Michele Riva

Dec 27, 2021

7 min read

Buying my first Rolex: the story of an awful customer experience

Rolex Daytona · Picture Tran Phuc on Unsplash

Before discussing Rolex and mechanical watches in general, let me introduce myself a bit.

I am a Senior Software Architect, book author, and international speaker. Even if my main source of income is my full-time job, I have a mortgage and loans to pay off, so I try to earn from other activities too (selling books, making paid courses, conferences, etc.).

Even though I have a great and stable job, it isn’t easy for me to access many watches I love, but we’ll get back to that later.

Why Rolex

Rolex Datejust 36 with Jubilee bracelet · Picture by Joppe Spaa on Unsplash

Everything started when I was around 14 years old. I started going to high school in Milan, but I lived in a small town near the city.

I had to take a train, two different subways, and then a bus to school, which allowed me to explore the city for five years.

When hanging out with friends, I often had to take a subway from the Milan Cathedral, where there are at least four Rolex authorized dealers. And here is where I fell in love.

I’ve always been fascinated by mechanical watches; I loved every part of them. Their history, their appearance, the way they’re engineered.

If you ask someone who’s not into watches to tell a brand, there’s a high chance they’ll only know Rolex and a couple of more brands. And there’s a good reason for that.

Rolex introduced many significant innovations in the watch industry. They changed the way people perceive watches forever.

They were (and here I am talking about the past) providing excellent, robust, and reliable watches for a fantastic price.

One thing no one owning a Rolex will tell you is that it was pretty easy to buy one in the past years.

When talking about luxury watches, Rolex was a kind of entry-level brand with affordable prices. Of course, you had to spend at least €5.000 for a piece of steel, but after a life (or years) of savings, everyone could afford it. You can’t simply compare the Rolex pricing with Patek Philippe, Audemars Piguet, A.Lange & Shöne, or Vacheron Constantin.

Rolex was the watch that people bought after achieving great results, the one that made you feel like a king or a queen, the one that was you could admire thinking at all the things you’ve been through before getting it and how much you achieved.

But something changed.

You can’t buy a Rolex anymore.

Despite the relatively competitive prices, starting with an Oyster Perpetual selling at around €5.500 at retail price, it is challenging to get a Rolex these days.

I won’t go into too many details; there’s an outstanding video made by Teddy Baldassare explaining this topic in detail:

Long story short: there is much more request than product availability. Private Maisons such as Rolex, Patek Philippe, and Audemars Piguet are experiencing the same situation: empty storefronts and endless waiting lists for buying luxury goods. That’s just insane.

The biggest problem with that situation is that if you want to buy, let’s say, a steel Rolex Submariner Date (without any precious material), you have to buy it for around €15.000/€18.000 on the secondary (also called “gray”) market, instead of paying €8.750 (retail price) in an official Rolex boutique.

What is the gray market?

When talking about the gray market, we refer to all those dealers and private sellers who can access new and unworn watches from authorized dealers and sell them at a higher price on different platforms.

There are watch brands that don’t like to hear that authorized dealers sell watches to people who’ll eventually sell them on the gray market, as this is against their rules. Still, there’s no other way for these people to get their hands on Rolex, Patek Philippe, or Audemars Piguet watches without passing from an authorized dealer.

If you go on Chrono24 or Chronext, you will see a long list of new and unworn watches for sale at double their retail price.

The shortage of watches is due to people looking at them as an investment rather than a passion.

My personal experience as a customer

I hated my customer experience. I hated every second I spent in most Rolex authorized dealers.

I started looking to buy a Rolex Datejust 41 in March 2021. There is an authorized dealer near my town, and I went here asking for a couple of information, knowing the current dire situation.

I remember wearing my 1950’s Omega Seamaster in yellow gold, an absolute beauty given to me by my great grandfather. This is the kind of watch that deserves a lot of respect when still working after more than 70 years of activity.

After entering the AD (short for the authorized dealer) shop, they looked at my wrist to understand if I was already a Rolex customer. I am not the kind of person who likes to wear expensive clothes, shoes, or jewelry. I am just interested in mechanical watches.

I guess they assumed I was just a young guy wanting to invest some money into watches to resell them into the gray market. They told me to come back in 2022, almost ten months later, to see if they got something.

After a couple of weeks, I went to Monza, where I asked for the same watch. They kindly informed me that they receive less than ten watches per month, and they’re all booked. But there’s no way to book one for me. So instead, they let their best customers book a watch, and when it arrives, they keep it for them.

They had a fantastic Longines Conquest 41 in their storefront (which sells for around €1.100), so I decided to buy it instead.

After a couple of months, I realized I loved my Longines, but I was still dreaming of my Rolex Datejust 41.

At this time, I was working at ViacomCBS, which has its Italian office in Milan, near the Cathedral. There are four different ADs in a three kilometers range, so I decided to go there and ask.

In the first one, I was treated well. They let me try a couple of models and told me they were for sale. But, unfortunately, they weren’t the models I was looking for. So instead of behaving like a bad guy, buying them anyway and reselling them on the gray market for big profits, I told them I preferred to wait, showing them how serious I was about my decisions.

I then went to store number 2. They had an empty storefront and told me that I could join a waiting list for a couple of different models. They put me on a three-year-long waiting list for a Datejust 41 and a seven years-long waiting list for a Submariner Date.

Store number three has been the worst experience of my life. But, knowing that people working for these big brands are good at recognizing a possible big customer, I wore the best dresses I had. Unfortunately, as soon as I entered the AD shop, they asked me if I was there for a Rolex. Then, they asked me if I made any prior purchase from them (I did not), and they started treating me poorly.

Remember: I don’t earn millions of Euros every year, and that was a big purchase for me. I wanted it to be a personal achievement after 12 years of waiting. They made me feel like I was utterly worthless.

They explicitly told me to buy some jewelry and some other watches and then come back to see if they could buy their less requested Rolex watch.

I then went to many other different ADs and boutiques, but I couldn’t find any watch for sale. It was super frustrating.

I eventually bought my Rolex Datejust 41 (reference number 126300, slate dial) on Chronext for €10.040. Its retail price was €7.550.

My feelings and next steps

I will never purchase a Rolex from any AD. Almost every single seller made me feel completely worthless, useless, and just stupid.

My Rolex Datejust 41, reference number 126300

This has been the worst customer experience of my life, and I am not willing to repeat it.

If I want a new Rolex, I’ll buy it on Chronext. Of course, they sell them at a higher price, but at least they know how to treat people properly.

I am not the kind of person who spends hundreds of thousands of Euros per year on watches. I have my small collection, and I may want to add one timepiece every one or two years.

Of course, I get why Rolex ADs don’t give a damn about me. But they also sell other (and more affordable) brands, but I’ll make sure to avoid them as much as I can. I won’t give them my money after being treated that badly.

Of course, I am not sure I will buy Rolex ever again. I now see it as a brand for people who care about money much more than I do. Fuck money, and fuck those people. I just had a passion, and they did all they could to make it disappear.

When looking for a new watch, I will probably go with different (yet outstanding) brands such as Cartier and Omega, hoping that the big speculative bubble will pop as soon as possible.

Goodbye Rolex. You destroyed a dream I had, and I am not returning to you.