Two-Tone Rolex Watches
Of all Rolex’s signature looks, it is possibly their two-tone offerings that are so archetypal of the brand. Like many of the things that today we take for granted in the world of horology, it was Rolex themselves who first came up with the concept, patenting the process in 1933 and coining it Rolesor.
Rolling out hesitantly at first, the original prototypes were given bezels, crowns and bracelet center links in yellow gold, with the case and outer links in stainless steel. But it wasn’t until a few years into the Datejust’s run at the end of the 1940s that Rolesor found its first spiritual home, and there has been a bi-color example of Rolex’s longest serving model in the catalog ever since.
As an aesthetic it has been subject to the whims of fashion over the generations, with perhaps its biggest heyday coming in the heady 80s, a time when every Wall Street yuppie seemed to brandish a Rolesor watch, Patrick Bateman style, leading to an unwelcome reputation it has taken a long time to shake off.
But shake it off it has, and as is so often the case, two-tone has made a real comeback in recent years, as evidenced by the brand’s contemporary releases. Here, Rolesor is very much front and center, not just with yellow gold but also combined with their proprietary pink gold, Everose, for a warmer, more modern look.
It is a visual that lends itself well to many of the pieces in Rolex’s canon, both new and vintage, and below we will look at some of the most effective examples.
The Rolex Datejust
It seems only right to start with the model that set Rolesor on its way, the one with the lengthiest unbroken production run of them all.
The Datejust launched in 1945 to celebrate Rolex’s 40thanniversary, and broke new ground as the first waterproof self-winding watch ever made with a date display.
A radical trailblazer at the time, today it is seen as the venerable elder statesman, yet still remains one of the all-time bestsellers in the current lineup.
In its two-tone livery, especially with yellow gold adding the color, there is no more recognizable symbol of the crown. Whether fitted with the elegantly workmanlike Oyster bracelet or the intricate five-link Jubilee created especially for it, a Rolesor Datejust simply screams Rolex.
As you would expect of a watch with such a comprehensive history, the options list is formidable. In fact, there is no other model with a larger range of possible combinations of metal, dial color, size or bezel design in any collection.
There is currently a two-tone example in four of the watch’s five versions—the recently released 41mm, the classic 36mm, and the 31mm and 28mm, both aimed at a female audience. The single outlier not given the treatment is the mid-size 34mm, known as the Date. Take a delve into the archives and you will also find a minute 26mm, only newly discontinued.
In 2011, Rolex shook up their bi-color designs by replacing the traditional yellow gold with their own copyrighted brand of 18k rose gold, known as Everose, and dubbing the result pink Rolesor. Debuting on the Yacht-Master II, it was quickly adopted by the Datejust and offered a softer take on the age-old convention.
It is a pairing very much en vogue at the moment, with rose gold coming back into fashion in a big way in recent years. And if nothing else, it proves that a watch which has been with us for more than 70 years with only the most superficial outward alterations can still offer something fresh and relevant.
The Datejust is the model that really put Rolex on the path to where it is today. It has been an unqualified success story since the beginning and its Rolesor variants will always be the essence of the company.
The Rolex GMT-Master
Last year’s Baselworld was all about GMT watches, as both Rolex and sister group Tudor each unveiled long-awaited steel Pepsi editions, with their quintessential red and blue bezels.
However, they didn’t have the headlines all to themselves, and two more versions of Rolex’s celebrated dual time zone classic joined the party at the same time.
The first, an all Everose piece, upped the luxury quotient to the nth degree. But it was the pink Rolesor model, the ref.126711CHNR, that brought with it the waves of nostalgia. It marked the return of one of those nicknames which has been lost from the series for far too long—the Root Beer. It is a moniker first used in the 1960s for those two-tone examples of the original GMT-Master with a gold and brown bezel, alternatively called the Tiger Eye or the Clint Eastwood, after the movie legend was spotted wearing one in several of his starring roles.
The 2018 model has its surround in black and brown, and the yellow gold elements have been replaced with red gold, but otherwise there is no mistaking what Rolex were aiming at, and it has paid off in spades.
Yet, the first of the Root Beers wasn’t the only time the GMT-Master had been given a Rolesor construction. Around the same time, the long-running ref. 1675 appeared in another bi-color getup, with a stainless steel case and 14k yellow gold on the crown, bracelet and encircling the all-black bezel. Classified as the ref. 1675/3, there is an almost identical equivalent in the current range.
Of all of Rolex’s professional tool watches, only the Submariner outdoes the GMT-Master in popularity, and not by much. It has been a mainstay for the manufacture since its launch in 1954, and was created in response to a completely new type of problem.
As international airline Pan Am started flying long-haul for the first time, their pilots began suffering from an unexpected condition; jetlag. Research found that having an easy way of keeping track of two time zones at once offset at least some of the effects, so Rolex was commissioned to come up with a solution. The GMT-Master, with its additional hour hand and two-color rotatable bezel was the ingenious result.
It may be a long time since it has been used for its intended purpose, but it still stands as one of the most recognizable timepieces ever built, in whatever guise it is offered, and is the number one choice in luxury travel watches.
The Rolex Oysterquartz Datejust
Its title might be similar to the first entry on our list, but a quartz powered Datejust is a very different beast from the mechanical.
That is no accident. The invention of quartz technology marked the darkest days the Swiss watch industry has ever had to endure, wiping out around two thirds of traditional manufacturers practically overnight.
Rolex resisted for as long as they could, but even they were forced to succumb in the end, initially collaborating on an ensemble movement, the Beta-21, with more than a dozen other firms before branching out on their own.
What they came up with in 1977, in typical Rolex fashion, were a pair of quartz calibers that still stand as some of the most accurate and over engineered examples ever made.
One, the Cal. 5055, ran the Oysterquartz Day-Date, only ever available in pure gold like its Perpetual namesake.
The other, the Cal. 5035, was used to drive the electronic Datejust, issued in three different types; all-steel (ref. 17000) and in both yellow and white Rolesor—the ref. 17013 and 17014.
However, such was Rolex’s disdain for this new way of powering watches, higher ups at Geneva stipulated the quartz models should bear as little resemblance to the originals as possible. So, whereas the time-honored DJ was characterized by its gracefully sweeping curves and elegant lugs, the Oysterquartz could easily be mistaken for that other emblem of the era, the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak, with its flat angular planes and clunky integrated bracelet.
Underlining just how much Rolex didn’t want to play in the world of batteries and crystals, their output of the Oysterquartz was bordering on the pitiful. In the quarter century or so before they were granted their retirement, only around 25,000 or so were made. By contrast, the manufacture turns out around one million mechanical pieces per year.
Of course, all that spells good news for collectors. A regular Datejust can be found anywhere, in huge numbers—the result of seven decades of continuous production. The quartz varieties are much more few and far between but strangely, considering their comparative rarity, remain some of the most attainable vintage Rolex watches you can buy. What’s more, with fashion trends being what they are, their unique brand of 70s charm is becoming increasingly sought after.
The yellow Rolesor pieces in particular have a lovely retro vibe, their crowns and thin fluted bezels forged in gold, along with the two central links in that unique bracelet.
Although they don’t have anything like the same number of options as the traditional Datejust, with only a handful of dial colors to choose from, they are still, by a long long way, the most precise timekeepers Rolex has ever produced. The second generation was tested by the COSC to keep within an average of 50 seconds a year.
If you were looking for a watch guaranteed to become a talking point, as well as a possible future investment performer, you could do a lot worse than considering an Oysterquartz.