Rolex Developments, Introductions, and Innovations in the 1990s
Following the flurry of new Rolex references introduced in the late-1980s, the brand did not present nearly as many in the following decade. However, there were still a few fresh references to take note of, in addition to a pair of entirely new models. It’s also worth noting that this is the decade that Rolex jumpstarted its strategy to aggressively acquire suppliers, eventually becoming the vertically integrated watchmaking behemoth we know today. Read on for details about the Rolex developments, introductions, and innovations in the 1990s.
New Rolex Models Introduced in the 1990s
Two brand new Rolex models—one sporty and one dressy—were added to the company’s catalog in the 1990s.
Rolex Launched the Yacht-Master in 1992
Rolex had the Yacht-Master name stashed in its back pocket for decades. The company even made three Yacht-Master prototypes in the 1960s (which look nothing like the final product)—one of which was once owned by music legend Eric Clapton.
Finally, in 1992, Rolex introduced the Yacht-Master model and with its debut, laid the foundation for what would become the brand’s nautical themed luxury sports watch collection. The Yacht-Master shared many traits with other Rolex sports watches of the time, such as a 40 mm Oyster case size, an Oyster bracelet, a rotating timing bezel, Mercedes-style hands, and a mix of round, rectangular, and triangular indexes.
Yet, to emphasize the luxuriousness of the new model, the first version was the Yacht-Master ref. 16628, in full 18k yellow gold. Rolex even made the Yacht-Master’s bezel in full gold with raised numerals rather than fitting it with an aluminum bezel insert typical of many of its other sports watch collections. It’s interesting to note that the indexes on the dial are not lume-filled but black hour markers accompanied by small luminous accents next to them. As a time and date model, the Yacht-Master 16628 runs on Caliber 3135—the pillar automatic movement Rolex released just a few years earlier.
In 1994, Rolex added two other sizes to the Yacht-Master collection: the midsize 35 mm Yacht-Master ref. 68628 and the ladies’ 29 mm Yacht-Master ref. 69628. Both editions were also crafted in 18k yellow gold. One year later in 1995, the two-tone steel and yellow gold 35 mm Yacht-Master ref. 68623 and the two-tone steel and yellow gold 29 mm Yacht-Master ref. 69623 joined the collection.
Right at the end of the decade, in 1999, Rolex unveiled the Yacht-Master models in Rolesium, which is the company’s term for combining stainless steel and platinum elements on one watch. There was the 40 mm Yacht-Master 16622, the 35 mm Yacht-Master 68622, and the 29 mm Yacht-Master 69622. Each version paired stainless steel cases and bracelets with sandblasted platinum bezels and dials.
Rolex Launched the Pearlmaster in 1992
Another completely new Rolex model introduced in the 1990s was the ladies’ Pearlmaster watch. Although the dials of these watches actually say “Datejust,” Rolex named them after the new Pearlmaster bracelets that accompanied them. The Pearlmaster bracelet features a five-piece link construction and is fashioned very much like a piece of fine jewelry.
Since Rolex positions this collection as the ultra-luxurious ladies’ jewelry watch lineup, all Pearlmaster watches are exclusively made in precious metals and all include diamonds in varying degrees. The Pearlmaster references from the 1990s with 29 mm cases include the yellow gold Pearlmaster ref. 69298 with a full diamond-set bezel, the yellow gold Pearlmaster ref. 69318 with a dozen diamonds on the bezel, the white gold Pearlmaster ref. 69299 with a full diamond-set bezel, and the white gold Pearlmaster ref. 69319 with a dozen diamonds on the bezel. Rolex also made some Pearlmaster models in the nineties with Tridor bracelets, which combines three shades of gold.
New Rolex Metal Option Introduced in the 1990s
In the 1990s, Rolex revealed a new precious metal version of the Daytona chronograph watch.
Rolex Launched the White Gold Daytona in 1997
When Rolex introduced its first automatic Daytona in 1988, there were three metal options to choose from: stainless steel, yellow gold, and two-tone steel and gold. In 1997, a new metal option joined the lineup in the form of the 18k white gold Daytona ref. 16519. However, rather than fitting the Daytona 16519 with a matching metal bracelet, Rolex paired it with a leather strap. While we can’t say for sure since Rolex never comments on why they make certain decisions, we assume this was done to clearly distinguish the precious white gold Daytona from the less expensive stainless steel Daytona.
Like the all the other automatic Daytona models that came before it, the white gold Daytona ref. 16519 sports a 40 mm Oyster case with a tachymeter engraved metal bezel. Furthermore, inside the case is Caliber 4030, which is based on the El-Primero chronograph movement and explains why these five-digit references are often nicknamed the “Rolex Zenith Daytona” models. Dial choices included classic black or white (with the option of diamonds indexes), along with a special blue sodalite hardstone dial dotted with diamond hour markers.
New Rolex Design Details Introduced in the 1990s
In the 1990s, Rolex took a couple of major design and material shifts across different models including luminescence materials and diamond-setting techniques.
Rolex Adopted Luminova Luminescence in the 1990s
From about the mid-1960s until the mid-1990s, Rolex used tritium for luminescence on the dials of its watches. While nowhere near as dangerous as radium, tritium is still a radioactive material, which is (without going into all the scientific details) a reason why it emits a visible glow. Tritium Rolex dials are labeled “Swiss-T <25,” “T Swiss Made T,” or “T SWISS T” right below 6 o’clock.
In the mid-1990s, Rolex switched from tritium to non-radioactive Luminova (invented in 1993 in Japan) as its go-to luminous material. Unlike self-luminous radium and tritium, Luminova first needs a “charge” under a light source before it can glow brightly in the dark. The brightness of the Luminova lume plots fade after a few hours but all it needs is another re-charge and they will shine bright yet again.
Rolex Adopted Diamond Bezel Setting For Hour Markers in the 1990s
If you look at vintage Rolex dress watches, such as Day-Date and Datejust models, with diamond hour markers, you will note that the diamonds are placed on the dial via a four-prong setting. In the 1990s, Rolex switched to bezel-setting using gold surrounds for their diamond hours markers on its dress watches. This is still the same gem-setting technique the company uses today for diamond indexes.
New Rolex References Introduced in the 1990s
In the 1980s it was Rolex’s date, day/date, and dual-time collections that all received new references because of newly minted calibers. In the 1990s, Rolex mainly focused on adding new references to its no-date collections—many of which had housed the same references for three decades.
New Rolex Submariner Reference Launched in the 1990s
As a new decade was approaching, it was clear that Rolex needed to update its no-date Submariner model. After all, the then-current production Submariner ref. 5513 made its debut in 1962. So, in 1990, Rolex introduced the new Submariner ref. 14060 with a whole host of enhancements.
First, there was the unidirectional rotating bezel on top of the 40 mm case instead of a bi-directional one for a safer way to track dive times. Plus, the addition of the larger Triplock screw-down winding crown meant that the Sub 14060 was water resistant to 300 meters (compared to the 200 m rating of the previous reference). Then there was the new black gloss dial that replaced the matte black one, complete with white gold surrounds framing the hour makers.
Early models of the Submariner 14060 used tritium for lume but Rolex switched to Luminova in the mid-1990s. Although very few late models of the Submariner ref. 5513 came with sapphire crystals, sapphire crystals became standard across all Submariner 14060 models. Finally, inside the Submariner ref. 14060 was a new Caliber 3000. Interestingly, the Caliber 3000 powering the Submariner ref. 14060 was not chronometer-certified, therefore the typical “Superlative Chronometer Officially Certified” text was absent from its dial. As a result, the Submariner ref. 14060 is often referred to as the “two-liner Submariner” due to its minimalist dial.
New Rolex Oyster Perpetual References Launched in the 1990s
One of Rolex’s simplest models, the Oyster Perpetual, also welcomed new references. In fact, the preceding references, the Oyster Perpetual ref. 100X series, were in production since the 1950s!
The new 1990’s men’s Oyster Perpetual references included the two-tone Oyster Perpetual ref. 14203 with a smooth bezel, the Oyster Perpetual ref. 14233 with a fluted bezel, the yellow gold ref. 14208 with a smooth bezel, and the yellow gold Oyster Perpetual ref. 14238 with a fluted bezel. As before, the cases measured 34 mm in diameter and the dials only housed three center hands without a date window. New to this generation of Oyster Perpetual watches was Caliber 3000. However, unlike the no-date Submariner, the Caliber 3000 inside the Oyster Perpetual 142xx references were chronometer-certified.
Rolex also updated the midsize and ladies’ Oyster Perpetual watches in the 1990s. For the midsize options with 31 mm cases, there’s the full stainless steel midsize Oyster Perpetual ref. 77080 and the stainless steel midsize Oyster Perpetual ref. 77014 with white gold fluted bezel.
For the ladies’ Oyster Perpetual options with 26 mm cases there were quite a few new-to-the-nineties to choose from. These included the full steel ladies’ Oyster Perpetual ref. 76080 with a smooth bezel, the full steel ladies’ Oyster Perpetual ref. 76030 with an engine-turned bezel, the steel ladies’ Oyster Perpetual ref. 76094 with a white gold fluted bezel, the two-tone ladies’ Oyster Perpetual ref. 76183 with a smooth bezel, the two-tone ladies’ Oyster Perpetual ref. 76193 with a fluted bezel, and the full yellow gold ladies’ Oyster Perpetual ref. 76198.
New Air-King References Launched in the 1990s
Along with the no-date Submariner and the no-date Oyster Perpetual, Rolex also refreshed the no-date Air-King collection with some new references. Again, similar to the other two models we noted above, Rolex produced the Air-King 5500 for well over three decades and it was time for new versions.
The new references launched in the 1990s were the Air-King 14000 with a smooth bezel and the Air-King 14010 with an engine-turned bezel. Just like earlier models, the 1990’s Air-Kings had 34 mm cases and Oyster bracelets, all in stainless steel. New to the Air-King collection were the sapphire crystals and the Caliber 3000 inside—the same non-chronometer version as in the Submariner 14060. The updated chronometer-certified Air-King 14000M only arrived in the following decade.
New Rolex Date & Datejust References Launched in the 1990s
In the 1990s, Rolex introduced a new series of midsize Date and Datejust watches with the ref. 782xx family of models. Like previous models, inside the 31 mm Oyster case of these watches were Caliber 2135 movements. Material choices include the full stainless steel midsize ref. 78240, the steel midsize ref. 78274 with a white gold fluted bezel, two-tone midsize ref. 78273 with a fluted bezel, and two-tone midsize ref. 78243 with a smooth bezel.
Rolex also introduced a new generation of the Lady-Datejust in the late 1990s with the reference numbers ref. 791xx. All fitted with 26 mm cases, some option include the two-tone Lady-Datejust ref. 79173, the full yellow gold Lady-Datejust ref. 79178, and the full steel Lady-Datejust ref. 79160.
New Rolex Cosmograph Daytona References Launched in the 1990s
In 1992, Rolex introduced the first automatic Daytona fitted with a leather strap, the 18k yellow gold Daytona ref. 16518. The newest member of the “Rolex Zenith Daytona” family was a lighter and a less expensive alternative to the full yellow gold Daytona ref. 16528 thanks to the leather strap standing in for the precious metal bracelet. However, the Daytona leather band does include an 18k yellow gold deployant clasp for added security (and heft).
Aside from the band, all the other details remained the same. That is to say, a 40 mm Oyster case water resistant to 100 meters, screw down chronograph pushers, a tachymeter scale engraved on the metal bezel, and the El-Primero-based Caliber 4030 inside the watch.
This brings us to the end of the nineties and also, to the end of the 20th century. Don’t miss the next chapter of this series where we’ll be investigating the Rolex developments, introductions, and innovations in the 2000s. It’s an action-packed decade for the Crown!
— Featured Photo and Body Photo Credits: Beckertime’s Archive.