The Ultimate Guide to Original or Factory Rolex Diamonds ...

Author: CC

Dec. 06, 2023

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Tags: Timepieces, Jewelry, Eyewear

Thomas Mastrippolito Watch Guide
8 minute read

Our goal is to answer the following questions...

  • How to tell if diamonds are factory?
  • What are the quality differences between aftermarket & factory diamonds?
  • What should be considered when purchasing aftermarket diamonds?
  • How do aftermarket parts change the value of your Rolex?
Take a moment to magnify the photo below of an aftermarket diamond mother of pearl dial compared to a factory Rolex diamond mother of pearl dial.

How can I tell if diamonds are factory Rolex?

Factory Diamonds

"Whether for diamonds, sapphires, rubies or emeralds, Rolex masters the art of gem-setting. ~Rolex

The easiest sign of a Rolex set gemstone is in the alignment. Each diamond's table is aligned perfectly with the center of the dial. Each diamond or gem table should be aligned in a uniform direction.

 

Sorting and matching diamond color, clarity and cut is useful for more than high-end custom jewelry.

Manufacturers take care to ensure that each stone matches the others in terms of size, cut, color, and clarity.

Rolex Masterpiece 

80359

When the diamonds are well matched, it’s likely that the same attention to detail also applies to the execution and finish.

After viewing a factory diamond watch in person these slight differences become far more obvious. Aftermarket diamond additions are not always a bad choice, just be aware of how diamond accessories are described so you do not make an uneducated purchase.

Rolex's Master Gemologists are responsible for selecting only those diamonds & gemstones that meet Rolex’s extremely stringent quality criteria.

Aftermarket Diamonds

Aftermarket diamond accessories can have cracked, cloudy or non-white stone. Study the cut quality of each stone. If it's not perfect it's not Rolex.

Aftermarket dials have been repainted and applied. This means the "ROLEX" print is not authentic and is not applied by the manufacturer.

 

Beware of misleading descriptions from online sellers. Below is an example of an aftermarket diamond & sapphire bezel and aftermarket diamond dial being portrayed as 100% factory.

 

The plate or metal of the dial could very well be Rolex original, but the value lies within the difficulty and perfection of the print, finish, indices, applied coronet and hour markers.

The diamond table also gives us clues of quality and attention to detail. Study each table, notice every stone differs in table size and alignment.

The purpose of a diamond table is to refract entering light and allow reflected light to meet the observer's eye.

Study each photo provided, pay attention to the diamond setting and position. Each diamond or gem table is perfectly aligned with each neighboring stone. The tables line up throughout the entire diamond bezel. 

Bounce the light off of the table of the diamonds present so you can see the diamond table shape and positioning. The diamond position and selection process allow the factory diamond bezel to outshine most aftermarket diamond. bezels of similar size. 

"Gem-setters, like sculptors, finely carve the precious metal to hand-shape the seat in which each gemstone will be perfectly lodged.

With the art and craft of a jeweller, the stone is placed and meticulously aligned with the others, then firmly secured in its gold or platinum setting.

 

"Besides the intrinsic quality of the stones, several other criteria contribute to the beauty of Rolex gem-setting: the precise alignment of the height of the gems, their orientation and position, the regularity, strength and proportions of the setting as well as the intricate finishing of the metalwork. A sparkling symphony to enhance the watch and enchant the wearer." ~Rolex

 



 

Rolex Datejust 179383 sporting a full factory diamond bezel and factory white mother of pearl diamond dial. (Photographed above)

 

"The stones then pass into the hands of the gem-setters, who are tasked with placing and fixing each stone to best reveal its beauty, colour and sparkle." ~Rolex

 

When studying factory diamond settings on a Rolex wristwatch, its easy to get lost in the masterful craftsmanship involved in creating a gem set model.

 

Under a 10x loupe you can enjoy the time and effort given to each stone and setting.

 

Rolex matches the color, clarity, size and cut to ensure a uniform display.

 

 

 

Are factory Rolex diamonds worth the investment?

Take a look at this infographic to see the increase in retail price based on factory Rolex diamond accessories. Keep in mind the retail price is very different from the preowned market. 

 

There is no way of knowing what will rise in value. Loving your purchase regardless of the value is a big part of enjoying the buying process.

 

Try on different models with and without diamonds. Do your research and know that you've made the right choice.

 

Take care of your watch so if and when it hits the pre-owned market it has every opportunity to sell at the top of the market.

 

Knowing the price difference and exploring all available options should ensure a pleasant buying experience.

 

 

The increase in value starts with the stones selected. Study a factory diamond set Rolex model under a 10x magnification, notice how the table of each stone is perfectly aligned with the setting.

The table alignment presents a uniform look and fire when exposed to the light.

 

Rolex Submariner 16613 with Factory Diamond & Sapphire Slate (Serti) Dial (Photo Above)

 

The perfection and high level of attention to detail that goes into creating a Rolex is best viewed in the diamond & gem set models.

 

Rolex only uses the best in diamonds. Rolex utilizes a large number of gemologists and jewelers. Their gemologists source, buy and test each and every diamond that goes into a watch.

 

Every single diamond is individually tested to ensure they grade IF (internally flawless) in clarity and between D and G in color

 

 

"Gem-setters finely carve the precious metal to hand-shape the seat in which each gemstone will be perfectly lodged.

 

Besides the intrinsic quality of the stones, several other criteria contribute to the beauty of Rolex gem-setting: the precise alignment of the height of the gems, their orientation and position, the regularity, strength and proportions of the setting as well as the intricate finishing of the metalwork." ~ Rolex

 

Every diamond or precious stone used on a Rolex watch is hand-selected and hand-set by a master jeweler.

 

The jeweler creates custom settings for each model. The same processes employed in creating the world's finest jewelry is applied to a Rolex. 

 

Rolex maintains a high level of artisanship through out the entire setting process. Most people believe Rolex to be a mass producer of wristwatches due to their high production numbers.

 

When you study the quality, Rolex maintains quality similar to a smaller independent manufacturer producing far less watches for much high values. 

 

Rolex spends a significant amount of time and effort to ensure the factory diamond settings are of the highest quality.

 

Under a 10x loupe, it's clear to see the tangible difference between aftermarket and Rolex. View the image below, notice the perfection of each setting. The tables align perfectly creating a uniform setting. 

What should be considered when purchasing aftermarket diamonds?

As popular as an aftermarket diamond set Rolex watches are, they fail to hold their value as well as a factory diamond Rolex.

 

Often times the quality of work is vastly lower than Rolex’s strict standards. Many times the added diamonds can detract from the resale of the watch.

 

If you’re looking for a Rolex to hold value, do not add low quality aftermarket diamonds to the case/bracelet/bezel/dial as it damages the elements of a watch that were not designed for the setting. 

 

The setting process is costly and will not translate to a higher resale amount. Factory diamonds retain value far better due to their high level of workmanship and high quality look.

 

If you purchase an aftermarket diamond Rolex, you run the risk of the setter damaging the watch in ways that allow moisture to penetrate the case. Beware of low quality settings.

 

Loupe your purchase and study the level of workmanship. Everything is cheap for a reason.

 

Thank you for your viewership. We hope to address everything involved in purchasing a factory diamond Rolex model. If you have additional questions, contact us by selecting "Contact" on the main menu. 

 

Guest article by Tobi L. Sigona, Avi & Co. NY

While custom watches and factory watches are both designed with real diamonds and precious gemstones of similar size, quality, and quantity, there are many distinct characteristics between the two types of watches.

Factory-Set Watches

A factory-set timepiece means that the stones were applied directly by the technicians of the watch brand’s manufacturer, without any third-party involvement. All the inserts/components were intended as part of the original design. The alignment, orientation, position, stability, and proportion of the gems are precise. It’s because of the amount of time and attention to detail that these luxury timepieces are so high-priced and harder to obtain.

Unlike the fast-paced environment of New York City, the watch industry is anything but rushed. Artisans train for almost a decade to produce luxury timepieces by hand. Their expense is a result of the hours of hard work that go into crafting every timepiece. The client base for factory-set watches is ordinarily small, and because of this, they’re created with flawless dials, bracelets, and bezels set with precious stones. Premium watch brands also rely on ensuring that supply never meets demand, because high demand helps advance the idea that you’re making a luxury, one-of-a-kind purchase.

Rolex Daytona ref. 116599RBOW

Custom Watches 

Custom watches, also referred to as aftermarket watches, have diamonds added by non-brand authorized third parties to a pre-existing timepiece. Also referred to in the industry as “iced-out” or “blinged-out,” a custom timepiece has some replica parts, and the bracelet, case, or diamonds set into the watch are not original.  

Custom-set watches are produced frequently, even though brands rarely announce customized watches, out of respect for their client’s original design. There are many components on a watch that can be customized, depending on the specific timepiece. Gemstones can be added to the case, lugs, or dial. Engraved messages can be written on the case back, and top watch brands may even be able to customize a caliber with a special color or component. One of the most common forms of customization is a DLC or PVD coating, which gives an all-black look to the metal. 

Rolex Milgauss with a PVD/DLC Coating

Pros of a Customized Watch  

The best part about customizing your watch with diamonds is that it gives the timepiece a flashier appearance, consistent with your personal style. With the advancements in technology and a general desire to keep up with the latest trends, it’s only natural to want a watch that’s tailored to your tastes. Designing a custom watch allows for complete creative freedom when it comes to what you want, which builds a timeless and emotional connection. Buying an aftermarket diamond piece will also cost much less than a factory watch with the same diamond settings, while still enabling you to stand out.   

“A personalized approach through customization is key for high-end clients, and particularly those with a penchant for haute horlogerie,” says Julien Tornare, CEO of Zenith Watch Company. “We see high demand for this service, and delivering it is part of our commitment to fulfilling client expectations. We create custom pieces for clients who are not interested in wearing watches generally available to the public; they prefer unique examples of watchmaking, a way for them to be actively involved in the creation of a timepiece. And this trend is not slowing down; on the contrary, it is rising.”  

Engraving the back of a luxury watch could make any gift even more memorable: it shows you went the extra mile when thinking of your special someone on their special day. While most people buy watches to collect or simply tell the time, a lot of what makes a watch so meaningful is the story behind it. Add an engraving to the case back, either with a person’s name, the date of an event, or a short note, for that personalized final touch. 

Iced-out Cartier Santos

Cons of a Customized Watch  

While adding diamonds to a timepiece can make it more lavish, it completely changes the shape and size of a watch’s original form; the manufacturer may need to trim portions of the watch, damaging the overall quality.   

If the plan is to sell or loan your luxury timepiece in the future, it’s highly inadvisable to customize. Customization can be a costly process, and – contrary to popular belief – it doesn’t translate into higher resale values. An unaltered timepiece in mint condition is worth far more than the material value of any added diamonds.  

For Rolex in particular, additional adornments are considered fake in the eyes of the brand, and they won’t service a watch with custom parts. This creates problems when a Rolex owner needs to have their watch repaired and can’t find a reputable watchmaker.  

Finally, the quality of the timepiece won’t be the same as an original factory-set product. Watch manufacturers carefully select each gemstone, but a local jeweler, for example, might use economy-class diamonds to meet the needs of a customer on a tight budget.  

How to Spot an Aftermarket Timepiece 

Each diamond or gem should be aligned in a uniform direction, just as they would with a hand-crafted factory-set watch. An iced-out watch will probably have proportions that somehow don’t sit exactly right, because the watch wasn’t originally designed to have diamonds on it. Diamond accessories can also be cracked, cloudy, or feature non-white stones. If you’re still not certain, check the reference number of the watch. This will tell you whether the watch was intended to have gem-set parts.  

Luxury Watch Brands and Their Customized Timepieces 

Many top watch brands have made unique watches in the past for their top clients. One of the most impressive examples was when financial banker and art collector Henry Graves turned to Patek Philippe to have the most complicated watch ever built. This pocket watch held the record for 56 years as the world’s most complicated portable mechanical timepiece. 

Many of today’s most iconic watch collections were initially made at the request of clients. In 1931, the Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso was created in response to a request from polo players who wanted a watch they could wear on the field. The IWC Portugieser was requested in 1939 by two Portuguese businessmen who wanted a highly legible watch as precise as a marine chronometer. 

IWC Portugieser Automatic ref. IW500701

In the past, these types of customized timepieces were a genuine way to help brands grow. However, as technology progressed, it became more difficult for manufacturers to keep up with the demand for custom orders. The amount of time it takes to create a detailed timepiece is why these watches are difficult to come by. For example, Richard Mille produces about 3,000 watches per year, because it takes approximately 12 meticulous weeks to make just one of them.  

Smaller Watch Brands and Their Customized Timepieces 

Smaller brands are trying to think outside the box to pursue more non-traditional approaches to watchmaking. With big brands not having the time to adjust production for individually customized watches, smaller companies have started offering what the big brands can’t. Take Jacob & Co., for example, which created an Astronomia Sky watch for Leonardo DiCaprio’s charity. “Doing bespoke [customized] work has been a part of my company since the very beginning,” says Jacob & Co. founder Jacob Arabo. “It’s how I set myself apart, and we continue to do this today. Nowadays, true luxury is about exclusivity, and there is nothing more exclusive than having a bespoke timepiece. I love making my clients’ dreams come true, and our company is set up to create these unique pieces.”  

In the past, customization options might have been limited to a strap or an engraved case back. Today, much more is possible, and a custom timepiece is just a few clicks away. According to Sharp magazine, here are the top brands that offer customization: 

  • Bamford Watch Department 
  • Piaget 
  • Seiko 
  • Timex  

Other brands that offer customization options include:  

  • Baume Watches 
  • Bespoke Watch Project 
  • BRÜGGLER 
  • EONIQ 
  • LAB Copenhagen 
  • Mint Evolutive  
  • Porsche Design 
  • Revolo Watches 
  • SARTORY-BILLARD 
  • Schaffen Watches 
  • Swatch 
  • UNDONE 
  • UNITY 
  • VON VOGEL 

At the end of the day, it really depends on your personal preference. Having factory watches is 100% original, and any customization is viewed by watch collectors as negative or less appealing, as it can devalue the watch. However, if you want your timepiece to be unique and tailored to you, a customized timepiece is the way to go. 

The Ultimate Guide to Original or Factory Rolex Diamonds ...

What's the difference between custom- and factory-set ...

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