor (gold and steel) tend to be less in demand than the all-steel ones, as do all gold models in many configurations.
How to get on the Rolex waiting list
So you want to get on the mythical Rolex waiting list? Getting on a “waiting list” isn’t necessarily tough, but for reasons discussed at length above, getting your desired watch in hand is another story.
Remember, buying a Rolex is relatively easy. You just have to be able to pay the list price. Convincing an authorized dealer to sell you a Rolex is the hard part.
Developing a relationship with a Rolex AD
The best way to develop a relationship with an AD is to treat these people exactly as they are: people, or rather, professionals who work in a watch store and are likely to know much more about the subject than you do. Our advice is to show your enthusiasm about the brand, shake hands, remember names, smile a lot, and ask questions. Expressing your appreciation for particular details can also help.
Here are some helpful tips for getting on a Rolex waitlist at any AD:
- The best way to get on any Rolex AD waiting list is face-to-face. Visit your local ADs in person and introduce yourself.
- Try to find common interests – you can start with the watches they sell. Ask questions and learn from them.
- Once you have a comfortable rapport, ask about buying the particular model you want. They may tell you they have no list, or that they’ll keep you in mind, or add you to a list. It doesn’t really matter, smile and say thanks. This is a long game.
- Ask for a copy of the latest Rolex magazine issue or a catalog of the current season’s models. This shows your interest in the brand and they are great as a keepsake and as a reason to drop by when the new issues or catalogs come out.
- Talk about your personal connection to the watches. Do you have a story that made you decide you wanted to own a Rolex or buy a particular model? This can resonate. Share it with the AD.
- Visit regularly (but probably not more than once a month). Check-in on how they are doing, try on the exhibition pieces they have, talk about Rolex or other watch brand developments, their kids, your summer plans, whatever.
This approach is about diplomacy and finesse and it depends solely on the human relationship you can establish with the staff. A five-year wait time is a long game, so if you’re gonna play it, play it smart. Don’t forget, a junior sales assistant that the owner trusts has far more influence than you might think, so be conscientious of how you treat all employees, from the door greeters to the head of sales. Also, if the AD has other brands available, remember that returning customers receive better treatment than new customers, so buying other watches or jewelry sold by that specific AD may help you hit your ultimate goal.
Building a rapport with the AD staff might mean the difference between leaving empty-handed or walking out with a green bag much sooner than you think.
Can I avoid the Rolex waitlist?
As we said, it is difficult to avoid a wait list for any Rolex, but there are a couple of ways to make it shorter:
- Be an existing, highly-valued customer (in which case you are probably not reading this)
- Have a close existing relationship with an AD (you might be reading this and stopping to call your local AD who also happened to date your mother in high school)
Doesn’t apply to you? Yea, us neither.
All kidding aside, you, like others who have had bad Rolex AD experiences, may just decide it’s not worth the hassle, wait or uncertainty, and opt to go to the Grey Market – a decision, mind you, that we fully support.
Skip the line and buy it from a Grey Market Dealer
The scarcity of supply and huge demand, especially for the most popular Rolex models, has caused the secondary market price of most Rolex models to increase drastically, causing a huge difference in Rolex retail prices vs Rolex market prices – with buyers willing to pay a 10% – 300% premium in the grey market to obtain the most desirable configurations without the lengthy wait and time investment.
A good grey market dealer often provides services similar to those of a Rolex dealer, with the possibility of supplying other brands in addition to the King of them all. They can sell and buy new and pre-owned Rolexes, carry discontinued and vintage pieces, can ensure excellent customer service, and provide the same guarantee on the items sold, as well as one essential thing: immediate availability of the watch you have to have now. You may have to pay a little more, but it beats having to wait an indeterminate amount of time for a watch that may never come.
We have great respect for the crown and the Rolex ADs who are highly knowledgeable and extremely competent. That said, as a trusted grey market dealer for over 20 years, we at Luxury Bazaar believe the primary difference between an authorized Rolex dealer and a competent, trustworthy grey market dealer has little to do with the quality of the product, the level of customer service, the level of knowledge or the authenticity guarantees provided: the primary difference is a contract that gives the right to use the Rolex brand officially.