Rolex Watches Discontinued in the 2010’s
With the second decade of the new millennium almost over, now seems like a good time to start our mini series on those Rolex watches which have been discontinued in the last 10 years (or so).
The period has actually been fairly turbulent by the brand’s own conservative standards, with a couple of their most recognizable names disappearing briefly before being brought back in radical new versions.
Elsewhere, others in the catalog received facelifts, some quite dramatic, some barely noticeable, but all leading to the retirement of preceding references.
It is all good information to know if you are in the market for a preowned Rolex and have one eye on it being a future investment. Recently discontinued models from the world’s favorite watchmaker can become an appreciating asset if chosen carefully, and it obviously pays to take possession before their numbers start dwindling and prices start soaring.
So below, we have laid out some of the dearly departed pieces from the last decade. Time to choose the next addition to the collection.
The Air-King ref. 1142XX Series
The longestuninterrupted run of any of Rolex’s families came to a halt in 2014 when the Air-King ref. 1142XX range finally hung up its wings. A fixture in the portfolio since the end of WWII, it originated as a tribute from company founder Hans Wilsdorf to the heroic pilots of the RAF during the Battle of Britain.
Although the Air-King had been part of the lineup for nearly 70 years, it was always one of those models, along with the likes of the Milgauss and the Explorer, that had remained on the periphery—the forgotten Rolex.
Overshadowed by the more iconic creations from the brand, the first 30 years or so of its run had seen it hardly altered at all. Rolex seemed content for it to remain the underdog, a simple no-date three-hander and about as minimalist as you can get.
The 1142XX series was only a relatively fleeting reference, having made its debut in 2007. It arrived in three different guises, all measuring the vintage-inspired 34mm; the ref. 114200 in all steel with a smooth bezel, the ref. 114234 with a steel case topped by a fluted white gold surround (the first Rolesor inclusion in the Air-King range), and the ref. 114210, again all steel but with an engine-turned bezel, one of the last times that particular decoration would be a part of the Rolex catalog.
Incredibly, these three became the first in the entire extended history of the model to be granted a COSC-rated movement, the Cal. 3130.
In addition, it marked the arrival of a greater number of dial and hour marker options, with the Explorer-esque 3/6/9 indexes featuring strongly alongside the more traditional stick batons or Roman numerals.
When the Air-King slipped quietly away, most thought that was that for the long serving stalwart, but it was just a two-year sabbatical before it remerged as the vastly modernized ref. 116900. Now sharing the same 40mm case as the Milgauss and given a much refreshed aesthetic, it sits more comfortably in the contemporary roster. But the last of the 34mm Air-Kings remain an attractive target for collectors, with their chronometer rating and brief production time. And with asking prices starting at around $3,500 on the preowned market, they are definitely one to consider as a first or next purchase.
The Sea-Dweller ref.116600
A much more familiar name but a reference which was around for even less time than our short-lived Air-King, the Sea-Dweller ref. 116600 was actually something of a comeback kid, albeit a passing one.
The watch originally created for the ultra demanding world of the professional saturation diver in 1963, it pioneered the Helium Escape Valve and had proved itself a fantastically popular alternative to the Submariner. Where the Sub had been progressively softened over the generations, emerging in precious metal finery and even with the addition of gemstone hour indexes here and there, the Sea-Dweller had stuck devotedly to its all stainless steel construction. And, crucially, it had long shied away from that most divisive of Rolex’s innovations, the Cyclops magnifying lens over the date window.
The ref. 116600 was unveiled in 2014, the first of the name in some eight years, ever since its predecessor, the ref. 16600, was removed from the rotation in favor of the all new, all extraordinary Deepsea.
It introduced the Supercase to the series, sticking to its time-honored 40mm dimensions, but lending the lugs and crown guards a load of extra bulk to give the impression of an increase in size. The Maxi dial, with larger lume plots and handset, also made its debut, adding to the illusion. Plus, the hardwearing and fade-proof Cerachrom bezel insert replaced the previous aluminum examples.
Setting itself apart from the Submariner, the ref. 116600 also included minute markings around the whole circumference of the engraved surround, a little detail only seen previously on the Deepsea itself as well as the grail-like Milsubs from yesteryear.
The bracelet had also graduated. The Oyster was given the newly designed Glidelock extension system to allow wearers to easily adjust it for a perfect fit.
In all, it was a triumphant return, welcomed from all sides of the Rolex fandom.
It was, however, not to last. In 2017, the 126600, a 43mm replacement with, horror or horrors, a Cyclops lens took over from its forerunner. A massive departure from the accepted Sea-Dweller style book, it has split opinion and seen many devotees scurrying back to the preowned pages looking for the last of the breed that stuck to its roots.
The 116600 then has been set along the road to future classic status, its mixture of extremely restricted production time along with its now retro-looking design creating one of the most sort after of modern day Rolexes. With prices already starting to climb rapidly, it is a case of sooner rather than later if you are in the market for one of these superb divers.
Rolex Explorer II ref. 16570
2011 marked the 40th anniversary of the Explorer II, an event it commemorated by replacing the old with the much altered new.
The retiring ref. 16570 had entered the fray in 1989, the start of a 22-year run that saw it evolve through two movements, the Cal. 3185, and later, the Cal. 3186. It was only the third iteration of the watch since the fabled Steve McQueen ref. 1655 kicked it all off at the start of the 70s but, unlike the Sea-Dweller above, by the time the Explorer’s birthday rolled around, many were of the opinion it was overdue a significant upgrade.
The ref. 16570 and its predecessor, the transitional ref. 16550 had, in truth, not been hugely successful additions to the Rolex collection. Even the vintage originator was something of an also ran in the stable until recently and the range has long been left out in the cold over the years where renovations were concerned. Similarly to the others on our list, nothing but the toughest steel has ever been used in its construction, setting it apart as one of those Rolexes destined to only be an honest-to-goodness tool watch rather than a boardroom conversation starter.
That dark horse nature actually left it a prime candidate for a major overhaul. If the brand had opted to play around with the legendary GMT-Master II, with which the Explorer has shared a movement and functionality for most of its life, it would have likely led to an uproar. But with the ref. 16570 being something of an outlier anyway, it freed Rolex up to set about it with some enthusiasm.
The incoming ref. 216570 upped the size to 42mm from 40mm and Rolex gave it even more wrist presence with the addition of the Supercase and Maxi dial, now common across the whole of the Professional Collection. It also brought the welcome return of the ‘Freccione’, the bright orange GMT hand from the ref. 1655 that had set the first of the series apart. Big, bold and shaped like an arrow (from where it took its nickname) it had been inexplicably absent from the intermediate references, swapped instead for the same straight, rather uninspiring example from the GMT-Master.
The ref. 16570 is now another of those recently withdrawn models which could well be on their way towards potential investment success. Although its protracted run means there is no shortage of them out there, being the last of the 40mm generation gives them an intriguing pull among purists. They are also great value at the moment, meaning you can take delivery of a genuine dual time zone Rolex for less than $7,000.
Be sure to check back with us for the rest of the series on discontinued Rolex watches over the years. It could be a great help if you are stuck for choice selecting your next favourite piece.