Rolex Watches Discontinued in the 1990s
The 1990s seemed almost like a decade where Rolex had to stop to catch its breath. After the explosion in their popularity in the 80s, prefaced by the arrival of the first self-winding Daytona, and before the revolutionary charges waiting in the wings for the new millennium (among them, the second self-winding Daytona), it was a time to batten down the hatches and take stock. The 1990s discontinued Rolex timepieces were beginning to surface.
The core family were more than established and had become household names, with models such as the Submariner, the GMT-Master and the Datejust recognizable to anyone whether they had the faintest interest in horology or not.
Rolex the maker of fine tool watches was becoming Rolex the luxury lifestyle brand and the switch brought in a new type of customer. No longer those who needed a hardy and trustworthy companion for life’s adventures, now those who wanted to be seen wearing an aspirational timepiece to elevate their status.
In response, the brand launched an ‘all new’ creation—a more opulent take on the venerable Sub, with softer lines and flashier metals.
The first of the Yacht-Masters emerged in 1992 and by the end of the decade, two versions had been discontinued to make way for an upgrade. More momentously, the 90s also saw us bid farewell to a true Rolex giant, a watch that had helped put them on the map and secured their reputation as one of the most innovative manufacturers of all time.
Read on below to see which 1990s discontinued rolex models retired.
The Rolex Yacht-Master ref. 68623 and 69623
When the first of the Yacht-Master range appeared, it was virtually greeted with a sigh of relief. Rumors had been circulating that Rolex were in the act of drastically reinventing the Submariner, altering perhaps the most famous shape in watchmaking beyond all recognition. That may, in fact, have been the case behind the scenes at HQ, but cooler heads apparently put the kibosh on those plans at some point, marking the world’s favorite dive watch safe for the foreseeable future.
However, the work which had already been carried out on the Submariner 2.0 was deemed too good to simply abandon, and so it was rebranded as a watch for those who were no stranger to the odd regatta.
The Yacht-Master debuted with the full-scale 40mm ref. 16628 in 18k yellow gold, looking for all the world like a Sub in a pretty frock. The lines were a little more graceful and, only required to be waterproof to 100m rather than 300m, it was granted a flatter underbelly that made it a more comfortable all day wear. In addition, the bezel was bidirectional and had embossed numerals as opposed to the Sub’s engraved, but other than that, there was little to choose between them. They even shared a movement, the legendary Cal. 3135.
While its much higher price point meant it didn’t sell in quite the same numbers as the diver, it was still enough of a success for Rolex to release, a couple of years later in 1994, two further versions; a 29mm ladies model (ref. 69628) and a 35mm mid-size (ref. 68628). Both powered by the Cal. 2135, a much scaled down variant of the caliber found in the full-size watch, it was built specifically for the range of women’s models.
It made the Yacht-Master the first sports watch from the brand to be available in three sizes.
Two years after that, the pair of smaller YMs were issued in Rolesor versions, Rolex’s proprietary blend of stainless steel and yellow gold.
In 1999, the upgrade to the Cal. 2135 was completed called, you will be surprised to hear, the Cal. 2235. Although the differences between the two movements were extremely superficial (basically a thicker mainspring that lent a greater stability and shock resistance), it was enough for Rolex to issue new versions of the 29mm and 35mm models.
The early two-tone pieces, the ref. 69623 and ref. 68623, were quietly retired to clear the way for the six digit references which went on sale in 2000.
Today, there isn’t a ladies Yacht-Master and the mid-size has grown to 37mm. Yellow gold also plays no part in the contemporary range, not even in a Rolesor version, which is now exclusively Everose-based.
Those looking for one of the smaller examples of the watch then have to take a look through the preowned options, where first generation pieces have become surprisingly affordable. A 29mm in good condition can be had for less than $5,000, with the 35mm middle child barely much more.
Diminutive in stature or not, it is a lot of Rolex for not a huge amount of money, especially as they are powered by one of the most impressive movements the brand has ever made. The tiny calibers, which shave a full 8mm off the dimensions of the base Cal. 3130, hold the record for the highest first time pass rate of any mechanism tested by the COSC.
As the trend for bigger and bigger watches comes to a halt, and yellow gold comes back into fashion, now could be a great time to secure one of these elegantly sophisticated models.
The Rolex GMT-Master ref. 16700
The saga of Rolex’s first dual time zone watch, the iconic GMT-Master, is a long and fairly confusing one.
Starting out in 1954 at the request of Pan Am, who were looking for a way for their pilots and crew to be able to read two time zones at once to help stave off jetlag, the original GMT-Master series actually lasted right up until 1999. However its successor, entitled the GMT-Master II for obvious reasons, was actually introduced in 1983, and the two almost identical (outwardly at least) ranges ran concurrently for a number of years.
The last of the first, as it were, of the GMT-Master references, the ref. 16700, was issued in 1988. It proved to be a popular swansong for the piece, its aesthetics nearly indistinguishable from its eventual replacement, but with a more palatable effect on the wallet.
The discrepancy in price was all down to the internal gubbins. The GMT-Master II series had come into being because Rolex had finally cracked the problem of decoupling the main hour hand from the GMT hand, enabling the two to be set independently. The caliber that allowed it, the Cal. 3085, was put to work inside the ref. 16760, also known as the Fat Lady.
The ref. 16700 had the Cal. 3175, a fine movement and itself an upgrade on the previous iteration of the watch, bringing with it a hacking seconds function and Quickset date, but lacking that extra utility.
Customers didn’t really seem to care though, and it proved a great seller even though it was produced in much smaller quantities than the sequel.
But it was clear Rolex were preparing to throw in the towel, with the watch exclusively produced in stainless steel while the GMT-Master II added white and yellow gold versions.
It was also only available with either a blue and red Pepsi bezel, the initial color scheme that had set the model down the road to stardom in the first place, or else in all black. The off-shoot series came in a never-before-seen livery of black and red, dubbed the Coke, was eventually given a Pepsi of its own, and added the brown and gold Root Beer as well.
Nevertheless, the 45-year run of the GMT-Master had been an unqualified success, rivaled only by the Submariner, and today the ref. 16700 continues to be one of the first ports of call for collectors.
You can take possession of one of the all time greats from Rolex for as little as $8,000, a remarkably attainable sum for such a symbolic chapter in the story, and one likely to only increase in value.
Featured Photo Credit: BeckerTime’s Archive.