Insight The Birth-Year Watch – From Rolex to G-Shock

The Birth Year Watch Concept

The birth-year watch is a simple collecting archetype: you own a watch from the year you were born. Breaking down the underlying concept, however, reveals an unexpected complexity. Excuse my satirical lens, but I’ve been through the birth year watch journey three times.

Birth Year Watches

The technicality of the birth year watch concept is surrounded by loose logic. Very few new parents walk into an AD (Authorized Dealer) and buy a watch on the day that their child was born. If they did, would that even be significant? The watch wasn’t truly born on the same day. Due to batch manufacturing and the supply chain, that portion of the symbolic gesture does not hold up. Spending the day supporting a postpartum mother and celebrating a newborn baby seems more appropriate than a new watch with a matching warranty card. And perhaps parents shouldn’t assume that their child will grow up to care about an object, even if it’s sentimental. We’ve all heard it: “I gave my kid their horological heirloom, but it sits in a drawer.”

More than a few watch collectors acquire a birth year watch for themselves later in life. Frankly, I used the concept to justify another watch purchase, but didn’t really care that much about when the watch was made. But as a collector I was running out of boxes to check and felt the need to devise, and then explore, a new rabbit hole. This essay is the rabbit hole of my various birth-year watch quests.

1981 Rolex Datejust 16030 “Buckey” to Commemorate My Birth

Rolex is usually the first place to start with the birth year watch concept. Rolex watches can be cataloged by year by individual serial numbers. For Example, a Rolex with a serial number between 3,862,196 and 4,115,299 is from 1975. In 1987, Rolex started to use letters in front for the numbers (ex. Y###,### for 2002). This continued until 2011 when Rolex switched to random alphanumeric serial numbers as an anti-counterfeiting measure. With randomized serial numbers, the only way for the public to date a modern Rolex is by the warranty card or original sales receipt. Thus, full sets are required for anyone born during or after 2011 seeking a Rolex to commemorate their birth.

I’d had many conversations about the topic with another local watch enthusiast who only collects Rolex GMT Masters (neo-vintage and modern). He was stuck, not wanting to pay the astronomical price for his birth year Rolex GMT Master ref. 1675. I was in a similar mindset. I failed to see the value in a birth year ref. 5513 Rolex Submariner, because it would be redundant in my strictly curated collection in which no two shall be alike. Yet I was hung up on a Rolex as the ultimate birth-year watch.

Vintage Birthyear Rolex Datejust 16030 Buckley
Trying to act my age.

My collection at the time consisted of steel sports watches from 39-41mm. I felt pressure for a more conservative, more mature, perhaps more dressy watch. The Rolex Datejust (36mm) caught my attention being the most iconic of all DTWs (dressy tool watches, as per Allen’s nomenclature). A vintage Rolex Datejust seemed to check all the boxes: steel, bracelet, brand, provenance, and versatility. To further fuel my birth-year watch quest, vintage Rolex Datejusts were not only relatively affordable when I snagged mine, but also available in myriad configurations. 

I began narrowing down my desired options: 1981 serial number range, steel, oyster bracelet, quickset date, with a white or blue dial. I decided that this would be the first luxury watch that I would buy without box and papers. Although listings with box and papers options existed, the price differential was more than I was willing to spend.

There were endless Datejust dial configurations from the early 1980s. The dial that spoke to me was the Buckley. A “Buckley dial” is a Rolex with painted (not applied) Roman numerals. Infamous New York watch dealer John Buckley is credited with naming the dial after himself. Most Buckley dials are found in the Datejust references 1601, 1603, 16030, and 16014.

Vintage Birth Year Rolex Datejust 16030 Buckley
Rolex Datejust “Buckley” Ref. 16030

After a few months of searching, I found a reasonably priced Rolex Datejust that met all of my criteria for a birth year watch. This particular Buckley Rolex Datejust stood out because the original white dial and black hands were in such good condition. (White dials and black hands are a Rolex rarity.) I was able to win the always risky eBay auction for $3,000 – all in. Shortly after delivery, the watch stopped working correctly. I tried to negotiate with the seller and they offered to fully refund me if I wanted to return it. I knew that even with adding $500 in service costs, I still had a fantastic vintage Rolex for a total of $3,500.

Although it carries a five-digit reference number, this Datejust feels closer to an older four-digit reference. Whether it is technically true or not, I can’t help but feel that this vintage Rolex is already becoming too valuable and too fragile for casual daily wear. I otherwise only wear modern watches, and I am inclined toward preservation of investments, so maybe I’m just being fearful. Allen says I’m being a wimp, but his ’72 Datejust is kind of a mess, so whatever.

I wear my Buckley 16030 on a new aftermarket bracelet that is probably better manufactured than the original. This is purely precautionary as I don’t trust the bracelet that Rolex manufactured roughly four decades ago. Also, the original bracelet has never been re-pinned. Maybe I am a wimp, or maybe I just bought a watch that was too clean to treat like a daily beater.

Today, this Rolex Datejust Buckley spends most of its time in a safe. Monthly wear seems forced so the lubricants don’t dissipate. Occasionally, I’ll pull the Buckley out to take a picture of it. How exciting. 

Vintage Birth Year Rolex Datejust 16030 Buckley
Another flat lay photoshoot, then back to the safe

This Rolex Datejust birth-year watch was intended to be a distraction as the dread of turning 40 overwhelmed me. The Datejust was retail therapy disguised as a birthday celebration, but the truth was the retail therapy was the mortal reality of turning 40. There was never a lasting emotional high connecting this Rolex birth year watch to a higher sentiment. I can’t shake the feeling that this Datejust feels like it belongs to someone else and I’m merely borrowing it. It’s a fantastic example of a vintage Rolex Datejust. Alas, there is nothing memorable to me when I occasionally wear this perfect example of a great watch from the year I was born. For this reason, the entire experience hasn’t lived up to the birth year watch. The purely transactional relationship between myself and my 1981 birth year Rolex Datejust has proved to be more of a collecting vacancy than a cornerstone.

2015 Rolex Submariner-date 116610LN to Commemorate My Son’s Birth

I knew that the Submariner would ultimately be a gift to my son as his birth-year watch, and that I would merely be an interim custodian. It didn’t even occur to me to do the same for my daughter when she was born in 2012. I need to reconsider how I think about watches and gender, because that’s a little messed up. I might need to get her a watch.

The idea of purchasing a Rolex Submariner for my son actually arose as a way for me to lose weight. On the heels of living in an exhausted haze raising a baby and a toddler, I tried my best to be a good father and husband while balancing a stressful career in the thankless field of trucking logistics. Stress eating, pounding back double-IPAs, and a lack of exercise and sleep led me to a lot of firsts, including growing overweight by 30 lbs.. I had never been overweight. I felt constantly sick and was generally unmotivated from exhaustion. Family photos would reveal more of a pufferfish than the man I wanted to be.

Rolex Submariner 16030 Birth Year Watch
It’s a holiday, break out the Submariner

My mom, a doctor, noticed the lead indicators of the situation before I did. She went through the same struggles in her thirties trying to juggle family, career, and health. Today, my Mom feels like she ultimately lost that battle with her health, sacrificing her own well-being at the cost of our family’s success. She did not want me to suffer health problems from repeating her mistake. Swift action was needed, but swift action requires motivation, which was on short order. Extreme measures were required.

My mom helped me set a final target weight and two milestone dates to check progress and make sure the weight was going to remain off. She even offered to help contribute some cash toward the Rolex if I met all over my goals on schedule, which I graciously accepted. A Rolex would be the proverbial carrot dangling before me, unavailable until I was no longer a pufferfish. It was such a brilliant move on her part, a small investment towards a drastic change to a life-long commitment of investing in my own health. Even though I was 35 years old, mother still knew best. I gained insight about the value of human versus financial capital, ironically in the form of a Rolex.

As the pounds dropped off, I zeroed in on the reward. The Rolex market back in 2016 was unrecognizable compared to today’s grotesque situation. At the time, ceramic Daytonas were still obtainable, Hulks only a month away, and Batmans were usually in stock at the AD. As I worked towards my goal, something changed. Authorized Rolex dealers stopped negotiating prices as more empty slots crept into their display cases. I noticed pre-owned Rolex prices started to creep up. 

Rolex Birth Year Watches
Birth year Rolexes, decades apart

I hadn’t met my health goal yet, but I remained confident that I was on target. Seeing the emergent Rolex price boom, I knew that I needed to act quickly on targeting a specific model before it outdistanced my budget. I had tried on and researched so many watches. It was now down to a Submariner 116610LN and GMT Master II 116710BLNR. I ultimately chose the Submariner for four reasons: 1) the Batman was too shiny, 2) I found the bezel on the ceramic GMT Master II too busy, 3) the classic all-black Submariner felt like it would age better, and 4) the Glidelock clasp on the Submariner was superior to that of the GMT’s Easylink.

I decided to buy a pre-owned Rolex Submariner-date 16610LN (full kit) from Bob’s Watches. It still had to be the right Rolex Submariner 116610LN. After all, it was for my son. The dealer had to make several trips to the vault before finding a full kit with the correct year on the warranty card. As mentioned earlier serial numbers had been randomized by this point. The dealer had emailed me a $250-off coupon and there was no out-of state internet sales tax collection in those days. $6,750 delivered. I know that price sounds insane today, but that’s how it was in 2016. It still feels like a lot of money because it is. Don’t let current Rolex prices desensitize you.

Rolex Birth Year Watches
Father and son birth year watches

Mom held the carrot just out of reach, and when I achieved my weight loss goal I finally took possession of my new Sub.

If I had to keep one watch this Submariner would be it. I often check on the market value of the watch like it’s a share of common stock. It’s sickening to the point where the Submariner now spends more time in the safe than it does on the wrist. I need to figure out how to comfortably wear this Rolex so that my son actually has memories of me wearing it. Allen, again, says stop being a wimp, the scratches will remind my son of my life as it was lived. They’ll be “my Dad’s scratches” to my son, and if I wear it he’ll get to build up memories of the thing, as sons tend to do of their Dad’s watches. Besides, the biggest scratch my the Rolex Submariner came from a door jam as I carried a laundry basket into his bedroom. If that’s not authentic Dad-damage from family life, I don’t know what is.

Maybe Allen is right. I am frugal to a fault. I might as well get my son a portfolio of birth year stocks. Is that a Hodinkee product yet? I’m scared to inquire.

I‘m not sure when I’ll give my son his 2015 birth year Rolex Submariner. Will my son even deserve it when the time comes? If he doesn’t, that will be on me as his father. What will I do for my daughter that is as significant? Maybe she’ll want it in the gender-flexy future. Who knows? Until then, I’ll apprehensively presume that I’ll know when the time comes.

The birth-year Rolex, what a mental burden. The entire (illogical) concept poses more questions than answers.  

2021 G-Shock GW-6200NASA2021 to Commemorate Turning 40

There is no birth year G-Shock for me. At least by the classic definition of manufacturer/sale date. However, there is a Casio G-Shock with the year of my birth year not only on the caseback but designed into the backlit display as well. Sometimes the simplest (and cheapest) answers are right in front of us. We, as humans, need to distinguish moments of lucidity from the twenty-first-century noise.

Until recently, the Casioak has been my go-to beater/exercise watch since it was first introduced. As I spent more time with different GA-2100 G-Shocks, many of the poorly designed features started to bother me. The Casioak GA2100-1A1 was soon to be banished from my collection. It would join the ranks of other entry to mid-level Casios and Seikos that didn’t stick around. Here is a partial list of those watches by reference number: SKX007, SKX013, SPB003, SEPB003, SRPB53, SRPB99, SRPD51, SPB087, A158WA-1DF, GA2100SU-1A, GW-62000NASA2020, GA2110ET-2A, GMAS2100-7A, and GA2110ET-8A. Even now I’m contemplating purchasing a Seiko 6139. Death by a thousand cuts. 

Nasa G-Shock Nike SB Limited Edition
G-Shock & Nikes fit for Hypebeast

I didn’t like the G-Shock GW-6200NASA2021 after I bought it. I purchased the 2021 NASA 5600 directly from G-Shock for $140. It was a decent value for what it was. But the loud white strap with the Space Shuttle’s thermal tile design and the American flag was too much for me – well, the grown-up me. Long gone were the childhood days of my Space Shuttle bedroom decor and astronaut Halloween costumes.  

Hey Bezos, what’s up?

I had previously sold my all-white 2020 NASA G-Shock for about 4x retail. I listed my G-Shock GW-62000NASA2021 for sale a few months later. After the third time that a buyer flaked, I gave up. I only stood to gain $40 in profit on the 2021 G-Shock, anyways. Maybe the universe was trying to tell me something.

I decided to keep the watch, but I still had issues with the obnoxious white strap. Again, the solution was simple. I found a black replacement Casio watch strap (Ref. 10512401) for $24. After installing the new black strap I was delighted with the transformation and was ready to attach emotional connections to the watch. The Casio G-Shock GW-6200NASA2021 had evolved into a much lower-key wrist companion and surprisingly meaningful celebration of my birth-year.

NASA G-Shock GW-62000NASA2021 Limited 2021 5600
Much better on the black strap.

The “1981-2021” on the digital display as well as the case back was more than subtly suggestive. It’s right there in your face. Not only was my birth year (1981) embedded in the watch, but so was a forty-year time span. What was to be a milestone 40th birthday in 2021 has in actuality been more of a rebirth year for me both personally and professionally. I welcome a less stressful life by refocusing on health, ideals, and the people that are important to me. A cheaper and easier watch like this Casio really resonates with these changes; the Rolexes less so.

I wear this G-Shock more than any other watch I own. You’ll catch the 2021 NASA G-Shock on my wrist while I’m running, cycling, snowboarding, or paddling out into the waves – all things that make me happy. My children are going to have a lot of memories of me at my mental and physical best wearing this NASA G-Shock, not the aforementioned Rolexes. The 40-years commemorated on the 2021 Nasa G-Shock 5600 is so direct that it symbolizes at 40th birthday more than any Rolex, or traditional birth year watch ever could. I can’t thank my Mom enough for helping me recognize the threat of an unhealthy future and redirecting me to a life-long positive lifestyle. Goodbye, misguided birth year watch archetypes. I’ve moved on from the birth year concept, but I’m no fool – I’m still keeping the Rolexes. You know, for the kids.