A 1968 Rolex – the death of my “Grail Watch” quest

A 1968 Rolex – the death of my “Grail Watch” quest

5 min read
Richard Brown




Industry News

Richard Brown




Industry News

Face to face with my long sought after grail watch did it live up to expectations? 

My WatchGecko colleagues and I recently undertook a London trip primarily to film at the impressive new Grand Seiko boutique. The shop was in very close proximity to several respectable pre-owned watch dealers so after a bit of research I was very excited to finally get up close and personal to a wide variety of 1968 Rolexes.

A mint 1965 Oyster Date - Credit WatchGecko

Why these models?

I was born in 1968, have loved watches since my teens, and consequently a ‘68 Rolex became my grail watch and has remained so for as long as I can remember. While I will always lust after a mint condition 5513 non-date Submariner, the reality is I cannot justify that amount of money; however a good condition Oyster, Date or Air King was a distinct possibility.  

After visiting many shops, some no further than looking in the window, I did get to see several 1968 watches but I am sad to report that the trip concluded with me empty handed and dejected. The grail hunt I had clung on to for many years was over. So, what went wrong?

Quite simply the Rolexes I at my price point (around £5000) were so uninspiring that there was no way I could commit and return home to reveal to my wife that I had bought a basic 34mm stainless steel Oyster with three worn hands, no functional lume, and a weathered case that bore more resemblance to a well used 1960s Timex than the heaven-sent creation I had in my mind.

1968 Timex Mercury - Credit WatchGecko 

I just want to say on record I love my 1968 Dundee made Timex Mercury. It holds a special place in my collection and at £50 (not £5000) proves there are gems out there.

Conversely, the Rolexes available in London were dull, entry level, and unimpressive and held no kudos even with that iconic five letter name on the dial. Had I returned home with one everyone would have been polite and made the right noises, but I know what they would have been thinking.

The 26mm models were wholly unsuitable for me. I am a fairly big chap, so even 34mm looks small on my wrist. No question 36mm would be better, but the 34mm models in my birth year started at £5990! If I could have been persuaded to upgrade past base models to consider a Submariner or GMT Master, the cheapest 1968 model (on a military nylon strap) was £28,000.

A similar 1960s Submariner - Credit WatchGecko

OK, I can hear you shouting: “we all know which shops you were in; what do you expect in the centre of London”?

Fair observation, but the problem is that these runaway prices are having a detrimental effect on prices all over the country, so my local pre-owned dealer is now putting his prices up accordingly. If he thinks he can get £20,000 for a vintage Submariner then he’s obviously going to try to get it. Its a business ripple effect.

There is a video out now on the WatchGecko You Tube Channel where my dear friend and colleague Anthony and I debate a variation of this theme in some detail. That conversation is more connected to the equally alarming high prices of new watches which were typified by some of the latest releases at Watches and Wonders 2023.

The focus of our angst was unquestionably a beautiful watch – the latest IWC Ingenieur – which starts at an eyewatering £10,500 pounds. This model is a stainless steel tool watch (really nothing more) and we both express alarm that such a watch could be launched at this price without any acknowledgement that this is REALLY expensive. I recall about ten years ago raised eyebrows at the price of my IWC Aquatimer Galapagos Gen 1 Chronograph but the reality is that watch was 50% less than the 2023 Ingenieur. 

2023 IWC Ingenieur - Credit IWC W&W Press Pack

Naturally this debate spirals back to Rolex which is a brand becoming increasingly unaffordable. At WatchGecko we love the new titanium Yachtmaster 42 RLX but, without exception, all the staff in the office would think twice before spending £11,800 on a watch. And just how much better is it than my 2014 Titanium Omega Seamaster Chronometer? Answers on a postcard…

2014 Titanium Omega Seamaster Chronometer - Credit WatchGecko 

As you can imagine between colleagues and friends I have access to a fabulous selection of privately owned watches. There are plenty of Rolexes but when you add up what we all spent on them, not that many years ago, half a dozen of our original purchase prices would only just cover the cost of the single 1968 Submariner I saw at £28,000.

Back to the matter in hand.

What on earth will replace my 30 year old “grail” quest for a 1968 Rolex? If I consider an Omega or Breitling then there are some very affordable models which would be a great fit. Of course there are some expensive exceptions such as Apollo era Speedmasters, but equally there are lots of excellent options around the £5000 mark. I could of course stop reminding myself how old I am and simply go for a brand new Tudor Black Bay 58 or 54. Both flawless, outstanding, new models and well within budget.

Latest generation watches from Tudor may be a good alternative - Credit Tudor W&W Press Pack

Which leaves me where? 

Looking back at the quest I now realise that I had put this “grail” on a high pedestal for far too long. It had morphed into a monster and I had become so focused on it I had lost all appreciation for what the result would be – an elderly basic steel watch.

Like Indiana Jones in his Last Crusade my grail quest may be over leaving me emptyhanded but I do feel much better having confronted it, washed the thing out of my system, and come to the realisation there are much better watches out there to own. 

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Richard Brown

About the Author: Richard Brown

I truly believe one of the best partners in exploration and adventure is a fine watch. Over 30 years of collecting, my fascination with the technical capabilities of both vintage and modern timepieces has never abated and it is a privilege to be able to share this passion through writing.

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