It’s no secret that among luxury watches, Rolex is the one that dominates. The Swiss watchmaking giant has produced topnotch timepieces for well over a century. Rolex watches’ appealing mix of durable construction, recognizable designs, and luxurious finishes has fared extremely well for the brand. Naturally, Rolex’s lineup has expanded throughout its history with various models designed to serve different tastes and purposes. Today, we’ll be delving deep into the Rolex catalog to explain the main Rolex watch models so you can decide which one would suit you best.
Rolex Oyster Perpetual
In 1926, Rolex introduced the world’s first truly waterproof watch called the Oyster. And in 1931, Rolex released the self-winding Perpetual movement. The movement was equipped with a “Perpetual” rotor that swings with the wearer’s natural wrist motions to wind up the mainspring. The waterproof case and automatic movement would eventually become the signature traits of a vast majority of Rolex watches. In fact, most Rolex watches, whether the Datejust, Submariner, Daytona, and other, fall under the Oyster Perpetual range–but this is different from the Oyster Perpetual watch model.
The simplest of the bunch, the Oyster Perpetual model is a three-handed Rolex watch that is both water-resistant and automatic. Rolex originally offered the Oyster Perpetual in a range of materials including steel, gold, and two-tone, but today, they are only made in stainless steel. There are plenty of different sizes to choose from for men and women, in addition to an assortment of dial colors. Due to the simpler time-only functionality and stainless steel construction, the Oyster Perpetual is considered the entry-level Rolex watch.
The first Rolex Datejust watch appeared in 1945 to mark the company’s 40th anniversary. It was the world’s first chronometer wristwatch to display the date via a window on the dial. Today, the Datejust is Rolex’s best-selling model and most varied collection in terms of metal, size, bracelet, dial, and bezel options. In terms of size choices, the Datejust is available with 26mm, 28mm, 31mm, 36mm, and 41mm cases. Bezel options run the gamut from smooth to fluted to gem-set while metal options include steel, gold, a mix of steel and gold, in addition to some platinum versions of the Lady-Datejust.
One of the features of the Datejust watch is that its date window is instantaneous–meaning that the stroke of midnight, the date jumps to the next day rather than a slow transition over a few hours. Aside from some very early models from the 1940s and early 1950s, all Datejust watches have a magnification lens above the date officially called the Cyclops. The Cyclops always protrudes above the crystal in a bubble-like fashion and magnifies the date 2.5 times.
Rolex Explorer I
In 1953, Rolex unveiled the Explorer watch in honor of man’s first recorded ascent to the summit of Mount Everest. The then-new Rolex Explorer was based on Oyster Perpetual watches provided to crew members of the historic expedition but featured its own set of design details–many of which have remained intact almost seven decades later.
One of the most recognizable Rolex watch models ever made thanks to its consistent design, the Explorer has always been a time-only stainless steel Rolex watch with a black dial, Arabic numerals at 3, 6, and 9, and fitted with an Oyster bracelet. For most of its history, the Explorer sported a 36mm case but since 2010, it now comes with a 39mm case.
Rolex Explorer II
Almost 20 years after the introduction of the Explorer for adventurers and mountain explorers, Rolex released the Explorer II in 1971 specifically for spelunkers and polar explorers. Unlike the original time-only Explorer, the first Explorer II not only had a date window but also had a fixed bezel marked to 24 hours along with an extra 24-hour hand (synched to the traditional 12-hour hand) on the black dial. As a result, the first Rolex Explorer II was designed as a watch with an A.M./P.M. indicator for those adventurers who spend time in areas with irregular day/night cycles.
However, Rolex enhanced the second generation of the Explorer II watch to include an independent 24-hour hand, thus upgrading it to a dual time/GMT watch. Furthermore, the choice of a black or white dial was offered. Today, the Explorer II remains as a GMT watch but with a larger case, exclusively available in stainless steel and with the option of a white or black dial.
Undoubtedly the world’s most famous luxury dive watch, the Rolex Submariner made its debut in 1953 as the first dive watch rated to a depth of 100 meters. Purposely built for scuba divers, the Submariner featured a rotating bezel marked to 60 minutes to track immersion times, a time-only dial with luminous hands and hour markers, and stainless steel construction for resistance to corrosion.
Fast forward to the late 1960s and Rolex expanded the collection with Submariner models with date windows. What’s more, along with steel Submariner Date models, Rolex later added full gold and then two-tone Submariner watches to the range. Naturally, Rolex improved the water-resistance of the Submariner over the course of its history and its 40mm case is now water-resistant to 300 meters.
Today, the Submariner is a varied collection–the Submariner Date is available in various materials such as steel, gold, two-tone steel and gold, in addition to some different dial/bezel colors. On the other hand, the no-date Sub is only offered in steel with a black bezel and dial. Since the mid-2000s, Rolex replaced all aluminum bezels in the Submariner collection with Cerachrom ones, which is Rolex’s patented ceramic alloy.
Rolex Sea-Dweller & Deepsea
In the 1960s, Rolex had to evolve its dive watch offering to meet the needs of the saturation divers that worked for Compagnie Maritime d’Expertises (COMEX), a French company specialized in engineering and deep diving operations. And Rolex answered the need with the Sea-Dweller watch in 1967. Along with boasting a deeper water resistance rating than the Submariner, the Sea-Dweller was also fitted with a helium escape valve to release gasses that can build-up when saturation divers spend prolonged periods in pressurized environments. Releasing the built-up gases prevents the crystal from popping off the watch during decompression periods.
Similar to the Submariner, Rolex also improved the Sea-Dweller’s water-resistance and it rated to 1,220m deep. For most of its history, the Sea-Dweller was only available in stainless steel, sporting a 40mm case housing a black dial and fitted with a black bezel and Oyster bracelet. However, as of 2017, Rolex enlarged the case to 43mm and the following year it offered a two-tone Sea-Dweller combining stainless steel and yellow gold.
In 2008, Rolex launched the Sea-Dweller Deepsea model with a 44mm case water-resistant to an incredible 3,900m deep. While the original Rolex Deepsea model featured a classic black dial and black bezel combination, in 2014 a special “D-Blue” dial variant joined the lineup to commemorate James Cameron’s historic dive to the bottom of the Mariana Trench in the Deepsea Challenger submersible.
Rolex GMT-Master & GMT-Master II
As commercial air travel was flourishing in the 1950s, Pan Am airlines requested Rolex to design a watch for its fleet of pilots to track multiple time zones. And the Rolex GMT-Master watch was born. As its name implies, the watch was designed to help pilots track Greenwich Mean Time (which was used as international aviation time during that era), as well as local time.
The GMT-Master’s clever design featured two hour hands on the dial, one traditional 12-hour hand for local time and one 24-hour hand for reference time. The reference time (aka second time zone) is read off the 24-hour bezel, which the wearer rotates to align with the 24-hour hand to set the second time zone. It’s important to note that the first GMT-Master reference included a bi-colored bezel to allow easy differentiation between day/night hours–a design detail still available today.
In the 1980s, Rolex introduced the GMT-Master II, characterized by a 24-hour hand that could be set independently from the 12-hour hand. This meant that the wearer could leave the bezel in the zero position (triangle at 12) and move the 24-hour hand freely to the correct time. Rolex eventually phased out the GMT-Master in favor of the GMT-Master II in the late 1990s. Today, all current-production GMT-Master watches have Cerachrom bezels and the models come in a variety of metals and bezel colors.
Commonly referred to as the Rolex Presidential or President, the Rolex Day-Date came onto the scene in 1956 as the brand’s most prestigious watch model. Exclusively made in precious metals (gold or platinum) and featuring a pair of calendar windows on the dial to indicate the day and the date the Day-Date also debuted a then-new bracelet style called the President bracelet. Characterized by a three-link configuration comprised of semi-circular links, the President bracelet has become as iconic as the watch itself. The name of the bracelet coupled with the fact that some of the world’s most powerful people, including U.S. President wore the Day-Date paved the way for the famed Rolex President nickname.
Rolex has made several versions of the Day-Date over the years. The most classic and ubiquitous is the Day-Date with a 36mm case, President bracelet, and automatic movement. However, select versions of the Day-Date have also been fitted with leather straps and Oyster bracelets. Rolex has also made Oysterquartz Day-Date models with angular cases, integrated bracelets, and quartz movements. Furthermore, there are the now-discontinued Day-Date Masterpiece watches featuring 39mm cases and five-link Pearlmaster bracelets. Additionally, there was the short-lived Day-Date II with 41mm cases, which has now been replaced by the Day-Date 40 with 40mm cases.
Also in 1956, Rolex introduced the antimagnetic Milgauss watch. Named after its ability to withstand 1,000 gauss of magnetic fields, the Milgauss was perfectly suited for the burgeoning scientist and engineering fields of the era. A signature design trait of early Rolex Milgauss watches was the lightning-bolt seconds hand on the time-only dial. However, the following Rolex Milgauss watch generation no longer had this quirky design detail and the collection was eventually phased out in the 1980s.
However, Rolex re-launched the Milgauss in 2007 and not only brought back the lightning hand but also offered a special anniversary model with a green-tinted sapphire crystal. Then in 2014, the Z-Blue Milgauss model debuted with an electric blue dial and green sapphire crystal–a model that continues to be part of the collection today.
Rolex Cosmograph Daytona
Rolex released a new chronograph collection in 1963 called the Cosmograph, which quickly became the Cosmograph Daytona to emphasize the watch’s link with the world of motorsports. The first generation of the Daytona, which ran until the late 1980s, comprised of manual-winding chronographs topped with tachymeter marked bezels and fitted with dials that housed contrasting subdials. Rolex Daytona chronographs were not great sellers at the time, however, they are now some of the most sought-after vintage watches in today’s market. This is especially true of Daytona “Paul Newman” models, characterized by Art Deco style dials and nicknamed after the famous actor who famously sold one.
The next generation came in 1988 when Rolex transitioned the Daytona lineup into a collection of modern automatic chronographs powered by Zenith El Primero-based movements. Unlike the previous generation, this one became immediately popular and established the Rolex Daytona as the must-have luxury chronograph.
In 2000, Rolex revamped the Daytona yet again, this time with an in-house automatic movement. The design of the watches remained largely the same and the popularity of the Daytona continued. Sometime in the mid-2000s, Rolex began equipping select Daytona models with Cerachrom ceramic bezels. The current-production stainless steel Daytona with a black ceramic bezel is one of the most coveted luxury watches available today.
In 1992, Rolex unveiled the Yacht-Master as an ultra-luxurious sports watch for men in full 18k yellow gold with a rotating timing bezel and luminous time and date dial. Smaller models soon followed for women, as well as two-toned steel/yellow gold and steel/platinum versions. The steel and platinum Rolex Yacht-Master watches are known as Rolesium and are some of the most popular models within the range.
In 2015, Rolex added Everose gold Yacht-Master watches fitted with black Cerachrom ceramic bezels and a brand new bracelet style called the Oysterflex, which combines a metal interior blade with a black rubber coating. The following year, two-tone steel and Everose gold Yacht-Master models were released. And in more recent years, a larger 42mm Yacht-Master in white gold joined the collection. The choice of sizes and metals makes the Yacht-Master the most varied Rolex sports watch collection to date.
Rolex Yacht-Master II
In 2007, Rolex released the next chapter in the Yacht-Master story in the form of the Yacht-Master II. Unlike its predecessor, the Rolex Yacht-Master II is a complicated watch boasting a regatta flyback chronograph with a programmable countdown timer (which can be set anywhere from 1 – 10 minutes) with a mechanical memory. What’s more, the bezel is called a Ring Command Bezel because turning it activates which function of the watch to set.
Not only is the Yacht-Master II one of Rolex’s most complex watches but it’s also one of the largest and boldly designed with a 44mm case, blue Cerachrom ceramic bezel (except on the white gold models, which has a platinum bezel), and a punchy dial layout. The Yacht-Master II is available in steel, two-tone steel and gold, and full gold configurations.
The newest Rolex watch model and the brand’s first annual calendar timepiece, the Sky-Dweller joined the brand’s catalog in 2012. Available in three shades of gold, two-tone yellow gold and steel, or steel with a white gold bezel, the Sky-Dweller features a generously sized 42mm case topped with a fluted bezel. This particular Rolex watch pairs striking style with complex mechanics.
First, as an annual calendar, the date window and apertures adjacent to the hour markers to indicate the current month automatically adjust throughout most of the year since the movement is able to differentiate between months with 30 and 31 days. The only time the wearer has to manually adjust the calendar windows is on March 1st due to the 28 or 29 days of February. Along with this, the Sky-Dweller also features a second time zone displayed via an off-centered 24-hour disc on the dial. The combination of the GMT functionality and annual calendar mechanism makes the Sky-Dweller the ultimate traveler’s watch.
From the pared-down Explorer and Oyster Perpetual to the classic Datejust and Day-Date to the famed Submariner and GMT-Master to the complex Yacht-Master II and Sky-Dweller, the Rolex catalog is replete with iconic luxury watches that have become almost as famous the legendary Crown that graces their dials. Simply stated, no other watch brand comes close to Rolex’s roster of winning watches. Whether you’re looking to join the Rolex club or a veteran with an already impressive collection of models, buying a Rolex watch is a special occasion to be celebrated.