Being bestowed with a nickname has long been a sign of affection. At least, that’s what my mum always told me and I chose to believe her.
In the world of horology, no other watch brand is held in as high esteem as Rolex, so it stands to reason their models would have garnered a whole host of unofficial monikers over the years—given to them by fans both out of fondness and as a way of quickly differentiating between various models.
Such is the power of a well-chosen nickname, there are several pieces in the portfolio that are now better known by their informal title.
They can take their basis from a number of elements unique to each watch; it could be something as simple as their coloring, the shape of their case or even a small detail on the dial. Others will always be known for their association with famous stars, either real or fictional. And still others have a combination; not content with just one nickname, there are a handful of models with two or three.
Below we have put together a list of Rolex’s most commonly used sobriquets, both vintage and modern.
The President is a case, and by no means the only one, of a nickname that has become at least as well known as the official Rolex title.
It is the one given to the brand’s flagship dress watch, the Day-Date, but its origins are a little confused. It could have been coined for the model’s long-standing association with the highest in the land, having found its way onto the wrists of a number of heads of state. Or it could have come from the bracelet made especially for the model in 1956, the three-link semi-circular creation legitimately titled the President bracelet.
There are a number of pop culture characters whose names have been coopted to describe various Rolex watches.
The blue and black bezeled GMT-Master II, the first to receive a two-tone Cerachrom surround in 2013, was quickly christened the Batman by fans.
Rolex celebrated the 50thbirthday of the Submariner by launching the ref. 16610LV, a version with a bright green bezel in 2003. Now increasingly sought after, it was the first Sub with a Maxi dial.
The piece that replaced the Kermit in 2010, the ref. 116610LV got its green bezel in Cerachrom and added a dial in the same color. Its beefier case, complete with thicker lugs and crown guards, gave it a boost in wrist presence, and it was known as the Hulk from day one.
Continuing the color-based fictional character theme, the white gold Submariner with blue surround and dial lends itself well to its Smurf nickname.
In case the Submariner didn’t have enough alternative labels, the ref. 6538 will always be known as the James Bond Sub. Although the super spy has worn a wide collection of watches during his adventures, including a number of different Submariner models, the ref. 6538 was the first one to make it to screen on Sean Connery’s arm in Dr. No.
And another character taken from the world of Ian Fleming’s creation, Connery’s one-time adversary in Goldfingersports a first generation example of the legendary GMT-Master, the ref. 6542. With its lack of crown guards and fragile Bakelite bezel, it was not a long-running reference, but made it onto the wrist of Honor Blackman in the 1964 thriller.
As well as being named after fictional characters, there are a number of models that will always be inextricably linked with sports icons or Hollywood royalty.
Easily the best known of the models linked to stars of the screen. The Paul Newmans describe an example of the first generation Rolex Daytonas with what is formally known as the ‘exotic dial’, featuring a three-color face with Art Deco-style influences to the numerals. Obviously named for the actor after he was pictured wearing his, the surviving pieces now command enormous fees—and none more so than Newman’s own; it is currently the most expensive wristwatch ever sold, at $17.7m.
Not difficult to imagine how the first references of the Explorer II got named after the star of Bullitt and The Great Escape. He, too, was photographed wearing his Rolex in the 1970s and soon after, the ref. 1655 would become the ‘Steve McQueen’. The big difference between him and Paul Newman, however, is there is no evidence McQueen was actually wearing an Explorer II at all. The indistinct photo was much more likely to have been him sporting his favorite Ref. 5512 Submariner. Yet, as we’ve seen, if there is one thing the Sub doesn’t need any more of, it’s nicknames! Hence, everyone seems to have tacitly agreed to let the mistake slide.
This is an example of a watch having more than one nickname. When the first of the GMT-Master II range launched in 1983, it differed from the original mainly in its ability to let wearers set the two hour hands independently of each other. The caliber that made that possible, the Cal. 3085, had a little extra bulk to it, necessitating a somewhat curvier case. Those curves set the watch up for it to be named after the voluptuous Italian sex symbol.
Its alternative title is not so complementary—the ref. 16760 is also well known as the Fat Lady.
A nickname attached to a series of watches not made since the 60s, Killy was a French alpine skiing champion as well as a Rolex ambassador and eventual member of the board of directors.
He fronted a number of advertising campaigns for the brand, but the models forever bearing his name are five references of the Dato-Compax series.
The triple calendar chronographs, the ref. 4768, 4767, 5036, 6036 and the 6236, are among the most complicated watches Rolex has ever made but, like the McQueen Explorer II, there’s no evidence Killy ever wore any of them.
If we mention soda flavors, we all know which family of watches we’re talking about—the GMT-Master series.
The original. The blue and red livery was the first to adorn the bezel of Rolex’s new dual time zone model upon its release in 1954. It served a double function; firstly, it provided an at-a-glance reference as to whether the 24-hour hand was indicating night or day. And secondly, it gave the watch its own unique identity, separating it from the Submariner released a year before; a watch with a very similar profile.
Taking its name from the color scheme of the famous soft drink cans, it has been an option throughout nearly all of the GMT’s run, only disappearing for a few years at the start of the Cerachrom era. The current steel Pepsi model is one of the most in-demand watches in the world.
The logical next step, but one that didn’t arrive until the first of the GMT-Master II models (the Sophia Loren from above) in 1983. The black and red surround was a good enough representation of a bottle of Coca Cola to have acquired the nickname and it became a feature in the lineup for a few years. Sadly, unlike the Pepsi, the Coke bezel is no longer a feature in the modern collection. For now at least…
A real retro item which has recently made a triumphant return to the contemporary catalog. Initially appearing in the 60s, the brown and gold bezel, coupled with a brown dial, joined the soda-themed series as the Root Beer. Back then, they were most frequently found on Rolesor versions of the GMT-Master, but there were also some all yellow gold models. Today, there are two Root Beer GMT’s; an all Everose, and an Everose Rolesor piece.
However, the vintage models also go by two other nicknames—the Tiger Eye(or sometimes the German Tiger Augen) and the Clint Eastwood(it was the Man-With-No-Name’s favorite, by all accounts)
There aren’t many, but a couple of very old school Rolex watches were given there names based on their shape.
Something of a catchall term in collector-speak. When Rolex first introduced their Perpetual automatic movements in the 1930s, the self-winding rotor needed enough space to be able to oscillate freely. To accommodate them, those early watches were given case backs that protruded out further than previous, hand-wound models, leading to them being dubbed Bubblebacks.
Constant refinement of the calibers gradually slimmed down case sizes over the years, leaving those inaugural efforts with a real old-school charm.
Many-a collectors ultimate grail find, and one of the most beautiful watches Rolex ever made, the ref. 8171 triple calendar moonphase was introduced in 1949.
At 38mm it was a particularly sizeable model for the era, giving rise to its Padellone nickname; Italian for ‘large frying pan’.
For Rolex it was an especially complicated piece, and not one they produced for very long. But you can still find them for sale on the preowned market. Just remember to bring a lot of cash!
Anyone who has spent any time researching Rolex watches knows just how much difference a seemingly trivial alteration to a dial can have.
The variations across the different ‘Marks’ on any particular model are utterly bewildering, and can add zeroes onto an asking price. But some dials have become so famous they have been given pet names of their own.
Below we have listed some of the best known.
Not to be confused with the Single Red, which is even rarer, the Double Red refers to the first production-built Sea-Dwellers from 1967.
Commonly written as DRSD, the ref. 1665 was given the name for the simple reason there are two lines of red text on their dial—‘Sea-Dweller’ and ‘Submariner 2000’, referring to their water resistance in feet.
As for the Single Red, that was a prototype of the Sea-Dweller never released to the public with, you guessed it, just one line of red text. They were given only to professional saturation divers to test, and it is believed only 12 remain in existence.
The same watch, the ref. 1665, but dating from 1977 when Rolex dropped the red and made all the dial text white instead.
In addition, the ‘Submariner 2000’ script was removed, setting the Sea-Dweller line up as a separate entity to the Sub.
As a complete about turn, the Solo is named for what is not on the dial rather than what is. A tiny number of Rolex’s very early chronographs were printed with just the name Rolex on them—no model name, not even the word ‘chronograph’.
They can be found on the ref. 6238, known as the pre Daytona, as well as the ref. 6239, the actual first of the Daytona references from 1963, when Rolex was still debating whether they would be known as the Le Mans instead.
Some believe there are Solo dial ref. 6240s too, but it is disputed for the fact the 6240 had an Oyster case, with screw down pushers and crown, and would most definitely make mention of that on the dial.
Another name peculiar to the Daytona, this one comes from a rare Rolex oversight. When the second generation of the watch was released in 1988, featuring its first self-winding movement, it began with the steel reference 16520.
Available with a black or white dial, it was found the varnish used to coat the black dial versions, named Zapon, didn’t provide enough coverage. That led to the outer rings of the watch’s trio of sub dials reacting with UV light and steadily turning a rich chocolaty brown over time.
The effect, which is cumulative, leaving each example unique and so highly prized, was first noticed by Osvaldo Patrizzi, an Italian watch collector and founder of auction house Antiquorum.