09/30/2021
 5 minutes

Rolex for Experienced Collectors: The Best Watches Under $20,000

By Donato Andrioli
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Have you already had a first taste of the famous brand with the crown and are now fully immersed in all things Rolex? Are you ready to dive a little deeper into this fascinating world of luxury? Are you keen to stack your collection with nothing but highly-coveted models and references? Perhaps you’re less interested in vintage models, preferring modern watches with six-digit reference numbers? If you answered yes to any of these questions, read on to discover our top Rolex picks for experienced collectors with a budget of $20,000. 

I have some good news for you: Several modern Rolex icons are available for $20,000 or less. I’ll walk you through three of our top choices. These Rolexes are all very different from one another, not just in terms of looks but also functionality. Ok, let’s dive in! 

Which modern Rolex ref. is your top choice?
Which modern Rolex ref. is your top choice?

Perfect Symmetry: The Rolex Submariner Ref. 114060

Each of the Rolex watches on this list is iconic and legendary in its own right. I won’t waste words waxing lyrical about just how iconic the Submariner is in the watch world. Nevertheless, you can’t help but mention the Sub ref. 114060 when talking about Rolex timepieces for seasoned connoisseurs. Why would I choose the Sub without the famous date magnifier? I asked myself this same question and came up with a few answers. First of all, this modern watch comes closest to the original from the 1950s. When it was first released, the Submariner completely lacked a date complication. While the black version with a date has become more popular over the years, it will take you much longer to find someone wearing this model without a date. Experienced collectors have come to appreciate the lack of a date display as it affords the dial perfect symmetry. 

From a collecting point of view, the 114060 is also one of the more interesting modern Submariners to purchase. While the 114060 was only in production for eight years, the 116610LN had a production run of a full ten years. Rolex shipped out the date edition in greater quantities due to its popularity, while the 114060 has always been something for Submariner purists. This means the ref. 114060 is comparatively rare. The watch’s status as a potential collector’s item is precisely why I chose this reference over the modern, technically superior ref. 124060. The 114060 and 116610LN are officially the last generation with a 40-mm case. Even though it’s still a maxi case, Rolex has been inching closer to older references and making the lug-to-lug a bit narrower on the new models. Fans have generally embraced this development, as the case with a wider lug width has always been met with mixed reviews. However, I believe that its wider lug width may end up being one of the reasons why this Submariner reference could be very popular in the future. The 114060 currently sells for between $11,500 and 16,500, depending on the condition and whether it comes with its box and papers. It is shocking to see how these prices have changed since Rolex discontinued the reference in September 2020. 

The Submariner 114060: the next Submariner for connoisseurs and collectors?
The Submariner 114060: the next Submariner for connoisseurs and collectors?

Typical Rolex: Datejust References in a Class of Their Own

Despite all the hype around their stainless steel sports models, when you hear the name Rolex, you inevitably think of luxury. The Datejust captures the luxurious side of Rolex like no other timepiece. It’s not surprising that this iconic dress watch with a date magnifier is probably the most famous Rolex of all time – even among laypeople. As an experienced collector, you should check out the elegant Datejust 41. It offers an excellent contrast to the steel sports watches, is no less suitable for everyday wear, and has recently grown significantly in popularity. Your options for this model are many: You can choose between the famous fluted bezel or a more subtle domed bezel. You can’t go wrong either way. With a budget of $20,000, you can also take your pick of band options. Will you opt for the Oyster bracelet, or do you prefer the iconic Jubilee designed with the Datejust in mind? Don’t even get me started on the dials… Here, you will find everything you could wish for as a Rolex aficionado. 

In short, you can choose the Datejust that best reflects your personality. I would opt for a fluted bezel, as seen on the ref. 126334. I think this watch best captures the classic essence of the Datejust while remaining rooted in modern times with its 41-mm size. That being said, I wouldn’t go for the Jubilee bracelet on the Datejust 41. While I think there’s no better choice for the 36-mm Datejust, I personally find the Oyster bracelet with its polished middle links more elegant and better suited to the larger case. I’m aware that most people don’t share my opinion on this, but everyone can agree that the Datejust 41 will enhance and round out any collection. The great thing about this model is that it seamlessly transitions from an everyday companion to an elegant dress watch for special occasions. Its robust construction and water resistance of 150 m (492 ft) make it well equipped to handle everyday wear. With a budget of $20,000, you have a wide selection of Datejust 41 versions available to you, including two-tone and diamond-studded watches. 

The elegant Datejust 41 offers a welcome change from the popular Rolex stainless steel sports watches
The elegant Datejust 41 offers a welcome change from the popular Rolex stainless steel sports watches

A Rolex Daytona for $20,000?

Rolex has a few more watches to offer the seasoned collector with a budget of $20,000. For instance, you could get your hands on a Yacht-Master 40, which I think is still a Rolex insider’s tip; a GMT Master II “Batman,” one of the most coveted watches right now; or the new “Starbucks” Submariner with its beloved green bezel. Each of these watches is worth taking a closer look at and could easily have been included on this list, but I wanted to challenge myself and select three timepieces that stood out from one another in terms of looks and functionality. 

At a time when stainless steel Daytonas have reached market prices upwards of $45,000, I couldn’t help but set my sights on finding a reference suitable for those who love the brand with the crown but have a slightly smaller budget. So, is it possible to get a six-digit Daytona reference for less than $20,000? I searched high and low and found that yes, it is still possible (with a bit of luck). The Rolex Daytona ref. 116523 is a two-tone model in stainless steel and yellow gold. It features the new solid bracelet and clasp, and in contrast to older references, the case is entirely polished like current references. The ref. 116523 isn’t powered by a Zenith movement but rather the Rolex caliber 4130, which offers a 72-hour power reserve. While you won’t find a vast selection to choose from and most models will date from the early to mid-2000s, if you’ve always wanted to call the legendary chronograph your own and you like the striking two-tone look, this is your shot at getting a six-digit reference Daytona for less than $20,000. Your best chance is to search auctions or private seller listings on Chrono24. Either way, any listing for this lesser-known reference priced under $20,000 won’t be around for long. The average sales price for a ref. 116523 is typically closer to $30,000, but with a bit of luck and frequent searching, you could have the chance to add a Rolex Daytona to your collection for less than $20,000. 

A Daytona for less than $20,000? It may just be possible...
A Daytona for less than $20,000? It may just be possible…

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About the Author

Donato Andrioli

With the purchase of my Tudor Black Bay 41, I discovered a passion for mechanical watches. I am particularly drawn to iconic watches with long and exciting histories.

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