Top 5 Rolex Watches to Add to Your Collection
When it comes to luxury watches, how many constitutes a ‘collection’?
There isn’t any hard and fast rule obviously, but in the case of Rolex, five is actually a pretty good number. Why? Well, I’m glad you asked.
The brand makes different models for different occasions and to do different things. There are pieces designed as travel companions, others to take underwater, some to wear when sailing on the water, a couple to go exploring with, one to use as a stopwatch, another devised for scientists and technicians, and a bunch just meant to look good whether you are wearing something casual or getting dressed up.
Basically, Rolex has spent the last century or so building their portfolio to such an extent that whoever you are and however you spend your time, there is a watch to match.
If you are just starting out on your journey and wondering which are the best five Rolex watches to begin a collection with, we have picked out the top choices below.
The Rolex Submariner
Chances are, when Rolex as a manufacturer first appeared on your radar, it was the Submariner that was responsible.
The world’s most famous and adored dive watch, it has been setting the standard for everything that’s followed for the last six decades.
From about 1959 right up until the start of the current generation, the outward styling has barely altered bar the introduction of a date window in the sixties, at which point the Sub range actually split in two; since then, a date and no-date version has been available.
The latest models of both have been given what’s known as Rolex’s Supercase, which features broader lugs and crown guards. That leads to more wrist presence even though the watch retains the same time-honored 40mm dimensions of all but the very earliest iterations.
However, in our view, the ideal Submariner for a burgeoning collection is the one before, the ref. 16610LN. Released in 1989, it has everything the newest piece has—904L steel construction, Cal. 3135 movement, 300m waterproofing—but the case keeps the flowing lines of old, as well as the aluminum bezel insert. Not as fade or scratch resistant as the contemporary Cerachrom ceramic, it means it will pick up a bit of character over the years.
Ultimately, of course, the choice in specific reference is yours, but a Submariner of some kind is practically a mandatory addition to any Rolex collection.
The Rolex GMT-Master II
Not far behind the Sub in terms of worldwide recognition, the GMT-Master is another massively long running series.
The archetypal pilots/travellers watch, and the first of its kind, its brilliance lies in its simplicity. It was initially conceived in conjunction with Pan Am Airlines as a way for their crews to fight off jetlag, with an extra hour hand pointing out a second time zone on the 24-hour engraved bezel.
And it is those surrounds which account for a great deal of the GMT’s fame. Each two-tone color scheme has garnered its own nickname over the years; the black and red became known as the ‘Coke’, the brown and gold is the ‘Root Beer’, more recently, the blue and black has been unofficially christened the ‘Batman’. But it is the blue and red from the debut model which will always be the most popular. Earning the moniker the ‘Pepsi’ almost instantly, it has held a near constant place in the lineup, while others have come and gone.
So which is the best reference to include in our top 5? Well, if you can track down (and afford) one of the newest offerings, I’d go with that. But the chances of picking one up from an Authorized Dealer these days are slim to none, and preowned examples are currently going for about double the retail.
My own inclination would be the ref. 16710. This was the second generation of the GMT-Master II, which differed from the original GMT-Master in that it allowed for independent control over the two hour hands. It was a model which ran from 1989 to 2007, so the market is awash with them and prices are pretty reasonable.
Still one of the most elegant ways of reading two time zones simultaneously, a GMT-Master II is another shoo-in for our group.
The Rolex Daytona
Quite possibly the most celebrated mechanical sports watch of the last thirty years, the Rolex Cosmograph Daytona is a true legend in horology circles.
Hugely underappreciated on its release in 1963, it would take until its second wave emerged some 25-years later (the first time it was fitted with an automatically-winding movement, albeit an outsourced one) before it started along the path towards its current status.
Today it is into its third age, with a caliber built by Rolex themselves, and the modern steel-cased, ceramic-bezeled models are the most sought-after watches money can’t buy. The brand grants their network of retailers one or maybe two each to sell annually and that miserly supply has seen waiting lists start to stretch off far into the future. Those wanting to jump the queue and buy through an independent retailer are generally hit with eye-watering premiums for their trouble.
Fortunately, there are still relative bargains to be had on the way to Daytona ownership. Those models from the middle generation, commonly called the Zenith Daytonas (the movement was a heavily reworked version of the El Primero from Swiss manufacturer Zenith) have a lot to offer at an attainable price.
The most affordable are actually the Rolesor pieces, Rolex’s name for their own blend of steel and gold. The ref. 116523 features a stainless steel case topped with a yellow gold tachymeter bezel, on an Oyster bracelet which is similarly half and half. Dials come in a range of colors, including black, white, champagne, blue, grey and even mother-of-pearl.
The bi-color metal look is one coming right back into vogue at the moment, and the ref. 116523 is the perfect opportunity to join an elite club; those who own one of the most fabled chronographs of all time.
The Rolex Datejust
The first three watches we’ve added to our collection have most of our everyday situations covered. They can all be worn with just about anything, from t-shirt and jeans to a business suit.
But these next two are at the more formal end, for those times when only something with a bit more dressy reserve is called for.
That being said, the Datejust is often touted as ‘the only watch you will ever need’. While it was once the flagship from Rolex and only made in solid gold, it soon diversified widely and became something of a bridge between the classic and sports watch collections—able to serve in either capacity.
Like the majority of the brand’s longest-running models (and it has been in unceasing production since 1945) the aesthetics have hardly changed over the years, with the only upgrades being mainly confined to the interior.
There is also a simply vast amount of variety on offer. Just about any combination of different metals, dial colors, bezel types and bracelet you can think of has been made, meaning there is one that perfectly matches any taste if you look hard enough.
If you are including just one in your Rolex gathering, the temptation would be to go for something with as much versatility as possible. From the preowned market, the ref. 16234, with a steel case and white gold fluted surround, has a sophisticated neutrality to it and, at the traditional 36mm, it won’t be overpowering. On top of that, it is extremely reasonably priced, even with its precious metal.
There was a massive shakeup in 2016 when Rolex brought out a 41mm version to cater to the fashion for larger watches. If you want your watch to draw a bit more attention, this could well be the way to go. The ref. 126333 is the steel and yellow gold Rolesor example which has always been the definitive Datejust look.
And best of all, unlike Rolex’s steel sports watches, there is a better than decent chance of being able to buy your DJ brand new at an Authorized Dealer.
The Rolex Day-Date
The watch that took over from the Datejust as the manufacturer’s top dog, the Day-Date is an unashamedly luxurious addition to the collection, for those times when only the best will do.
Cast in nothing but the finest of precious metals from day one, it has never tried to be anything other than a very special model and it’s been worn by some of modern history’s most powerful people. That association earned it the nickname The President and it continues to be first port of call for anyone who has truly made it in life, whether they are commander-in-chief, chairman of the board or simply at the pinnacle of whatever field they excel in.
It too is presented in a simply bewildering number of connotations, the only difference between it and the Datejust being the lack of steel anywhere in its makeup. You can choose from one of the three flavors of gold (yellow, white or red) as well as platinum for the ultimate statement.
However, the Day-Date’s reputation and materials doesn’t mean it is priced out of all affordability. It is often a welcome surprise just how realistic a vintage example can be. The classic ref. 1803, for instance, was in production for so long (1959 to 1977) and made in such huge quantities that they can be had for as little as $6,500 on a leather strap. One fitted on its dedicated President bracelet, with its three beautiful semi-circular links, will cost more but should still remain in the four-figure range. This for one of the most highly regarded watches ever made, cast in 18k gold, from the most successful manufacturer of all time.
You might not wear it on a particularly regular basis, but having a Rolex Day-Date in your arsenal will mean never having to worry about being underdressed.