Because each new Rolex design is typically evolutionary rather than revolutionary, distinguishing a late model Rolex from an older watch can be difficult. Design differences are subtle. A Submariner purchased in 2000 is often virtually identical to the same reference purchased a few years later.
For Rolex watches manufactured up to 2009, determining the approximate production date is easy. The serial number is sequential from 1926 through the middle of 1987 and the production year can be looked up in a reference table. From mid-1987 through the fall of 2009, the serial number contains an easy-to-understand date code.
It’s worth noting that in 1954 Rolex production reached 1,000,000 total units. Rather than letting the sequence continue with seven digit numbers, they reset to 100,000. When serial number 999,999 came up again, Rolex continued the serial number sequence into seven digits.
Confusion on the age of watches produced between the mid 1950’s and early 1960’s can often be cleared up because Rolex also put date codes inside many of the case backs of these watches. These codes consisted of a two-digit year and a Roman numeral quarter.
Beginning in the fall of 2009, Rolex went to a random numbering system for serial numbers. There currently is no tool to identify production date for watches produced after that time.
On all models produced before 2007, the serial # is located between the bottom lugs (where the band connects to the case). The band will need to be removed to view the serial #
The following is an example showing where the serial # is located:
Between 2006 and 2007, Rolex began to engrave the serial number on the dial rehaut, or inner bezel, at the six o’clock position (as well as between the case lugs) on some models. It takes close inspection but the number is visible through the crystal. Between 2008 and 2010, Rolex gradually phased out engraving the serial number on the case between the lugs.
For watches produced from 1926 until 1987, the serial numbers are sequential. Use the table below to look up the production year of your watch. From 1987 until 2009, the letter preceding the serial number designates the watch’s year of manufacture.
It’s also important to note, the serial number is not an absolute identifier of the watch’s production date. Components may have been stockpiled for some before being used for assembly. But it’s safe to say the serial number provides a 1-2 year range on the age of the watch.
This chart indicates approximate production date according to serial number.