Book Review: The Vintage Rolex Field Manual by Colin A. White

 In Watchmaking

Finding a vintage Rolex is easy. Finding one that’s worth its price… that’s the challenge.

Colin A. White

The Vintage Rolex Field Manual is more than twenty years of experience and tons of handbooks, brochures, old magazine articles, and auction catalogs all stuffed in one book.

There are two editions:

  1. The paperback edition is your basic field manual without fuss. You can throw it in your backpack when you’re visiting collector fairs, or you can take it with you to an auction.
    You can take notes in the margins, highlight or underline specific sections, keep track of where your favorites are with dog-ears or sticky notes, etc.
  2. The Chevalier edition that I’m reviewing here is hardbound, it’s slightly bigger, and it has more pictures and some extra background information.
    Even though it’s a hardcover, it’s not your typical coffee table book. It’s meant as a desk reference to use when you’re browsing vintage Rolex watches on the internet or to look something up quickly.
Vintage Rolex Field Manual Front

What I like

  • The amount of data and information is mindblowing.
  • The structure and layout of this book are very clear.
  • He doesn’t take himself or collecting (Rolex) watches too seriously.
  • This book focusses on references that any collector can add to their collection.

The amount of information in this book is overwhelming, in a good way. The book covers 1442 references and dozens of movements and bracelets.

It’s like a treasure trove of knowledge. I’m not familiar with any other works that cram so much info into a single book.

The structure of the book is very clear and orderly, so it’s easy to find what you’re looking for. The layout is similar to that of Moonwatch Only, for example.

The chapters are as follows:

  • Preface
  • Introduction
  • Authentic, original & correct
  • Acquisition
  • By the numbers
  • Condition
  • Antique & pocket watches
  • Professional tools
  • Classics & crossovers
  • Formal dress
  • Bracelets
  • Movements & calibers
  • Accessories
  • Epigraph

Colin is a dedicated collector and Rolex enthusiast, but he understands that it’s still a hobby. He writes in a lighthearted way with a lot of humor and self-mockery, which makes for an entertaining and refreshing read.

Symptoms (of watch madness) include compulsive obsessiveness and disconnection from reality, while acute symptoms include bankruptcy and divorce. If, after learning this, you’re still interested in acquiring a vintage Rolex watch, this guide will serve as a Rosetta Stone – a universal translator for the coded language and numbers of this strange obsession. With this book, you’ll be able to acquire the watch of your dreams while hopefully avoiding the symptoms of acute watch fixation.

Colin A. White

Finally, instead of focusing on ultra-rare grail watches, the Vintage Rolex Field Manual concentrates on references that the average collector can afford.

In fact, there’s some info about the Red Submariner Ref. 1680, but Colin advises not to buy this watch if you’re new to collecting. You should assume that a Red Submariner isn’t real until an expert has had the chance to inspect it in person. As far as I’m concerned, that’s not a lack of knowledge, that’s just smart and honest advice.

Instead, go for a Datejust or an Oyster Precision. The latter is usually ignored, but in this book you’ll find two pages worth of info and a handy chart.

What I don’t like

  • I’d have preferred a different kind of paper.

There’s hardly anything that I don’t like, but to nitpick, the paper isn’t what I had expected.

The Chevalier Edition is a hardcover reference book, but it’s printed on paperback type paper. A glossy, thicker quality paper would’ve been more suitable for this edition.

Case study

So, you can use this book to identify and check vintage Rolex watches before you pull the trigger.

Let’s test it on a Rolex 16710 “Coke” GMT-Master II that’s available on Menta Watches.

Rolex 16710 “Coke” GMT-Master II

The 16710 is the successor of the 16760, also known as the “Fat Lady” because of the curvy bigger case and wider bezel. They’re very similar, but the 16710 is powered by a cal. 3185, while a 16760 uses the cal. 3085. The cal. 3185 is thinner, so the 16710 has a slimmer case, which was welcomed by collectors and enthusiasts at the time.

This is an intriguing reference to investigate because, over the years, it’s had different dials, bezels, lume materials, movements, bracelets, and end links. Later models have a solid case without the drilled lug holes (from 2007) and feature the laser-etched crown on the crystal at the six o’clock position (from 2003).

So, it’s essential to see if everything matches before you click that buy button.

Rolex 16710 Coke Front
Rolex 16710 “Coke” GMT-Master II. Photo credit: Menta Watches

Description on the website

The description contains the following info:

  • Reference 16710
  • Stainless steel case
  • Red and black “Coke” bezel insert
  • Cal. 3185
  • From circa 1997
  • Tritium dial
  • 78790 Oyster bracelet with 501B end links
Rolex 16710 Coke Back
Rolex 16710 “Coke” GMT-Master II with the cal. 3185. Photo credit: Menta Watches

Cross-reference with the book

On page 150 of the Vintage Rolex Field Manual, you can find the following info:

Ref 16710 the Vintage Rolex Field Manual

With regard to the bracelet and end links, you can find the following info on page 212 and 213:

CaseBraceletEnd linkDescription
1671078360501, 501BSolid Oyster (20 mm)
1671078790ASELSolid Oyster (20 mm)
1671062510H502B(T)Solid Oyster (20 mm)

So, what does this tell you?

  • The 16710 has a stainless steel case. A two-tone case would be a 16713, and a solid gold case would be a 16718.
  • It was available with three bezel options. Black (Lunette Noir), Pepsi (Bleu Rouge), and the red and black Coke bezel that this particular watch comes with (Lunette Noire Rouge).
  • Until around 1997, these models were fitted with a tritium dial. You can see the T<25 marking at the bottom of the dial.
  • Until 2007, the 16710 had a 3185 movement. Around the Z & M serial range of 2007, it was replaced by the 3186 movement.
  • It pairs the 78790A bracelet with the solid end links. However, these were introduced in 2000. I’m sure that before 2000, the 78790A with 501B end links was also a legit combo.

Conclusion

If you keep in mind that this watch is from around 1997, everything checks out. It appears to be one of the last specimens with a tritium dial.

Do I recommend the book?

Absolutely! It’s a must-read for fans of vintage Rolex watches and vintage watches in general. It’s fascinating, but it’s also immediately useful, and it can save you a lot of money and headaches.

This book will also make you appreciate Rolex for its legacy and for what it has done for the watchmaking world in general. So, even if you’re not interested in buying a vintage Rolex watch (for now), it’s still an entertaining read.


Click here to buy your copy.

If you’d like to get in contact with the writer, you can find him on Instagram or you can send him an email at morningtundra@gmail.com

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    Martin Lee
    Reply

    This sounds like a must have book for anyone looking for a used Rolex,
    My budget would stretch to the book- but unfortunatley not a genuine Rolex watch.

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