The Rolex name is one of the most recognized brands on the entire planet, and a positively dominant force in the wristwatch world.
Recently, specific models like the Submariner, GMT-Master II, and Daytona are seemingly the only ones talked about. Yet considering Rolex’s annual production volume, estimated at 800,000 timepieces, you can be sure that there’s more than just Subs and GMTs being purchased.
On this page, we will be taking a look at the present catalog, currently populated with 14 Rolex models. We’ll also recap the history, and answer some of the most common questions revolving around the prominent luxury watch brand:
Throughout this guide, you’ll find blocks of links like the ones above that will help you jump to specific sections. Nevertheless, we recommend reading this guide in its entirety. By the time you reach the bottom of the page, you’ll be more than versed in all there is to know about the Swiss watchmaker Rolex.
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Other Rolex Guides
See Bespoke Unit’s Watch Reviews
Rolex Brand History
It’s pretty well known that a German-born man by the name of Hans Wilsdorf was the founder of Rolex, though it’s lesser known that in the beginning, he was not alone. Accompanying Wilsdorf in the birth of the watchmaking powerhouse was his brother-in-law Alfred Davis.
The fledgling company named Wilsdorf & Davis came to be in 1905 in London, from where the two founders would import Swiss watch movements and assemble them into cases in-house. These would then be distributed, unbranded, to jewellers at a time when wristwatches were not yet extremely popular.
The ROLEX brand name wouldn’t come into existence until three years later in 1908, when Wilsdorf first registered the trademark. In the same year, the first Swiss Rolex office would also open in La-Chaux-De-Fonds, Switzerland.
Wilsdorf & Davis concentrated on high-quality, high-precision wristwatches. So much so that, in 1910, a Rolex wristwatch became the first of its kind to be certified as a Swiss chronometer. The brand’s eternal marriage to accuracy, and more broadly to excellence in every aspect, would only grow from here.
World War I brought many issues for the luxury timepiece distributor, mainly high import and export duties, which led the company to relocate first to Bienne, Switzerland (Biel/Bienne in the modern day) in 1915 and later in 1919 to the current HQ location in Geneva.
The First Rolex Oyster Case & Perpetual Movements
Once established in Geneva, Rolex could concentrate on technological improvements for their timepieces. The first challenge came at the hands of water and dust, both of which could prove lethal to mechanical movements if they penetrated the case.
The answer came in 1926 in the form of the first Oyster case, a dustproof and waterproof watch case. This technical feat would be put to the test in 1927, when the Oyster watch was worn by Mercedes Gleitze in her 10-hour swim across the English Channel.
By the end of her odyssey, the watch remained in perfect working order, marking the brand’s first sponsored athlete and brand ambassador. Not ones to shy away from public attention, Rolex subsequently published a full front-page ad in the Daily Mail celebrating the accomplishment.
1931 saw the brand introduce their historic Perpetual movement – a self-winding caliber with a winding rotor that completely mitigated the need for manual winding. This “Perpetual” label has persevered until the modern day and is seen on every contemporary automatic Rolex model. For example, a Datejust is technically an Oyster Perpetual Datejust (as can be seen on the dial). The same is true for others, like the Day-Date and Explorers
The Birth Of The Datejust
In 1945, Rolex introduced the Datejust which was, according to the brand, the “first self-winding wrist chronometer” with a date function. With the Datejust also came the distinct fluted bezel and 5-link Jubilee bracelet, components which have become synonymous with quality and luxury in their own regard.
That same year, Hans Wilsdorf would establish a foundation, the Hans Wilsdorf Foundation, which would go on to inherit all of his ownership of the brand upon his death in 1960. The brand remains a charitable organization to this day, a fact which speaks to the success that can be attained when a perfect product is prioritized over profits.
Throughout the rest of the century, Rolex worked incessantly to establish itself as the wristwatch of choice for professionals and achievers across all fields. From their mountain summits, deep sea dives, and pioneering transcontinental flights would arise the instruments that founded the most popular catalog of watches of the modern day.
Modern Rolex Quality, Prestige, & Popularity
Naturally, all aspects of the timepieces have been upgraded and continue to be improved upon year after year. Rolex never ceases to work on enhancements, from the hairspring inside the movement, to the metal case of the watch, to the material making up their bezel inserts.
Their perseverance has resulted in modern Rolex watches that are considered by many as the embodiment of a perfect watch. The watches have also attained worldwide recognition as symbols of wealth and success.
There’s also been an explosion in demand for the most popular models in the past couple of years, leading to the newest releases trading for double their retail price on the pre-owned market.
To illustrate, let’s consider the Cosmograph Daytona 116500LN, a watch released in 2016. The watch’s retail price is $12,400. It can be purchased on the second hand market for $22,500-27,000. This kind of price discrepancy is a direct consequence of a very limited supply being distributed by the brand, and a very frenzied demand on the open market.
Interestingly enough, this effect is not seen across the entire industry. A couple of other brands, the likes of Patek Philippe, have achieved the same but none as widely successful as Rolex.
Evidently, the brand’s centuries-old ideology has proven prosperous, and likewise established a model for luxury watchmaking like none ever seen before.
Rolex Milestones & Models Timeline
- 1905 – Founded in London, England by Hans Wilsdorf & Alfred Davis
- 1908 – ROLEX trademark registered
- 1919 – Relocation to Geneva, Switzerland
- 1926 – First Oyster case
- 1931 – First Perpetual self-winding movement
- 1945 – Datejust watch (and Jubilee bracelet) released
- 1953 – Explorer
- 1953 – Submariner
- 1955 – GMT-Master I
- 1956 – Day-Date (and President bracelet)
- 1956 – Milgauss
- 1957 – Lady-Datejust
- 1963 – Cosmograph Daytona
- 1967 – Sea-Dweller
- 1971 – Explorer II
- 1978 – Sea-Dweller 4000
- 1992 – Pearlmaster
- 1992 – Yacht-Master
- 2005 – First Cerachrom bezel Rolex (116718LN)
- 2007 – Yacht-Master II
- 2013 – First all-Cerachrom bezel Daytona (116506)
Rolex Frequently Asked Questions
Where Are Rolex Watches Made?
Though all Rolex watches are made in Switzerland, each component is not made in the same place. Today, the brand boasts three main sites that individually serve as the movement manufacture, the case and bracelet factory, and a final assembly location. These three are located in Bienne, Plan-les-Ouates, and Geneva respectively.
How Accurate Is A Rolex?
Most Rolex watches throughout history have been certified as COSC chronometers. This means that an independent authority, the Official Swiss Chronometer Testing Institute (COSC), guaranteed the accuracy of individual (albeit uncased) movements that shipped.
In the modern day, the COSC’s requirements are extensive, but the most infamous one deals with the rate of the watch. It must be within -4 / +6 seconds a day. This means the watch may not lose more than 4 seconds or gain more than 6 seconds in a single day.
Not ones to be satisfied with just meeting requirements, Rolex decided to go above and beyond. As of 2015, their movements are now marketed as Superlative Chronometers. The caliber’s rate must be within -2 / +2 seconds per day, and the various tests must be passed not just by the movement, but by a fully-cased watch.
The improvement in accuracy also came with an extension of the manufacturer’s warranty to 5 years after purchase, a move that proved Rolex’s confidence in their product and which pushed other brands to follow suit.
Are Rolex Watches A Good Investment?
In October of 2017, a piece unique Paul Newman Daytona sold for a record $17.7 million dollars. Outside of these recent news, Rolex watches have for a long time held a reputation of being extremely valuable.
Unfortunately, it takes an extensive knowledge of the pre-owned watch market, as well a bit of luck, to actually make money off of a watch purchase. The fact that some Rolex sports models are trading above their MSRP is unusual when compared to the hundreds of thousands of other luxury watches that are produced each year and which lose more than half of their original retail price once they’re bought.
For this reason, we here at Bespoke Unit can only echo a popular saying in the watch industry: buy what you like. If you purchase a timepiece expecting to make money on it, you’re probably going to be disappointed. If there’s no expectation of ROI, then you’re truly primed to enjoy your watch to the fullest.
On the other hand, this doesn’t mean that you should be an uneducated buyer. There’s plenty of online listings to give you a sense of what a watch costs in its various conditions (new, pre-owned, gray market) An hour of online research will help you get a better idea of what a specific model is worth, how much you may lose if you buy it new and then sell it, and what actually constitutes a good deal on a watch.
All Rolex Models (2019)
- Datejust 36
- Datejust 41
- Lady Datejust
- Datejust 31
- Day-Date 36
- Day-Date 40
Includes Cellini Moonphase, Cellini Date, and Cellini Dual Time.
Both models available in various metals and generally feature factory-set diamonds.
- Pearlmaster 39
- Pearlmaster 34
Rolex’s most affordable family available. All models are crafted in steel (Rolex Oystersteel) and are available in a wide range of dial varieties, though all are time-only watches.
- Oyster Perpetual 39
- Oyster Perpetual 36
- Oyster Perpetual 34
- Oyster Perpetual 31
- Oyster Perpetual 26
One of Rolex’s most hight-tech movements presented as a dual-time function configured via the rotating Ring Command fluted bezel. Available in various metals, including all-steel, two-tone, and precious metal options both on straps and full Oyster bracelets.
The Yacht-Master I was released in 1992 and has remained a staple of Rolex’s steel sports model lines. In 2007, its larger and more horologically advanced progeny, the Yacht-Master II, was introduced with a game-changing Ring Command bezel and programmable countdown function with a mechanical ‘memory’.
More recent releases within this line also include the Rolex Everose Yacht-Master on the Oysterflex bracelet, as well as the Baselworld 2019 introduction of the white gold Yacht-Master 42.
- Yacht-Master 40
- Yacht-Master 37
- Yacht-Master II
- Yacht-Master 42
Rolex’s contemporary Cosmograph Daytona line boasts many case metal, bezel material, dial color, and band style options. The historic model’s looks and simple functionality have made it one of the most popular of all of Rolex’s catalog.
What’s there to say about the Rolex Submariner that hasn’t already been said? It’s the most popular Rolex model ever sold, possibly the most widely imitated, and the standard dive watch for all other brands to measure against.
Traditionally without a date function, yet the presence of the complication with its accompanying cyclops turns the ultimate tool watch into the perfect one-watch collection. Also available in all-gold and two-tone options, though all options boast Rolex Cerachrom bezels.
- Submariner Date
Arguably the most popular Rolex model line of the past years, the GMT-Master II model line has yet to bore watch fans with each subsequent release. Case metal options range from steel to two-tone to precious gold, with bands options alternating between the Oyster bracelet and most recently the Jubilee (AKA Super Jubilee)
One of Rolex’s most popular dive watch offerings, second only to the Submariner, in part due to its oversized style. The Sea-Dweller is the brand’s most extreme diving instrument boasting a helium release valve, thicker Oystersteel Oyster cases and most recently a two-tone option.
Rolex’s historic watch model for the most extreme of adventurers. Includes the Explorer I line, a time-only watch cherished for its simplicity and robustness, as well as the Explorer II line, which includes white and black dial options with the same steel case & bracelet construction.
- Explorer II
Rolex’s dedicated pilot’s style watch option touting a steel case and bracelet with military-style hour markers, green-printed ROLEX marquee on its dial, and time-only complication. One of the most affordable timepieces of the modern catalog, and also one of the most overlooked.
Yet another historic model line created by Rolex with professionals in mind. The Milgauss will forever be marked by its lightning-bolt center seconds hand and most recently, its green-tined sapphire crystal. Available in Z-Blue and black dial options, though possibly not for long, as the Milgauss line has given rise to many industry rumors regarding its potential discontinuation.
We hope our resource on everything Rolex has helped you get a better sense of what the most renowned Swiss watchmaker is all about. Let us know in the comments if you have any additional questions, and keep checking back as we’ll be updating this page with the latest news from the brand.
In the meantime, you can check out some of our other popular watch guides below:
- The Most Affordable Rolex Watches & The Cheapest New Rolex In The Catalog (2019)
- Review & Unboxing Of The Now-Discontinued GMT-Master II Batman
- What Are The Best GMT-Watches?
- The Top American Watchmaking Companies You Haven’t Heard Of
- All Of Our Watch Reviews
"Another entertaining horology article by the Bespoke Unit team! I've collected many brands in the past, but there's something different & special about a Rolex that keeps me coming back to them."Rating: 5.0★★★★★