Anyone who is interested in Rolex watches knows the situation: if you want a new watch, you have not been able to simply go to a jeweler and take it with you for years. This is especially true for steel models like the “Submariner”, “GMT-Master”, “Sea-Dweller” and so on. It is still worst with the “Daytona” – this watch has probably not been present in any retailer display for more than a decade. But often you only really know about the situation in your own country. So the following thought comes to mind: The further I fly abroad, the more likely it must be to find something there. Again and again one reads in relevant forums about the brand: “Flying to country XY soon, where can I get a watch?”

This is certainly not just because everyone is suddenly collecting watches, but for a very simple reason: whoever manages to buy a popular model abroad at list price has basically refinanced their vacation. It’s still the case that – depending on the model – a watch that leaves a jeweler’s shop for 10,000 euros can easily be sold the next day for one and a half times as much. This is well known and ensures that the contact points in the big cities in particular are busy every day politely brushing off searching tourists. Because that’s exactly what retailers want to prevent – and even Rolex asks them to be careful. Incidentally, the same applies to other brands such as Patek or Audemars Piguet – only the list prices here are so high that the credit card limits of many tourists are not sufficient for spontaneous purchases. However, Rolex is moving in a certain sweet spot that some conventional cards just about give.

Which explains the sad truth: it doesn’t matter which country you travel to – the chances of being able to take a watch with you as a walk-in customer are incredibly slim. Out of curiosity and almost out of habit, our author has had his own experiences with it since 2017 – and can still give small tips on where you might find something.

As already mentioned: The rush is by far the greatest in metropolitan areas. The displays there are almost always empty – and sometimes you have to deal with the strangest peculiarities of the shopkeepers. A nice example is an official shop in Gangnam, Seoul. As a tourist, you are not even allowed to spontaneously enter the shop. Although almost ten employees were standing idle in the store during a visit and the display was even partly stocked with popular models (Green Sub!), it was made clear at the door that you would not be able to gain access without an appointment. The next available date? In three weeks. But it is not guaranteed that you will get a watch, it said. But you’re welcome to look around. A horrible experience.

Visits to the official boutiques in New York, Boston, Los Angeles, Las Vegas and San Francisco were less restrictive, but just as pointless. Everywhere you could go into the shops without any problems, but there was nothing to buy. It’s no different in Europe. Whether Hamburg, Flensburg, Berlin, Crete, Lisbon, Florence or Munich – it is almost impossible that the journey is worthwhile. They played with open cards in Crete. Many popular models were in stock there, but despite an official concession, they asked for prices that were “customary in the market”, i.e. well above the list price. Elsewhere, people act more subtly and give priority to those customers who have been loyal for years.

In Germany it has also become almost normal for jewelers to ask for the address. If you come from outside, you often get an immediate rejection. This not only serves the concessionaires’ self-protection, but also ensures that important regular customers from the area can be supplied with the few watches that arrive throughout the year. A Hamburg jeweler, who does not want to be named, revealed that there are maybe three per year of the extremely popular “GMT Master II” with the red-blue bezel, often called “Pepsi”. So even if you proceed very selectively, you cannot even work through the innermost circle of customers in the short term.

But there are also places where there is no prioritization, because if the desired clock arrives, the customer cannot be summoned to the shop in a timely manner: airports. There are Rolex boutiques all over the world, especially at hubs like Frankfurt or London. These sometimes still work according to the old principle – first come, first served. But due to the enormous crowds that scurry through the terminals every day, the chance of a watch is very small here too. By the way, it should look different if you wear an airline uniform, they say. For pilots and flight crew there would be better chances, experts in the industry report. Whether this is true could not be verified.

The country that has now emerged as a good destination is Italy. Again: Not in the metropolises. But if you come to what is probably the most beautiful Rolex boutique in Castiglione della Pescaia or stop by the posh town of Forte dei Marmi, you have a realistic chance of being able to buy a watch. During the last visits, it wasn’t a “GMT-Master” model or one of the colored “Submariner”, but it could have been a “Datejust” with the popular ribbed bezel and the blue dial. Of course, these are isolated cases that do not have to apply to every visit. It turns out, however, that boutiques in smaller towns are obviously the better addresses.

In the scene forums one also hears that the chances in smaller American cities are even better if one is there a little longer or returns in the foreseeable future. Market observers claim that the availability of popular models tends to be better in the United States than in other countries around the world. In contrast, an inquiry in the Arab world, such as in Dubai or Abu Dhabi, is pointless. Exception: models made of precious metals.

Either way, the chance of being able to simply take a really popular watch with you is and remains very small worldwide. Taking the trip just for that would be a waste of time. It remains to be seen if the situation will change in the coming years as Rolex builds and commissions the new sites (read more here).

But what can be discovered when travelling, are used watches, often hardly worn. This applies both to visits to independent sellers on site, whose prices are of course often higher than the respective list price, and to online trade abroad. The star asked Tim Stracke, CEO of the Chrono24 trading platform, for tips on buying around the world.

The expert explains: “70 percent of our transactions cross national borders, while 36 percent are even cross-currency. The Asian market in particular presents some tempting offers that are often priced below the European ones. Japan, for example, as the third-biggest seller country at Chrono24, is often characterized by special well-preserved watches. Local tax conditions or the fact that 42 percent of Swiss watch exports go to Asia often make ‘bargains’ possible.”

However, you have to be aware that there will of course be additional costs – as with the import of a Rolex from a non-European country. “Here, however, one should always bear in mind that purchases outside the EU area in addition to the low customs duty also incur an import sales tax, which is typically around 19 percent,” Stracke continues. “In the event of a complaint about a watch that was purchased outside the EU, the import sales tax already paid must be reclaimed from customs.”

Depending on the model, you still save money, says the CEO. “Also including the additional costs (import sales tax