Rolex Developments, Introductions, and Innovations in the 1970s
Following the developments in the prior two decades, the 1970s saw plenty of experimentation and innovation from Rolex with a handful of new calibers making their debut. These new movements paved the way for fresh Rolex models and reference families. Jump aboard our Wayback Machine to examine what Rolex models and notable Rolex references joined the company catalog in the 1970s.
New Rolex Models Introduced in the 1970s
The watch world was all about the new quartz technology in the 1970s and Rolex was no different. Along with new quartz models, Rolex also introduced a brand new mechanical tool watch in the 1970s.
Rolex Launched the Quartz 5100 in 1970
In the 1960s, a consortium of high-end Swiss watch brands including Rolex, Patek Philipe, Omega, and many others joined forces to create a Swiss quartz movement that could power their watches. The result of the group’s efforts was Beta 21 quartz caliber and Rolex launched the Rolex Quartz ref. 5100 in 1970 to house it.
The Beta 21 was a large movement, therefore the Rolex 5100 had to include a large case to accommodate it. The Rolex ref. 5100 features a big and chunky 40 mm case, fluted bezel, and integrated bracelet—and because of its bold style, it quickly picked up the nickname “The Texan.” It also includes a date window at 3 o’clock, along with the ubiquitous Cyclops magnification lens on the crystal.
Rolex only produced the ref. 5100 for two years in very limited quantities—some estimate as low as 1,000 units were ever made.
Rolex Launched The Explorer II in 1971
In 1971, Rolex added a new tool watch to its lineup called the Explorer II. Although it shares its name with the 1950’s Explorer, the Explorer II is an entirely different Rolex watch model.
As with all Rolex Professional watches, the Explorer II was built with a specific audience in mind and this time, the brand looked to serve the caving community, also known as spelunkers. This meant developing a watch that could not only aid the wearer to differentiate between daytime and nighttime even whilst in the midst of dark caves but also one that could withstand harsh environments.
As such, the Explorer II ref. 1655 sported a 39 mm stainless steel case, a fixed 24-hour bezel, and a steel Oyster bracelet. The black dial of the Explorer II 1655 included plenty of lume for legibility in the dark and a large arrow-tipped 24-hour hand in orange that functioned as an A.M./P.M. indicator.
Rolex Launched the Oysterquartz in 1977
When Rolex abandoned the quartz consortium in 1972, the brand sought to create its own in-house quartz calibers. Five years later, Rolex introduced two new quartz models called the Oysterquartz Day-Date and the Oysterquartz Datejust powered by the in-house Caliber 5055 and Caliber 5035, respectively.
As their name implies, these watches were essentially the quartz equivalents of Rolex’s signature Day-Date and Datejust dress watches. Style-wise, the Oysterquartz watches included angular cases and integrated bracelets akin the Rolex 5100. However, their smaller 36 mm cases were much slimmer and the overall execution of the watches was much more elegant.
Similar to their mechanical counterparts, Rolex only made the Oysterquartz Day-Date models in precious metals—white gold (ref. 19019) or yellow gold (ref. 19018)—and fitted them with President style bracelets, although integrated into the case. There were also some ultra-luxurious versions paved with diamonds and pyramids. Dials, of course, included the signature duo of calendars to indicate the day and the date.
Likewise, the Oysterquartz Datejust watches were identical in function to their automatic versions, and Rolex made them available in full steel (ref. 17000), steel with a white gold bezel (ref. 17014), and two-tone steel and gold (ref. 17013). The full steel Oysterquartz Datejust came with an Oyster style integrated bracelet while the other two versions had Jubilee style integrated bracelets.
New Rolex References Introduced in the 1970s
With the introduction of new calibers in the 1970s, Rolex released a whole host of new references to their dress watch lineup during the decade. Plus, Rolex also released some new models to key sports watch collections.
New Rolex Date Reference Launched in the 1970s
As we mentioned above, there was a five-year period between the discontinuation of the Rolex Quartz ref. 5100 and the release of the Oysterquartz watches while the company worked on perfecting the in-house calibers. However, during this time, Rolex already had some cases and bracelets ready to be fitted with the new quartz movements.
So rather than letting them sit and gather dust, Rolex took the distinct angular 36 mm Oyster case and integrated steel Oyster bracelet (of what would eventually become the Oysterquartz Datejust) and fitted them with the automatic Cal. 1570 to give us the Date 1530. Rolex only manufactured the Date 1530 for a few years until the debut of the Oysterquartz.
New Rolex Day-Date Reference Launched in the 1970s
In 1977, Rolex unveiled a new automatic movement for the Day-Date collection. The movement was the Caliber 3055 and the new Day-Date watches carried the 180xx reference numbers. In addition to operating at a higher frequency (28,800 beats per hour) Cal. 3035 also offered the quickset date function—meaning that the date window in the Day-Date watches could be set independently from the hour and minute hands.
Accordingly, this particular 180xx generation of Rolex President watches is sometimes referred to as the “Single Quickset Day-Date.” Design remained the same with 36 mm Oyster cases, two calendar windows on the dials, and President bracelets.
In terms of material choices, there are the yellow gold Day-Date ref. 18038 with a fluted bezel, the yellow gold Day-Date ref. 18078 with a bark-style bezel, and the white gold Day-Date ref. 18039 with a fluted bezel. There’s also an intriguing Tridor version of Rolex President, which includes a white gold case with a yellow gold bezel and white gold President bracelet with center links that bring together three shades of gold.
New Rolex Datejust References Launched in the 1970s
Along with the new time/day/date caliber, Rolex also introduced the new time/date Caliber 3035 automatic movement, complete with the quickset date function. Subsequently, a new generation of Datejust watches arrived with the 160xx reference numbers.
As always, these then-new Datejust watches sported 36 mm Oyster cases, a Cyclops magnification lens on the crystals above the date window on the dial, and a choice of Oyster or Jubilee bracelets. Style and material options included the steel Datejust ref. 16000 (smooth steel bezel), ref. 16014 (white gold fluted bezel), ref. 16030 (engine-turned steel bezel), along with the two-tone Datejust ref. 16003 (smooth yellow gold bezel) and ref. 16013 (fluted yellow gold bezel).
Not to be forgotten are the Datejust “Thunderbird” ref. 1625x models of the era (steel Datejust ref. 16250 and two-tone Datejust ref. 16253), complete with the rotating Turn-O-Graph bezels.
New Rolex Cosmograph Daytona References Launched in the 1970s
The 1970s also welcomed two new Daytona models: the Daytona ref. 6263 with a metal bezel and the Daytona ref. 6265 with a black acrylic bezel insert.
These Daytona watches feature screw-down chronograph pushers on their 38 mm cases (something we already saw on the prototype ref. 6240) making them true Oyster cases with amped up water resistance. Similar to previous Daytona references, Rolex made the 6263 and the 6265 available in steel or yellow gold and always fitted them with Oyster bracelets. This generation of Rolex Daytona chronographs continued to be manual-wound, powered by the Valjoux-based Caliber 727 movement.
New Rolex Submariner References Launched in the 1970s
There were two new Submariner references that Rolex launched in the 1970s. The first, the Submariner ref. 5514, was in fact, not a model for public consumption, but a batch of special-ordered Submariners for the French diving company, Compagnie Maritime d’Expertises.
Built for saturation diving, the Submariner ref. 5514 “COMEX” models are fitted with Helium Escape Valves (identical to the Sea-Dweller) to prevent the crystals from popping off during decompression periods. The dials of the Submariner 5514 include the COMEX logo and were produced in extremely small quantities from 1972 until 1978.
The other new reference that joined the collection was the Submariner Date ref. 16800, which was indeed offered to the general public and is regarded as a transitional model. Exclusively available in stainless steel, the Submariner ref. 16800 was the first Rolex Sub to include a sapphire crystal (instead of acrylic) on its 40 mm Oyster case, the first Sub to house the newly developed Caliber 3035, and the first Sub to boast a water resistance rating of 300 meters. In addition to the steel Submariner Date 16800 with the black dial and bezel, there’s also the yellow gold Submariner Date ref. 16808 with a choice of a black dial and bezel colorway or a blue dial and bezel combo.
Production of the Submariner Date 168xx generation continued until 1988.
New Rolex Sea-Dweller Reference Launched in the 1970s
In 1978, Rolex released the new Sea-Dweller ref. 16660, also known by its “Triple Six” nickname. Rolex officially named this model the Sea-Dweller 4000 to emphasize its impressive water depth rating of 4,000 feet (1,220 meters)—double that of the preceding Sea-Dweller ref. 1665.
Also a transitional model like the Submariner Date we outlined above, the Sea-Dweller ref. 16660 was the first Sea-Dweller to have a sapphire crystal, a unidirectional bezel (rather than a bi-directional on top of its 40 mm case, and the Caliber 3035 inside the watch. The Sea-Dweller 4000 “Triple Six” was in production for around ten years.
That concludes our look back at 1970’s Rolex. Stay tuned for the next chapter where we will be delving into new Rolex models, material options, and references introduced in the 1980s.