Top 10 Most Popular Rolex Watch Models
With Rolex being as secretive as it is, compiling a list of their bestselling watches takes a certain amount of educated guesswork. The company is actually a registered charity, owned by the Hans Wilsdorf Foundation, and as such is not obliged to publish anything in the way of sales figures. And they never have.
So, as a workaround, we enlisted the help of our trusted old friend Google to tell us which models have been searched for the most. Whether or not that translates into them actually being bought in the same volumes only the accountants at Rolex HQ know—and they ain’t saying.
Read on below to check out the results.
1. The Rolex Submariner
No prizes for guessing number one. The most recognizable dive watch ever made and the blueprint for just about every one that has come after, the Sub has been in a class of its own since the beginning, way back in 1953. Taking full advantage of Rolex’s proprietary Oyster case, it was really the first watch to manage the neat trick of being a highly capable tool while also staying stylish enough to match any occasion and any outfit. Just ask 007.
The classic black edition is, of course, out there in front but interestingly the blue bezel and dialed version (the ref. 116619LB, otherwise known as the Smurf) very slightly beats out the Hulk, the green model, in search frequency.
2. The Rolex Daytona
Again, this is not going to come as a surprise to anyone who hasn’t been living under a rock for the last 20 years. The Cosmograph Daytona is Rolex’s legendary racer, and has been about the most desirable model on the planet for the best part of two decades now. It is the one some credit with kicking off the vintage and pre-owned watch market as we know it today, and new versions generate some fearsome waiting lists. Coupled with that, certain references from the archives, such as the so-called Paul Newman Daytonas, are among the most expensive timepieces money can buy.
Gold Daytonas are the most searched for, closely followed by stainless steel—probably from people desperately trying to find ones for sale.
3. The Rolex Datejust
One of the longest unbroken production runs of any in the Rolex catalog, and among the most iconic models from any manufacturer, it is something of a surprise to find the Datejust in the bottom half of the list.
Hailing from 1945, when it became the first automatic waterproof watch ever made to display a date function, it was the premier offering from the world’s foremost brand until the arrival of the President a little over a decade later.
Unlike the Day-Date though, the Datejust has more of an everyman reputation. There have always been steel and half-and-half Rolesor examples scattered among all the gold, and the range of different dial, bezel and bracelet combinations have numbered into the hundreds over the years.
It too has been given a larger top end model recently, with a 41mm piece joining the classic 36mm. In addition, there are two sizes aimed at a female audience; a 31mm, and a 28mm officially titled the Lady-Datejust which, if rumors are to be believed, is the bestselling Rolex watch of all time by a very long way. On top of that, there is a 34mm just called the Date.
4. The Rolex President
Although it is officially the Day-Date, Rolex’s flagship is better known (and most searched by) its nickname the President, a moniker it was given after it found its way onto the wrists of many of history’s most powerful figures, including a number of commanders-in-chief.
Arriving in 1956, it has long been an unashamedly elitist creation and only ever available in precious metals. Throughout its production it has been forged in white, yellow and rose gold, as well as the noblest of them all, platinum.
About as clear a representation of the establishment as an Ivy League college, the Day-Date has barely changed over the last six decades. The biggest shakeup in its history came in 2015 when the old warhorse was dragged into the 21stcentury and granted a 40mm version to run alongside the time-honored 36mm.
Now just as likely to be seen festooned with diamonds on the wrists of heavyweight champions as it is in the dark corridors of power, it has an enduring appeal that transcends any divide.
Of its countless different versions, it is the white gold models which sit at the top of the search pages.
5. The Rolex GMT-Master II
The GMT-Master is to travel watches what the Submariner is to dive watches. Originally developed in conjunction with Pan-Am Airways as a way to help their crews stave off the effects of jetlag, the first of the series arrived in 1954. The follow-up, the GMT-Master II, debuted in 1983 with the ref. 16710, otherwise known as the Fat Lady. It got its unfortunate name due to its bulky case, a necessity to incorporate a new kind of movement which delinked the watch’s two hour hands, allowing the 24-hour indicator to be adjusted independently for the first time.
Over the years, the GMT has been issued in a wide range of distinctive color schemes, with its two-tone bezels receiving unofficial designations by fans. Most notable combinations have been the red and blue Pepsi, the black and red Coke and the brown and gold Root Beer. But the most well received, and most searched, contemporary version has only very recently been discontinued—and it was the first to have a two-tone Cerachrom surround, the blue and black edition called the Batman.
The Rolex Yacht-Master was launched in 1992 as a more luxuriously appointed alternative to the Submariner. It was the first of Rolex’s sports collection to be available in three sizes; a 29mm Ladies version, a mid-size 35mm and the full-blooded 40mm. Today, the range consists of a 37mm and a 40mm. It also pioneered two other innovations. It debuted Rolex’s inaugural rubber strap, the Oysterflex, a high-tech polymer covering a titanium and nickel core. And it was the first watch given a new combination of metals, with a stainless steel case topped by a platinum bezel; what Rolex call Rolesium.
The 2015 release of an Everose-cased model with a Cerachrom bezel and Oysterflex has been a massive success for the brand—and is among the most popular searches.
7. Oyster Perpetual
Well-known as the entry level Rolex, the Oyster Perpetual series has been around longer than even the venerable Datejust. Just about as basic a watch as it is possible to get, the modest three-hand, no-date models are the epitome of restraint and simplicity. They are often bought either as the first step in a burgeoning collection, or else by those who want the one watch which will go with anything and last forever. The current range is exclusively cast in stainless steel, and available in a total of five sizes. Looking back at vintage pieces, there are an almost uncountable number of different dial colors to choose from, with plenty of gold and Rolesor examples as well.
The recently released 39mm model is currently the most popular search term.
8. The Rolex Air-King
Another model representing something of an entry point into Rolex ownership, the Air-King also debuted in 1945, one of a family of ‘Air’ watches Hans Wilsdorf created during WWII to commemorate the heroics of Britain’s RAF pilots.
It was upgraded only superficially for most of its run, and one of its references, the ref. 5500, went for an incredible 37-years with practically no modernizations whatsoever.
The name was discontinued in 2014, but made a surprise, and highly altered, comeback two years later. The new Air-King has a 40mm case, up from the 34mm it has been mostly seen in through the generations, and brings the ‘Warrior’s Watch’ bang up-to-date.
Unlike most models in the catalog, there is only one variant, in all steel, with possibly the most legible face of them all. The rich black dial is given the Explorer-esque 3/6/9 numerals, with a prominent minute scale for ease of reading.
9. The Rolex Sea-Dweller
Of Rolex’s class-leading dive trio, alongside the venerable Submariner and the enormous Deepsea, it is the Sea-Dweller that perhaps offers the most perfect blend of style and substance.
The original, the ref. 1665 Double Red (possibly the most revered of any of the brand’s vintage tool watches) was waterproof to 2,000ft, already far outshining anything available at the time.
However, that quickly doubled with the ref. 16660, or the Triple Six from 1978, until it could survive a dip to three quarters of a mile underwater.
Unlike the Submariner, the Sea-Dweller has always stayed true to its origins. While the little brother has gone on to become an undoubted status symbol, and been given the precious metal finery that goes hand in hand with it, the Sea-Dweller is first and foremost about performance. Forged only from the toughest steel, it is a no-nonsense companion for the world’s professional divers.
There have been some legendary references over the last half century, with some of the strongest investment potential in the lineup. The last 40mm model before the dimensions were upped to 43mm, the ref. 116600, is a particularly tempting target.
10. The Rolex Milgauss
What was once thought of as the ‘forgotten Rolex’ (as was the Daytona for the first 25-years of its run, ironically) the Milgauss was built as a watch for scientists.
Released around the same time as three of the brand’s biggest ever hitters; the Submariner, the GMT-Master and the Day-Date, the Milgauss and its antimagnetic properties remained hidden in their significant shadows for years.
More recently however, it has graduated to genuine cult hero status. Everyone’s love of an underdog story has led to a huge resurgence of interest in the Milgauss, and vintage examples are being evermore sought out.
Its initial models shared an almost identical aesthetic with the Sub, even down to the rotating bezel. After that it became a humble three-handed, date-less workhorse.
Discontinued for 20 years in the late 80s, it made a triumphant comeback in 2007, housed in the same double case as the Air-King to ensure its magnetic resistance, and has been granted a range of different guises. The most recent, with an electric blue dial under Rolex’s first ever green tinted sapphire, has been a showstopper with brand followers.
These days, the Milgauss is finally enjoying its moment in the sun.
— Featured Photo Credit: BeckerTime’s Archive.