Rolex Models List: The History of Famous Watches and Why They Are Amazing
Rolex Models List
The name Rolex carries a lot of weight, with an air of prestige and luxury – and Rolex watches also have a hefty price tag. But what is so great about the various makes and models, their history and what makes them good? Here we will explore a little bit more about the following types of Rolex models, which includes many iconic and classic designs:
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Rolex Air-King – A Historic Rolex Model Born in World War II
Rolex watches are high performance and designed for the most demanding or intensive sports and adventures across land and sea, but also, in this case, air. The Air-King is a historic model that has its roots in World War II, where the Rolex ‘Air’ was first produced for pilots of the Royal Air Force. The Air-King, an Oyster Perpetual Rolex, was then released to the general market in 1945.
The Air-King has a large number of vintage varieties, which is only natural as it is one of the longest-running Rolex models in existence, but it also has many modern varieties that run alongside them. Air-King watches are known for the following characteristics:
- Stainless steel materials: The durable and functional properties of stainless steel makes the Air-King an understated beauty in our list. The stainless steel materials reflect the watch’s roots in the aerospace revolution from the 1940s-onwards nicely.
- Large Oyster case: Modern Air King Rolex models are 40mm in diameter and the watch has always been known for its weighty look – in the 1940’s it had a 34mm case, which was big for watches of that era. Many vintage Air Kings have a 36mm case.
- Silver, grey and black dials: The various Air-King references, notably the 5500, have different colour dials that have shifted in desirability over the years. Since the 1950s, silver, grey and black were popular, but the newer 14010 has a unique deep blue dial.
Air-King Rolex models have a few distinct eras, and the modern versions are sometimes seen as controversial among purists. Interesting numeral styles are available, notably Arabic numerals, and the wide variety of the Air-King makes it a favourite among collectors. It is a simple and not the most expensive or in-demand model, but vintage models are particularly highly-prized.
Rolex Datejust – A Celebration of Precious Metals
The Rolex Oyster Perpetual Datejust is a celebratory design, first launched to mark the Rolex company’s 40th year – all the way back in 1945. The Datejust is notable for introducing the date display for the wearer, the world’s only self-winding watch to do so at the time of release. The Datejust is a subtle, classic design that does not demand fanfare, though it is worthy of praise.
The Datejust makes a very strong visual impression but it is not meant as a dive watch or for any other type of specialist or sport use. It is purely a watch worn for the joy of wearing it, and it of course includes Rolex’s incredible craftsmanship. Features of the Datejust include the following:
- Precious metals: Though the Datejust is a subtle and unobtrusive watch it does not shy away from precious metals. Solid gold is the material that carries the most value in these watches, but the two-tone gold and stainless steel varieties are also in demand.
- Varying case sizes: The case sizes are one of the key variations between different types of Datejust designs. With a wide range of sizes (from 28 to 41mm) in the modern Datejust designs, the different sizes often make the watches look alien to each other.
- Dial, bracelet and numeral options: The Oyster and Jubilee bracelet variations are part of the model’s wide appeal, and with a model in gold, white, or silver, and dials with Roman numerals, fluted bezels and more options, there is something for all tastes.
The Datejust is a rightfully celebratory Rolex model that will delight the wearer with its long history and pure aesthetics. The Datejust is also the first watch to feature the distinctive Jubilee five-piece link bracelet, seen in all future models, and it was made especially for it. The Datejust is a classic watch with a huge amount of variety, so they are very valuable to the right person.
Rolex Day-Date – An Iconic Watch with Day and Date Wheels
The Oyster Perpetual Day-Date was first released in the 1960s and reflects the growing pace of technological change and Rolex’s desire for an increasingly global sphere of influence. The Day-Date is remarkable for its innovation of including a separate day wheel window in the 12 ‘o’clock position – a unique feature that will display the day name in full.
Day-Date Rolex Models are typically luxurious, but it is also a model that embraces this a bit more boldly, with the early and modern models available only in solid yellow gold, white gold, rose gold, or platinum – no stainless steel here! Day-Dates have the following important features:
- Two large and simple sizes: The Oyster case is a chunky one, thanks to the inclusion of an additional wheel. The case is slightly domed, which is similar to the Bubbleback models on other Rolex designs. Modern versions are in 40mm or 36mm cases.
- Multilingual day and date: There were originally 11 languages upon the Day-Date’s debut, reflecting the Rolex company’s expanding reach and reputation, but now there are up to 26 languages available. Arabic numerals and day names are globally popular.
- Unique bracelet: People sometimes call the Day-Date ‘The President’, as it was the first watch to feature the semi-circular link design of this now-famous but then ground-breaking design. The President bracelets are seen on many other models.
In terms of luxury and functionality, this is one of the Rolex models on our list that dovetails the two very well. Due to its use of quite expensive precious metals (most commonly 18-carat gold), it is of consistent value on the open market. Combined with its collectability and a long list of historical models, the Day-Date is one of the leading Rolex models out there.
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Rolex Daytona – A Racing Revolution
In the 1960s many people would flock to Florida in the United States to witness the intense motorsports of the city of Daytona – where this iconic model gets its name. The Daytona is one of the Rolex models in our list that is specifically a sports watch, designed for racecar drivers who need to measure their elapsed lap time and calculate race-critical data like average speed.
The Rolex Daytona is not one of the longest-running models available – it is actually comparatively new, given the company was formed in 1905 – but it is now a hugely popular one, especially in the United States. Ironically, early models in the 1960s were not successful at all. Daytona features include:
- Chronograph dials: The chronograph sets the Daytona apart from other models. While racers found a massive benefit to them in the days before instant voice contact and real-time feedback, non-racers will find them quite interesting and useful too.
- Durable Oyster cases: With little time for soft metals like gold, the Daytona uses durable stainless steel and the rugged Oyster case to keep the intricate movement protected. So, even though it is a sport watch, even vintage models will last for years.
- The Hollywood factor: The Daytona features a variant sometimes called ‘the Paul Newman’, who wore the watch as he pursued racing professionally as well as acting. This has made all varieties quite glamorous, with an old school Hollywood appeal.
With one of the more unique Rolex dials, precision movements, and celebrity currency, the Rolex Daytona is possibly one of the most sought after models – particularly older models from when the design was less successful, which are often known as “pre-Daytonas” today. Paul Newman’s original Daytona watch, gifted to him by his wife, sold at auction for almost $18 million in 2017.
Rolex Explorer – The Adventurer’s Watch of Choice
Sir Edmund Hilary and Tenzing Norgay, among other Nepalese heroes, are to thank for our next Rolex model. These legendary explorers inspired the Rolex Explorer and Explorer II designs. A self-winding movement, this watch is based on the ‘Bubbleback’ design (another classic model) and is an immensely robust watch, meant to handle the most demanding environments.
It is not a flashy Rolex model by any stretch, but it has the substance to back up its reputation. The explorer was launched in 1953, the same year as the first documented ascent of Everest. With stainless steel materials, this watch is more tool than jewel and has the following features:
- Luminous Rolex dials: The original Explorer introduces a highly-visible luminous dial for the wearer, perfect for quick timekeeping in any environment – including low-light conditions. Originally it featured a black dial, but the Explorer II features a white dial.
- Amagnetic: The waterproof Oyster case houses its mechanism inside an amagnetic structure. Mountaineering and adventure sports can result in disruption from Earth’s magnetic forces, but this impressive feature removes any problems of inaccurate time.
- Iconic 3-6-9 numerals: The Explorer is precise, with individual minutes on the dial and a sweeping second hand, but there is no room for aesthetics over function. The classic 3-6-9, with an inverted triangle over the 12, is a hallmark of many old Explorer models.
An interesting bit of trivia on the Explorer’s luminous dial innovation is that it was originally done using radium – now known to be completely inappropriate due to its health dangers. These days, the numerals and other parts of the dial use a luminescent called Super-LumiNova. The Explorer and Explorer II are classic, functional watches – famed for utility more than as pieces of jewellery.
Rolex GMT Master – A Tribute to the Pioneers of Flight
The Rolex GMT Master is a collaboration with the now-defunct Pan-American World Airways air carrier. It is hard to get across just how iconic this airline was and how instrumental it was in bringing safe, comfortable, and luxurious overseas travel to the world. Pan-Am was the perfect partner for Rolex, creating reliable watches suitable for pilots and air travel navigation teams.
The GMT Master is known for its distinctive bezel, which features numerals that are along the outer edge and easy to see in low light. Points of interest include the magnified date over the dial, for timekeeping at a glance, and the 3-piece stainless steel case. Other features include:
- 24-hour display: GMT stands for ‘Greenwich Mean Time’ and the GMT Master introduced a fourth hand complication, ideal for pilots to set second time zones for their destination. The GMT Master promises complete precision across the globe.
- Rotatable bezel: The most important part of the GMT Master or GMT Master II is the rotatable bezel. Something that enables the wearer to add multiple time zones, ideal for pilots who use GMT and UTC (Coordinated Universal Time) for aviation planning.
- Compass use: The GMT Master II introduces a fantastic feature, which is that you can use it as a compass too. With the time set to the correct time zone, point the small hour hand sunward with the watch flat, and voila – the 24-hour hand will point north.
The cool and steely rotatable bezel is often presented in red and blue, which is part of the reason why it has the nickname ‘Pepsi bezel’, and is reminiscent of the class and prestige of the golden age of air travel – when flying in a plane, more often than not, required a suit and tie. The GMT Master has mostly maintained its distinct look through the ages, so it is an enduring classic.
Rolex Milgauss – An Homage to the Atomic Age
The Rolex Oyster Perpetual Milgauss was originally designed with a similar feature to the Explorer in mind – the ability to keep precise time when around electromagnetic fields. Watches in the Milgauss range were developed in the 1950s for scientists at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Geneva.
The Milgauss is capable of withstanding up to 1,000 gauss (the unit of measurement for magnetic induction) – hence the name. As a scientist’s watch, it was not the most popular upon release and lacks the glamour of certain Rolex watches. The Milgauss has the following features:
- Amagnetic case: A special shield inside the case protects the mechanism and the case itself uses special alloys that will resist the effects of magnetism. Magnetism may not affect the average modern user, but even small exposure will affect a mechanism.
- Non-scratch glass: Some vintage Rolexes have small scratches on the face, but not so much on the Milgauss, as it uses a scratch-resistant crystal. The Milgauss is very much a ‘working watch’ so it is an ultra-high performance at every point – inside and out.
- Power reserve: The Milgauss uses a 48-hour power reserve in its self-winding movement. Another nod to its use as a watch by scientists, the Milgauss offers support to ambitious, time-critical projects – such as atomic projects of the 1950s and 1960s.
During a period of existential threat and speculations on the future of the atomic age, the Milgauss sought to be a reliable watch – defying perceptions of the time. Vintage models are more valuable than the 2007 50th anniversary models, as the watch was discontinued for a time after the 1980s. Overall, it is one of the most practical Rolex models and highly collectable too.
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Oyster Perpetual – The Simple Classic
Many Rolex models use the classic Oyster Perpetual movement and Rolex Oyster Perpetuals are a simple design in the famous Oyster case – first made in 1926. The name ‘Oyster’ for the case comes from the fact that it is waterproof, and it was also the world’s first waterproof watch, so it carries some historical importance.
The ‘Perpetual’ movement name came about because this watch is wound simply by the movement of the wearer’s wrist. This was a huge innovation added in 1931 and set Rolex apart as a brand. There are a wide variety of different Oyster Perpetuals but notable features include the following:
- Entry-level pricing with top performance: The simplicity of the Oyster Perpetual is reflected in its value, which is within reach of most aficionados by comparison to other models. However, the Oyster Perpetual performs as reliably as any other Rolex does.
- Classic 3-hand design: It is a simple watch, that’s for sure, so hours, minutes and seconds are all that is on the watch face. There are several varieties in the numerals, but the most popular designs will feature the 3-6-9 numerals or non-numeral designs.
- Oyster bracelet and Oyster clasp: You are not just buying the watch with an Oyster Perpetual; you also get the benefit of the classic Oyster Bracelet and Oyster clasp on the watch. They match the design of the watch itself and work just as reliably.
Although it is considered somewhat of an entry-level watch for Rolex standards, the Oyster Perpetual maintains its status as a timeless classic. As such, it is highly collectable and always in demand. The variety of dial colours is also desirable and it is a watch that can suit most tastes. The Oyster Perpetual is one of the most enduring Rolex models in terms of market demand.
Rolex Sea-Dweller – The Divers Choice
Diving is important as a sport in the watch world. For divers, in many cases, precise timing is a matter of life and death – especially in the early days of the sport, where Rolex was a key player. The Sea-Dweller is a watch that is capable of performing at extreme depths – up to 1,000 feet originally, and now with advanced models available that work up to 12,800 feet.
The Sea-Dweller is a specialist watch, not primarily intended for the casual wearer, and many of its performance benefits will be lost on non-divers. The Sea-Dweller is still one of the most collectable and value-holding Rolexes in both steel and gold. Some notable features include:
- Integrated helium escape valve: As divers descend, helium trapped in the watch can be automatically released by using the Sea Dweller’s escape valve. This specialised valve allows gas to escape at depth while maintaining the waterproofness of the case.
- Bulky casing: Given the high pressure that the watch is subjected to, the casing is very big – up to a whopping 44mm on the Sea-Dweller Deepsea model. If you are after a large and bulky design, the Sea-Dweller casing is one of the best Rolex models.
- Rotating bezel: Timing is made much simpler with the rotating bezel on the Sea-Dweller, which will give you a visual cue for when it is time to ascend. The rotating bezel is similar to the GMT Master but without the 24-hour two-tone colouring.
As they are such a specialist item and were discontinued for a time, the Sea-Dweller is a relatively rare Rolex model that holds value. Modern models are very expensive, particularly Deep Sea models, and are more concept watches – rarely used for their high-performance qualities in a practical sense. Sea Dwellers are interesting and collectable but not so common on the market.
Rolex Submariner – The Shallow Divers Choice
If you are a diver or swimmer the Submariner is one of the best Rolex models you can get, but it also has an excellent sense of style. With a very luxurious and water or corrosion-resistant case (even in heavy salt, acidic and alkaline water), it is considered more of a classic design than the specialist Sea-Dweller models and forms part of Rolex’s many Oyster Perpetual products.
It is a rugged-looking sport watch, but it does not quite scream ‘dive watch’ as loudly as the Sea-Dwellers do. It subtly blends performance and aesthetics, which may explain why it was in several of the James Bond films. The features of the Rolex Submariner include the following:
- Style and substance: Part of the appeal for the Submariner is how you could wear it on a dive and take it out to dinner afterwards. Many people consider the blend of form and function to be integral to the Submariner’s enduring demand.
- Historic appeal: The Submariner has been in production continuously since 1954 and diving is one of the most historically important sports to the Rolex brand. The Rolex Submariner is a timeless choice that will be in production as long as the brand exists.
- Bold colours and designs: The colours of the rotatable bezel, dials and numerals are designed to pop in dark water. All depths can have murky waters and the Submariner uses blues, blacks, greens and whites for quick and easy reading underwater.
As a watch that is so high performance, the Submariner is interesting as it comes in stainless steel, white gold, and yellow gold, so there is room for an element of luxury. It also makes the Submariner a good opportunity as an investment. Overall, this is a classic design and possibly one of the most popular Rolex models, with consistent demand worldwide.
Rolex Yacht-Master – A Luxurious Lifestyle Watch
The Rolex Yacht-Master is another in the line of prestige Rolex models, designed for the sport of sailing. This is one of the more unique watches on our list as it is a relatively new addition – first produced in 1992. It is a sports watch designed primarily for yacht racing, so it combines the nautical and race history that is integral to the Rolex brand quite well.
The Yacht-Master was originally available in two-tone stainless steel and yellow gold. It also has a ladies’ version and a mid-size model, so even though it is a new addition the Yacht-Master is packing a lot into a small timeframe by offering a lot of variety. Features include the following:
- Big case sizes: The Yacht-Master is available with 37 to 42mm case sizes, which gives it considerable heft. It is not a diving watch but all of the cases are waterproof up to 100m. Large cases can add a high cost to the watch, depending on material choices.
- Timing functions: As it is meant for yacht racing, there is a time with running seconds, a date display, and also a rotating bidirectional bezel – for timing race runs within 60 minutes.
- Adjustable countdown timer: On the Yacht-Master II, released in 2007, Rolex adds the benefit of a countdown timer. This feature is programmable from 1 to 10 minutes and was the first watch to do so using a mechanical-only design.
Given the range of materials (yellow, white, and rose gold versions exist), it is a desirable watch with a luxurious sense of appeal. To some people, it may seem a little bit showy, as yacht racing has a reputation as a sport mostly for the wealthy, but it is still an impressive watch. Overall, the Yacht-Master is a leader of Rolex’s modern designs – and who knows how history will judge?
Buy and Sell Your Favourite Rolex Models with No Auction Fees
We buy and sell a wide variety of Rolex models, including all the ones mentioned on our extensive list. If you would like to buy a Rolex, which is fully appraised and certified by our expert team, please take a look at our current stock for the models we have available to buy. We are proud to stock many modern and vintage designs from several leading watch brands.
If you would like to sell your Rolex watch then we are the ideal partner – as you avoid all auction fees. You will understand how our reputation as a friendly, professional and honest buyer wins us a lot of praise. See below for what one person has to say about selling their Rolex with us:
“I have just sold my Rolex Submariner to Daniel. He gave me a very fair price and the transaction was flawless. He travelled over 90 miles to be with me and was spot on time too! A real honourable gentleman and I would not hesitate to deal with him again.”
– Pelham Temple
We buy and sell many Rolex watches and are interested in buying all the different models detailed in this list, as well as others. We have built our business over 20 years in the antique trade and will be delighted to value your watches or any other items that we buy. Please feel free to book a valuation by getting in touch with us today.