Rolex is the most collected watch in the world, and because the brand has produced so many timepieces for so long, the number of options and the subtle nuances within collections adds up to a vast universe of pre-owned models to choose from. When you consider that distinctions exist for every model, some of which have been around since the 1940s, and that Rolex produces nearly a million watches a year, you get an idea of how complex it can be to collect Rolex timepieces.
Essentially, the world of Rolex consists of a tight collection of very well-made models that have been around since the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s — Oyster Perpetual, Day-Date, Datejust, Daytona, Submariner, and Explorer — as well as newer models — Yachtmaster, Sea-Dweller, GMT-Master II, Sky-Dweller, and Explorer, for example. Within these collections, Rolex makes cases out of gold, steel, platinum, or two-tone, and offers five types of bracelets and a handful of bezel and dial variations, some with the iconic Rolex cyclops date window. Because of Rolex quality standards, considered the highest in the world of mass-produced watches, most pre-owned Rolexes are still in good condition. Any one that strikes your fancy is a good investment.
The first rule in collecting Rolex is to learn some of the lingo. Here are a few terms, all of them coined by Rolex collectors, that will help you spot some of the special pieces. Note: These are not official Rolex terms. Those come later.
A Rolex Daytona Ref. 6239 yellow gold chronograph made circa 1970, sold at a recent Sotheby's auction for $456,000.
A Rolex Cosmograph Daytona Ref 6239 owned by legendary actor Paul Newman sold at a Phillips auction in 2017 for $17.7 million, a record prciced for any wristwatch ever sold at auction.
DOUBLE SWISS UNDERLINE: An early Daytona from 1963 with two Swiss designations, one barely peeking up above the bezel, and the other just above it at 6 o’clock. The underline refers to a line under the signature to signify the use of tritium rather than radium to illuminate the indexes.
SOLO DAYTONA: A post-1965 Daytona with only the “Daytona” signature under the Rolex logo, with no “Oyster” or “Cosmograph” text. SIGMA DIAL: An early Daytona with Sigma marks flanking the “T Swiss T” text at 6 o’clock on the dial, designating the use of gold for the hour markers. The T indicates the use of tritium on the dial.
JOHN PLAYER SPECIAL: A rare “Paul Newman” Daytona, so-named for the John Player & Sons sponsorship of the Lotus Formula One team in car racing. It is identifiable by the black and gold coloring to match John Player corporate colors.
STELLINE DIAL: A variation of the Rolex 6062 with faceted gold stars to mark the indexes on the dial.
PANDA DIAL: So-called because of the arrangement of two black subdials at 3 o’clock and 9 o’clock and another at 6 o’clock over a white dial, resembling the face of a panda, with black eyes and nose over a white fur face.
REVERSE PANDA: As above, except that the subdials are white and the dial is black.
THE HULK: A Rolex Submariner with green dial and green Cerachrom bezel, introduced in 2010.
THE PEPSI: A bezel that is half red and half blue, named for the colors of the Pepsi logo. Present on the current GMT-Master II.
THE COKE: A bezel that is half red and half black, reminiscent of the Coke logo.
THE BRUISER: A bezel that is half black and half blue.
BOMBAY LUG: A stylized bracelet attachment found on some 1940s Oyster cases.
BUBBLEBACK: Named for the convex shape of the caseback, produced from the 1930s to the 1950s.
The Coke & The Pepsi
DOUBLE RED: Between 1971 and 1977, Rolex printed Sea-Dweller and Submariner 2000 in red on two lines on the dial of the Oyster Perpetual Sea-Dweller. Today, only Sea-Dweller is printed in red.
OFFICIAL ROLEX TERMS:
The caseback of Paul Newman's Rolex Daytona is engraved "Drive Carefully Me." It was a gift from his wife, Joanne Woodward.
OYSTERSTEEL: This is 904L grade steel, a superalloy used in the aerospace and chemical industries, and that means it has the corrosion resistance and high polish of precious metals. It also has a high sheen, so it looks good for a long time.
EVEROSE GOLD 18K: By adding copper and silver to gold in a proprietary formula, Rolex achieves its uniquely warm rose gold. Rolex also uses its own formulas of 18k yellow and 18k white gold.
CERACHROM: Rolex’s proprietary ceramic is made inhouse. It is scratch-proof, impervious to UV rays (it doesn’t fade), and is now the high standard for bezel inserts on Rolex’s sport watches.
CHROMALIGHT: Rolex’s luminescent material, which is blue by night, bright white by day, providing high visibility in dark environments.
JUBILEE BRACELET: The supple five-piece links on dressy watches and some sport watches, such as the GMT-Master II. It was originally designed for the Datejust in 1945.
OYSTER BRACELET: The larger, flat three-piece links make for a simpler, sportier look.
PRESIDENT BRACELET: The President uses semicircular three-piece links, originally created in 1956 for the Day-Date. It is always gold or platinum.
PEARLMASTER BRACELET: The refined fivepiece links make the Pearlmaster Rolex’s most elegant bracelet, with a crownlock clasp only.
OYSTERFLEX RUBBER BRACELET: Made of a very soft, flexible elastomer with an internal cushion system that makes it extremely well fitting and comfortable. The rubber is fitted over metal blades made of a titanium and nickel alloy, so you get the strength of metal and the comfort of rubber.
FLUTED PRECIOUS METAL BEZELS: Iconic and hard to miss, today’s fluted bezels are one of the great signature elements of Rolex timepieces.
ENGRAVED FIXED BEZELS: Found on the Explorer II and the Daytona Cosmograph, demarcations are engraved into either Oystersteel, a precious metal, or Ceracrom.
ROTATING BEZELS WITH INSERTS: Used for Professional watches, and scratch-proof Ceracrom inserts are the norm.
ROTATING PRECIOUS METAL BEZELS: Exclusive to the Yachtmasters, these are sporty, deeply engraved bezels.