Finding the perfect “beater”

So often one hears use of the word “beater” within watch collecting groups. For me, it has been a difficult category to negotiate.

When I first heard the term “beater”, I wasn’t sure what to make of it. An old friend of mine from Munich described his vintage Tudor Submariner as the perfect “beater”. I asked him what he meant and he said that the watch was totally reliable, interesting to look at yet not expensive enough to worry about so that it could worn for most occasions. I have seen many different interpretations of the “beater” since then, but actually I think my Munich friend pretty much nailed it. Basically, he coined the three rules of “beater.”

  • Reliable
  • Cheap enough not to worry about
  • Interesting to look at

Over time, I have had many different types of watches that I called my “beater.” Most of the time, I paid attention to the reliability of the watch alongside its relative value. I wanted something that I could rely upon but that wasn’t that expensive. A number of JLC, Omega and Tudor have, at times, filled this gap. Yet, nothing ever stuck. The reason being is that I did not pay enough attention to the third rule….a beater needs to be very interesting. There needs to be a twist to a good beater.

Ignoring this third rule has been a big mistake for me. It is also the reason that I have had so many “beaters” over the years. In terms of wrist-hours, my “beater” will tend to get more hours on my wrist than most of my watches. It is, therefore, not just important that the watch is interesting, it is absolutely essential.

Which brings me around to Patek Philippe. When I bought my Ref. 5712A, I saw it as a “beater” albeit an expensive one. It was interesting to look at and was reliable. It had something about it. But now, with the price of these steel Nautilus having gone to the moon, can I really view a £50,000 watch as a “beater”? I find that I just cannot.

I enjoy wearing this watch very much, but at this price level its just not a “beater.”

So what works as the perfect beater?

Trying to get hold of a modern Rolex Submariner or GMT is close to impossible. Yet, for essentially the same price as a retail GMT one can find extremely interesting Rolex GMTs from the last 20 years or so that are built like tanks, reliable, cheap enough not to worry about and yet……have a vintage twist of rarity about them that makes them fascinating to own and wear. I have heard a lot of collectors argue that they no longer feel comfortable using their trusted steel Nautilus given what has happened to prices. In which case, there are some great alternatives. Looking within Rolex, there are plenty of 5-digit models that are ideal.

Here are three Rolex GMTs that I consider to be, essentially, perfect “beaters.

Rolex 16700 GMT Master – this is the last GMT Master reference made by Rolex. For an added twist of rarity, look for one with just “Swiss” on the dial.

Rolex 16710 GMT Master II – again, for an added twist of rarity look for a “Swiss” only dial or for even more of a twist go for a “Stick” dial.

Rolex 16760 GMT Master II – the so-called “Fat Lady”. Finding one of these with a full set of box and papers is getting harder and harder. But what a fantastic beater.

The above three represents some very nice GMT models. If one wanted to add some variety, then there are definitely a few 5-digit Submariners that are worth hunting down.

Rolex 16610LV – a first or second series flat 4 Kermit has now become very hard to find and prices have rocketed. Finding a nice Series 3 or later, however, represents a great “beater” target.

Rolex 14060 – I have to say that I find this reference one of the coolest. It has that DNA of a vintage watch but with the modern advances that make it very robust. Go for either the 2-line version or the 4-line version with the Long F. The latter is now very very hard to find.

Rolex 168000 – technically this is not a 5-digit Rolex but in reality it is. Very rare to find one now that has box and papers, but a superb tank of a watch.

Of course, some of the above have already seen some inflation but they still remain fantastic value. If one could get a Patek Philippe 5167A at list price, then that would have to come into play as a great “beater.” It is only narrow-midedness that sees Rolex as the only sports watch. The Aquanaut is a fantastic sports watch and should be seen as aideal watch to wear on a day-to-day basis. I have a lot of time for the 5164A and also the 5167A (shown below).

Ref. 5167A