Top 10 Most Popular Contemporary Rolex Watches
Boasting a portfolio stuffed to the gills with some of the most lusted after pieces in horology, it can be a tricky thing to pin down exactly which is the most popular Rolex in the modern collection.
Fortunately, with the help of Mr. Google and his list of search data, I’ve put together what, I hope, is an accurate list of the top 10 Rolex watches in the contemporary lineup.
However, one thing to bear in mind is the availability factor. I have tried to take a stab at finding a happy medium between the watches which have been searched for the most, versus how easy they are to actually buy in the real world.
If we were to make a list purely on the model the greatest number of people want, then the Cerachrom bezel steel Daytonas would probably still come out on top. But of course, trying to buy a brand new version from an AD is now an exercise in futility.
So below are the 10 watches that are in that sweet spot between massively desirable and with a borderline realistic chance of turning up for sale through official channels.
Rolex Submariner ref. 116610LV (The Hulk)
Not to be confused with the so-called Kermit, the 50thanniversary edition of the world’s favorite dive watch, the Hulk took the green motif of that piece and made it even greener and meaner.
Whereas the half century model surprised many with its emerald bezel insert, the ref. 116610LV upped it still further by including a green dial as well.
Released in 2010, it became an immediate crowd pleaser and even a slight premium on its price over the standard classic black version (and more on that later) hasn’t hurt sales.
Rolex Daytona ref. 116503
Everyone wants a Daytona. And the Daytona everyone wants is the aforementioned ceramic bezel steel one.
But, unless you once saved an authorized dealer’s life and he now owes you big time, you ain’t getting one without a wait of several years. That’s if they are even still adding names to the list.
Yet, all is not lost. Bizarrely, the Rolesor (half steel/half gold Rolex blend) model is now one of the best buys in the range. A box fresh piece straight from a dealer can be had for significantly less than a preowned steel one and, with the two-tone look roaring right back into fashion (as evidenced by the brand’s release of a Rolesor Sea-Dweller this year) it is no wonder the ref. 116503 is being snapped up.
Definitely one to consider.
Datejust 41 ref. 126333
No real surprise to see one of the industry’s greatest success stories so high up in the pecking order. The Datejust has been the archetypal Rolex for decades now, and the introduction of a larger 41mm version a few years ago opened it up to a fresh, young audience.
Like the Daytona, it is the Rolesor editions which continue to blitz the sales charts, the aesthetic looking more at home on the Datejust than perhaps anywhere else.
Is there a collection worth the name without at least one DJ?
Rolex Submariner ref. 116619LB (The Smurf)
By all accounts it is a close run thing between this variant on the Sub theme and yet another two-tone piece, the ref. 116613LB.
But it is this white gold model that pips it, an unashamedly luxurious take on the tool watch concept, with a dial and bezel finished in an iridescent blue.
Around since 2008, it has been in the lineup even longer than the Hulk above, and with Rolex having the habit of simply discontinuing certain watches with no warning, regardless of how popular they are, if you are in the market for a Smurf, don’t drag your feet. Could well stand as a good investment if they stop production.
Rolex Day-Date 40 ref. 228235
A model that has never tried to be anything other than highly exclusive, the Day-Date is another brand stalwart.
The grand old statesman has, like the Datejust, been brought right into the 21stcentury with the addition of a range of 40mm pieces, now proving even more popular than the time-honored 36mm.
Of those, the current penchant for rose gold, what Rolex call Everose, has made the ref. 228235 a huge seller.
The option list is formidable, but the traditional arrangement of solid 18k case with a complementary toned dial and fluted bezel is still the all-time classic.
Rolex Submariner ref. 116610LN
Third and final entry for the Sub, and it is the obtainability issue that relegates the most iconic look to the middle of the pack.
After more than 60-years at the top, the black dial and bezel Submariner is still the most highly sought after model. Unfortunately Rolex can’t (or won’t) keep up with demand, leaving this absolute epitome of tool watch perfection severely short on supply.
If the brand was to ramp up production until everyone who wanted a black Sub was able to buy one, chances are we would be looking at the number 1 spot.
Rolex GMT-Master II ref. 126711CHNR (Root Beer)
The GMT-Master series has always been one of Rolex’s greatest hits and recent years have seen it receive a host of new getups that have only raised its stock even higher.
One of the most well received is a piece which has harnessed the current wave of nostalgia running through the watch collecting fraternity—a welcome return of the so-called Root Beer livery that first emerged in the 60s and 70s.
Those yellow gold pieces from yesteryear, with a gold and brown bezel against a brown dial, alternatively known as the Tiger Eye or the Clint Eastwood (it was the big guy’s favorite watch apparently), have been reimagined for the latest showcase with two up-to-date but still pleasingly vintage references.
The ref.126715CHNR has a solid Everose case, while the lower priced and more popular ref. 126711CHNR has half and half steel and red gold Rolesor bodywork.
This time the bezel comes in brown and black (the CHNR reference letters stand for CHocolat and NoiR) lending the whole thing a more toned down aspect than the original examples.
One of Rolex’s all-time high flyers, jumping on the craze for everything retro, has made this homage to the past a massive success in recent years.
Rolex Sky-Dweller ref. 326935
Reinforcing the modern day love affair with red gold, the solid Everose version of the Sky-Dweller, the ref. 326935, is enjoying its moment in the sun.
Often described as a Day-Date with a GMT function and annual calendar, the Sky-Dweller has been something of a slow burn since it was unveiled in 2012. But the once unorthodox and opinion splitting looks seemed to have matured over the years, and with the release of a handful of stainless steel examples tempering the price a little, the luxury traveler’s watch has witnessed a turnaround in fortunes.
Even so, the solid yellow gold models remain a bit too much for many, and it is the Everose pieces that offer the most versatility.
Rolex GMT-Master II ref. 126710BLNR (The Batman)
When Rolex made the switch from aluminum bezel inserts to ceramic in 2005, they had yet to devise a way to add a two-tone color scheme to them. Which made the decision to debut the new material, dubbed Cerachrom, on the GMT-Master II an odd one. A model made iconic precisely because of its bicolor bezel was now stuck with an all black surround, rather missing the point of the watch entirely.
While it was still a big seller, when Rolex finally perfected the process in 2013 and introduced it onto the ref. 116710BLNR, appearing with a beautiful combination of blue and black, it sent demand for the model into the stratosphere.
That reference was discontinued in 2019 to make way for an upgraded version, the ref. 126710BLNR. With a new engine, the Cal. 3285 complete with Chronergy escapement, as well as a Jubilee bracelet taking the place of the former Oyster, it lent just a touch more refinement overall.
Now among the most coveted watches on the planet, the Batman is a grail piece in the making.
Rolex GMT-Master II ref. 126710BLRO (Pepsi)
As if the Root Beer hadn’t been throwback to the glory days enough, 2018 saw most fans’ dream come true when Rolex released the mother of all vintage classics, a steel GMT-Master with a red and blue bezel.
In truth, there had been a modern Cerachrom Pepsi GMT since 2014, but fitted to a white gold case, the price of which had narrowed down the list of potential buyers significantly.
It is the color scheme which first launched the model onto an unsuspecting public way back in 1954, and became legendary in the process. Over the years there has always been a Pepsi, only disappearing when the new ceramic was introduced and staying missing until Rolex worked out the two-tone conundrum.
Its reintroduction into the portfolio has seen it become the current most wanted watch of them all, the perfect combination of old-school cool and cutting-edge mechanics.
However, in whatever getup it is issued, the GMT-Master II is still the ultimate travel companion.
Featured Photo Credits: Rcwatches, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons; Daniel Zimmermann, CC BY 2.0, via Flickr; GREGORIUZ, CC BY-NC 2.0, via Flickr.