The Perfect Three Watch Rolex Collection
We tend to go pretty deep into the minutiae on occasion over here at the Beckertime blog. It sometimes seems as if there’s an almost infinite amount of material we could talk about, and it is always fascinating to dig down into the real intricacies surrounding watchmaking in general and Rolex in particular.
Every now and again though, we like to return to the basics. Not everyone comes here to learn about the history of the Datejust’s cam and jewel system or whether the Cal. 1570 was better, worse or the same as the Cal. 3035.
If you are at the start of your Rolex journey, chances are you have already done some of your own research and fallen down many-a rabbit hole of information, much of it irrelevant in the grand scheme of things if all you are after is a high quality luxury watch from the most respected name in the business.
But what might be useful is a quick, simple roundup of what is, in our opinion, the perfect trio of Rolex models to cater to any circumstance. The ideal three watch collection to cover all the bases, and one which can be changed and updated as needed, either by adding to it or swapping one for another.
The good news is, there has never been a better time, or a better brand, to kick off a collection.
The number of outlets selling preowned Rolex watches grows by the day, offering massive amounts of choice. What’s more, the manufacture is just about unsurpassed in the industry from an investment aspect. With perhaps the sole exception of Patek Philippe, Rolex enjoys the strongest value retention of any horology brand. That means the watch you buy today can be sold, if needs be, in a few years time with little to no money lost. If you choose well enough, you could even make a profit.
So, with all that in mind, here’s our selection of the perfect three watch Rolex collection. And just to cater to as many sensibilities as we can, we’re going to give you the current model and also suggest the top vintage example.
The Rolex Submariner
To be honest, if the title of this article had been, ‘The Perfect One Watch Rolex Collection’, this would be the watch we would talk about.
Rolex’s Submariner, now into its 68th year as the world’s favorite luxury diver, is rightfully branded with that most overworked of terms, iconic.
Starting life back in 1953, it has defined not only its own genre, but also stands as one of the most successful overall product designs of all time.
Its aesthetics are now so ingrained in the psyche it is more often than not the inescapable mental image you get whenever you simply think of the word ‘watch’.
Key to its incredible success and longevity is Rolex’s underlying philosophy of form following function. The Submariner was created to do a job first, everything else second. The fact it turned out to be perhaps the best tool watch ever made, but also had enough versatility in its minimalist visuals to be worn with anything from t-shirt and jeans through to a tailored dinner suit (just ask 007) was a welcome bonus.
Today, it stands as the most well-known, emulated, and downright counterfeited model of its kind, the inspiration for countless others, but one which has never been bettered.
The Current Buy
The Rolex Submariner ref. 126610
Released in 2020, the ref. 1266XX is the long-awaited upgrade to the 10-year old ref. 1166XX series.
This new version increased the dimensions of the Submariner for the first time in over half a century, coming in at 41mm instead of the time-honored 40mm. Just as importantly, we saw the Sub return to a more slender profile, Rolex shaving down the squared-off edges of the previous generation’s Super Case and giving the watch at least a hint of its former elegance.
Inside, the latest Cal. 3235 runs the show, a movement sitting right at the cutting-edge of mechanical watchmaking technology. Its efficiency and timekeeping ability are at the forefront of the industry, and the caliber is guaranteed an accuracy of -2/+2 seconds a day.
Available in a range of options, including white gold, yellow gold and two-tone yellow Rolesor, the steel model with black dial and bezel will always be the low-key classic.
However, waiting lists at authorized dealers are currently heartbreaking, so the preowned market will be most people’s only option to acquire one. Expect to pay around $13,000 at a minimum for what is, officially, a $8,650 watch.
The Vintage Buy
The Rolex Submariner ref. 16610
In collector circles, the ref. 16610 is often referred to as ‘the last of the best’. Released in 1988, this was the final series of the Sub to retain the sweeping lines of the earliest models, before the Super Case beefed up the shoulders and crown guards to add greater wrist presence.
During its long run, eventually retiring in 2010, it went through a couple of subtle changes, mostly centered around the lume used on its hands and hour markers. The initial run was still using Tritium, before a brief swap to Luminova and eventually Super-LumiNova.
The highly respected Cal. 3135 provided the power, thought of as possibly the finest mass-produced automatic caliber ever, and one renowned for its strength and precision.
Best of all, the ref. 16610 (again, with black dial and bezel) represents one of the lowest cost entry points into steel Submariner ownership there is. You will be able to find great examples for the $8,000-$9,000 mark.
The Rolex Daytona
There aren’t many watches that can rival the Sub in the global recognition stakes, but the Rolex Daytona is one.
The brand’s first serious attempt at a chronograph, it was brought in to try and claw back some ground lost to Omega and their all-conquering Speedmaster.
Yet, it was a lost cause for the Daytona’s first 25-years, hampered as it was by its manually-winding movement. However, after adopting the El Primero automatic caliber from Zenith in the late ‘80s, its fortunes transformed almost overnight. These days, it ranks among the most coveted watches money can’t buy.
The Current Buy
The Rolex Daytona ref. 116500LN
As with the Submariner, it is the current steel versions of the Daytona which command the most attention and yearning.
Though it was launched back in 2016, the ref. 116500LN is still among the most visually accomplished and modern looking watches in Rolex’s portfolio.
Housed in a 40mm Oyster case, the model comes with either a white Panda or black reverse Panda dial, each surrounded by a black Cerachrom bezel.
In case you’re wondering, a Panda (or reverse Panda) dial is one which has its sub counters picked out in a contrasting color (in this instance silver on black or black on white).
Further, a Cerachrom bezel is one made from Rolex’s proprietary ceramic material, which is fade proof, scratch proof and just about unbreakable.
The in-house built movement, the Cal. 4130, is self-winding with a column wheel controlled chronograph featuring a vertical clutch for instantaneous starts and stops.
But it is these watches’ appearance that generate the headlines. Robustly handsome, understated yet eye-catching, the Daytona may well be the best looking mechanical stopwatch of them all.
Sadly, getting your hands on one isn’t all that easy. Or cheap. While the retail price for both models is around $13,150, Rolex has been limiting the supply of Daytonas to their retail network for so long it could take the average buyer literally years to reach the top of the dealer’s lists. On the preowned market, prices start at around $25,000.
The Vintage Buy
The Rolex Daytona ref. 16523
It was the ref. 165XX range which set the Daytona on the path towards its present-day, world-beater standing. This was the first series to receive an automatic caliber in 1988, one of the very few Rolex watches in the modern era driven by a third party engine.
And it was the delay in having to wait for that outside concern to build their calibers which slowed production down to such an extent that demand for the Daytona soon massively outstripped supply. The model’s ultra-desirable reputation, and its interminable wait lists, started here.
But the Zenith Daytonas, as they are informally known, are, like the ref. 16610 Submariners, the gateway into the family. Although the steel pieces remain pricey, going for just about the same money as a preowned version of the latest steel reference, the Rolesor ref. 16523 can be had for significantly less.
Rolesor describes Rolex’s own combination of two metals onto one watch, with the main case and the outer links of the bracelet all cast in steel, while the bezel, crown and pushers, along with the inner bracelet links, are forged from 18k yellow gold.
It is something of a signature look for the brand, and one which has been used on a great number of their output over the years. It also tends to drop in and out of fashion quite regularly, but is currently enjoying a real resurgence.
On the Daytona it is certainly striking, and the ref. 16523 was offered with the choice of either a black, white or champagne dial, with each one giving the piece a distinct personality.
A true milestone in the life of one of the most important sports watches of the last century, you can pick up your own ref. 16523 for as little as $13,500.
The Rolex Day-Date
Although the other two watches on our list can easily do double duty as both everyday wear and special occasion, sometimes a situation calls for an out-and-out dress watch.
The Day-Date, sometimes better known as the President or the Presidential, has been Rolex’s flagship since its introduction in 1956. From the outset, it has been made in precious metals exclusively, either the three flavors of gold or shimmering platinum, with not even a Rolesor option to introduce a hint of steel.
It was the first waterproof, self-winding wristwatch ever made to display both the date and the day of the week spelled out in full, and has been the number one choice for the world’s privileged few for decades.
The contemporary roster is all-encompassing and reassuringly expensive, but read on for the pleasant surprise of just how affordable vintage models can be.
The Current Buy
The Rolex Day-Date ref. 228238
Right up until 2008, the Day-Date was only available as a 36mm watch. That was the year the Day-Date II was released, sporting a new 41mm case. However, due to its less than subtle proportions, it was retired in 2015 and replaced by the Day-Date 40. This was very much just a scaled-up, 40mm version of the 36mm piece, with all the same elegance intact. The two sizes have run concurrently ever since.
If you look at the Rolex catalog today, you will be spoiled for choice where the President is concerned. There are hundreds of options, ranging from the studiedly restrained to the overtly attention-grabbing.
The absolute definitive Day-Date though is the solid yellow gold model with the champagne dial.
If the thought of all that bullion on your wrist leaves you cold, it is worth checking out the watch in person. Rolex forges all their precious metals themselves, and are in full control of both their makeup and, crucially, color. The yellow gold they produce now is paler and less ‘bling’ than those in the past. If you want to tone it down still further, pairing it with a white dial keeps things even more incognito.
And the price? Well, the Day-Date has always been Rolex’s most aspirational watch, the one you reward yourself with once you’ve ‘made it’. Consequently, they don’t just give them away. The latest price for the ref. 228238 is $36,550. But the good news is, they are far easier to buy from an authorized dealer than most of the brand’s Professional Collection.
The Vintage Buy
The Rolex Day-Date ref. 1803
As well as a reputation for excellence, another thing Rolex is well-known for is how little they adjust their designs from one iteration to the next. The President is a case in point.
The ref. 1803 emerged in 1959, actually the third generation of the watch in as many years, but it is the one which stuck around for longest. It wouldn’t be retired until 1977.
This is where everything came together, and very little needed to be done to the Day-Date between then and its present incarnation, outwardly at least. The case shape is practically identical to the latest 36mm. The options list, while perhaps not quite as extensive as today’s, was still far-reaching. And the internals also got squared away, driven by two different movements; the Cal. 1555 and Cal. 1556 (the only difference being a higher balance frequency in the latter caliber). Both engines were superb performers, and lacked just one piece of modern-day convenience—a Quickset function for the two calendar complications.
None of that really matters though, because the ref. 1803 is possibly the vintage watch industry’s biggest bargain. Rolex’s top-of-the-line model, an unashamedly elitist creation and one cast in the finest 18k gold, can be had now for under $8,000. That is for a piece on a leather strap. If you want yours on its eponymous three-link President bracelet, it will set you back around $11,000 or $12,000.
For a watch with so much history, and so much to offer, there is little else out there to touch it, and it makes the ideal way to round off an envy-inducing trio of Rolex’s finest.
— Featured Photo: BeckerTime’s Archive.