Rolex Developments, Introductions, and Innovations in the 1960s
Following the flurry of new models launched in the 1950s, Rolex focused primarily on introducing new references within those watch collections in the following decade. However, there were two very important new Rolex models that made their debut in the 1960s as well. Join us as we journey back in time to discover the Rolex models and key Rolex references introduced in the 1960s.
New Rolex Models Introduced in the 1960s
While Rolex released only two brand new watch models in the 1960s, they have become a duo of icons for the Crown. One is a chronograph built with the spirit of motorsports in mind and the other is a serious dive watch made for professionals.
Rolex Launched The Cosmograph Daytona in 1963
Although Rolex had been making chronograph watches since the late 1930s, it wasn’t until 1963 that the now-famous Cosmograph arrived on the scene. The manually wound Rolex Cosmograph was developed to serve the adrenaline-fueled world of car racing with its stopwatch function to record elapsed time and tachymeter scale bezel to measure speeds and distances.
The first reference announced was the Cosmograph ref. 6239; a stainless steel (yellow gold versions were also available) watch with a duo of chronograph pump pushers on the right-hand side of the case and a trio of registers on the dial. Shortly after, the name Daytona joined Cosmograph on the dial in honor of the new Daytona International Speedway in Florida—regarded by many as the world capital of speed. Today, Rolex’s flagship chronographs are simply known as the Daytona.
Rolex Launched The Sea-Dweller in 1967
Throughout the fifties and sixties, the Rolex Submariner dive watch was enjoying great success with both amateur and professional scuba divers around the world. However, saturation divers have their own very specific requirements. The deeper a diver goes underwater, the more time it takes to decompress (slowly release the built up gasses in your body after breathing pressurized air) properly before it is safe to come up to surface. Therefore, divers who have to dive very deep for long periods of time typically live in pressurized environments until the underwater job is complete. These saturation chambers permit sat divers to breathe a special mix of helium and oxygen to avoid decompression sickness. When saturation divers would wear Submariner watches, they noticed that the crystals would pop off during decompression periods. This was because helium would build up in the watches from the pressurized environment and the gas would push its way out from the pressure change, thus ejecting the crystal.
So Rolex set out to solve this problem and did so with the invention of the Helium Escape Valve (HEV), which as its name implies, allows the slow, steady, and automatic expulsion of helium from the watch to avoid any damage caused by changing pressure. Rolex but the HEV in a dive watch and in 1967, the stainless steel Sea-Dweller ref. 1665 water resistant to 610 meters (2,000 feet) was born.
New Metal Options Introduced in the 1960s
The most notable metal option that came out in the 1960s from Rolex was in the GMT-Master pilot watch collection.
Rolex Introduced Two-Tone GMT-Master Models in the 1960s
In the late 1950s, Rolex released the second-generation GMT-Master model. There was the steel GMT-Master ref. 1675 and the yellow gold GMT-Master 1675/8. And in the late 1960s, a two-tone edition joined the fleet.
The two-tone GMT-Master ref. 1675/3 combines stainless steel and yellow gold (also known as Rolesor) on one watch. It was available with either a brown dial and brown bezel (aka Root Beer bezel) or a black dial and black bezel.
New Rolex References Introduced in the 1960s
Rolex kept busy in the 1960s adding a slew of new references to existing watch collections. Some of these new references had updated movements, others had modified designs, and many had both.
New Rolex Day-Date Reference Launched in the 1960s
The beginning of the 1960s saw the introduction of a new generation of the Day-Date “President” watch with 180x reference numbers. As is tradition, Rolex made yellow gold, white gold, rose gold, and platinum versions of this particular Day-Date reference family.
Additionally, there were several different types of bezels styles offered on top of the 36 mm Day-Date cases. There was the Day-Date ref. 1803 with a fluted bezel, the Day-Date ref. 1802 with a smooth bezel, the Day-Date ref. 1804 with a diamond-set bezel, the Day-Date ref. 1806 with a Morellis finished bezel, and the Day-Date ref. 1807 with a bark-style bezel.
Another notable design feature of the Day-Date 180x generation was the availability of the so-called “Stella” dials, which were brightly colored lacquered dials.
New Rolex Datejust References Launched in the 1960s
The early 1960s also saw the release of a new crop of Datejust references—the Datejust 160x references. These then-new Datejust watches retained the characteristic 36 mm case size but included new movements. Early Datejust 160x watches ran on Caliber 1565 automatic movements followed by the higher-beat Caliber 1575 automatic movements.
These Rolex Datejust references were available in either stainless steel or two-tone steel and gold and there were a few bezel choices as well: Datejust ref. 1600 with a smooth bezel, Datejust ref. 1601 with a fluted bezel, Datejust ref. 1603 with an engine-turned bezel, and Datejust “Thunderbird” ref. 1625 with a rotating Turn-O-Graph bezel.
In the mid-1960s, Rolex introduced new smaller-sized time and date movements in the form of the Caliber 1165 and 1166. As a result, Rolex released new 26mm Lady-Datejust models and 31mm midsize Datejust models. However, Rolex did retain the same reference numbers as the previous generation despite the new calibers: the Lady-Datejust ref. 65xx and the midsize Datejust/Date ref. 66xx. The Lady-Datejust ref. 6517 with fluted bezels and the Lady-Datejust ref. 6516 with smooth bezels were made available in a range of materials such as stainless steel, yellow gold, white gold, pink gold, and two-tone steel and gold. Similarly, Rolex made the midsize ref. 6627 with fluted bezels and the midsize ref. 6624 with smooth bezels in an assortment of metals from stainless steel to gold to two-tone steel and gold, and these references can either include “Datejust” or “Date” on the dial.
New Rolex Oyster Perpetual References Launched in the 1960s
In the 1960s, Rolex ushered in a new time-only movement specifically for ladies and midsize watches dubbed Caliber 1160. As such, a new crop of 24mm ladies’ Oyster Perpetual and 31mm midsize Oyster Perpetual references made their debut to house the new movement with the reference numbers 66xx and 65xx, respectively.
These then-new Oyster Perpetual references were available in stainless steel, yellow gold, and two-tone steel and gold. The ladies’ Oyster Perpetual ref. 6618 included smooth bezels, the ladies’ Oyster Perpetual ref. 6619 featured fluted bezels, and the ladies’ Oyster Perpetual ref. 6623 had engine-turned bezels. The midsize Oyster Perpetual ref. 6548 had smooth bezels, the midsize Oyster Perpetual ref. 6551 had fluted bezels, and the midsize Oyster Perpetual ref. 6549 had engine-turned bezels.
New Rolex Explorer Reference Launched in the 1960s
Along with the new dress watch references, Rolex also launched some new watches in the Professional range in the 1960s. For instance, in the early part of the decade, Rolex unveiled the new Explorer ref. 1016 with the freshly minted Caliber 1560 inside its 36 mm stainless steel case and an improved water resistance rating of 100 meters.
The dials of the Explorer ref. 1016 retained the characteristic Mercedes-style hands and 3/6/9 Arabic numerals. However, sometime in 1963, the black gilt dials with radium luminous material of the Explorer ref. 1016 changed to matte black dials with tritium luminescence.
New Rolex Milgauss Reference Launched in the 1960s
When Rolex presented the new Milgauss ref. 1019 in the 1960s, the new reference looked quite different from its predecessors from the 1950s. While the steel case remained at 38 mm, gone was the black rotating bezel on top of it in favor of a smooth steel bezel. What’s more, Rolex also dropped the quirky lightning bolt seconds hand from the Milgauss ref. 1019 and opted for a straight seconds hand with a small red arrow tip instead.
Of course to live up to its name, the antimagnetic Milgauss ref. 1019 was still resistant to 1,000 gauss thanks to the iron shield protecting Caliber 1580 inside the watch.
New Rolex Cosmograph Daytona References Launched in the 1960s
Following the introduction of the new Cosmograph Daytona ref. 6239 model in 1963, Rolex fleshed out the collection by presenting a whole host of new Daytona references starting in the mid-1960s.
The Daytona ref. 6241 was identical to the maiden Daytona ref. 6239 except for the addition of a black acrylic bezel instead of a metal one. Rolex made steel versions and yellow gold versions of the Daytona ref. 6239.
Then there was the steel Daytona ref. 6240, which was, in fact, a prototype that included screw-down chronograph pushers for the first time to ensure the water resistance that the Rolex Oyster cases were famous for.
Following that were the Daytona ref. 6262 (metal bezel) and the Daytona ref. 6264 (black acrylic bezel) models launched towards the end of the 1960s. These two references (available in steel or yellow gold) went back to the pump (non-screw down) pushers but ran on the higher-beat Valjoux 727 manual movement instead of the preceding Valjoux 722 caliber.
It is worth mentioning that Rolex produced a special dial option for all the above Daytona references called “exotic dials.” These later became known as “Paul Newman” dials, named after the famous actor that wore one. Today, vintage Daytona “Paul Newman” models are the most sought after vintage Rolex watches in the market, complete with ultra-expensive price tags.
New Rolex Submariner References Launched in the 1960s
In 1962, Rolex presented the new Submariner ref. 5513 as a non-chronometer certified alternative to the Submariner ref. 5512 watches that were already in the market since 1958. (Side note: there were some early Sub ref. 5512 watches that were not COSC-certified but that changed after the introduction of the Submariner ref. 5513.)
Since the Submariner ref. 5513 was not COSC-certified, its dial is sparse due to the lack of the “superlative chronometer officially certified” label. Other details, such as the steel 40 mm case with crown guards, the steel Oyster bracelet, the rotating bezel, and the water resistance to 200m, were identical across the 5512 and the 5513.
A very important new Sub reference came about in the latter part of the 1960s with the introduction of the stainless steel Submariner Date ref. 1680. This was the first Submariner that came equipped with a date window at 3 o’clock and the accompanying Cyclops magnification lens on the crystal above it. Rolex soon followed it up with the yellow gold Submariner Date ref. 1680/8—marking the first time a yellow gold model appeared in the Submariner collection.
By presenting a Submariner Date model—particularly in gold—Rolex essentially shifted the tides of the Submariner from a purely utilitarian dive watch to a luxury sports watch. Today, there are plenty of Submariner Date models in a range of materials in Rolex’s current catalog compared to one steel no-date Submariner reference.
We’ve come to the end of our journey across 1960’s Rolex, but stay tuned for our next voyage into the major changes Rolex introduced in the 1970s.
Featured Photo Credit: BeckerTime’s Archive.