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TOP TEN: Most Popular & Iconic Rolex Watches of all Time

by Paul Symonds December 17, 2020 13 min read

TOP TEN: Most Popular & Iconic Rolex Watches of all Time | Swiss Watch Trader

WELCOME TO OUR LIST OF THE TOP TEN MOST POPULAR & ICONIC ROLEX WATCHES OF ALL TIME

Rolex is one of the most recognisable and popular watch brands in the world. Established in 1905, Rolex has become is the largest manufacturer of certified Swiss-made chronometers, with their iconic watches such as the Daytona and Submariner considered the height of luxury and elegance. Known for holding - and often increasing - their value over time, a Rolex watch is more than just a status symbol. It’s an investment. We have put together this list of what we consider to be the top ten most popular and iconic Rolex watches of all time.

 

1. THE ROLEX DAYTONA (STEEL)

Rolex Daytona

QUICK HISTORY OF THE ROLEX DAYTONA: The Rolex Cosmograph ref 6239 was released by Rolex in 1963 and was original called the Le Mans. It wasn't until 1965 that Rolex named the watch the Daytona. Early version of the Rolex Daytona were fitted with push-in chronograph buttons before being fitted with water-proof screw in pushers in 1965. In 1988 Rolex introduced the first self-winding Daytona using the Zenith El Primero movement. This movement was slightly modified by Rolex and renamed the 4030. In 2000 Rolex released a Daytona with an in-house movement. The Rolex Cosmograph Daytona 116520 was available with white or black dials and used the Rolex calibre 4130 automatic movement with 72 hour power reserve. The Rolex Daytona 116520 last steel model to feature an engraved stainless steel bezel.

CURRENT VERSIONS: Rolex released the most recent incarnation of the Rolex Daytona in 2016 with the 116500. This new model is the first steel Rolex Daytona to feature a black ceramic bezel. The 116500 is available with white or black dials and only available on the all steel Oyster bracelet. It is only the precious metal versions that are available on the rubber Oysterflex strap.

OUR PICK: Although we absolutely love it, would dismiss the current version of the Rolex Daytona due to the excessive asking prices - unless you are lucky enough to get one from your local AD at retail price. We would go for an early Daytona 116520, possibly a thin hand version, or one of the very last with the updated clasp and the blue glowing Chromalight dial.

 

2. THE ROLEX SUBMARINER DATE (STEEL)

Rolex Submariner 16610

QUICK HISTORY OF THE ROLEX SUBMARINER: The Rolex Submariner was released by Rolex at BaselWorld in 1954. However, Rolex actually produced the Rolex 6202 Turn-O-Graph in 1953 and believe this to be the birth year of their iconic dive watch. The reference 6204 was the first Rolex to feature the word "Submariner" on the dial and the now instantly recognisable dial lay-out of inverted triangle at the 12 o'clock position, baton 3, 6 and 9; and dot markers for the remaining hours. The Mercedes-style sports hands first found their way onto the Submariner reference 6205. The Submariner slowly evolved throughout the 1950's and made its way onto the big screen in 1962 when Sean Connery wore a Submariner reference 6538 in the first James Bond film: Dr No. It was not until 1969 that the Rolex Submariner featured a date with the release of the 1680. The 1680 was also the first Submariner to feature a magnification cyclops above the date window. The Rolex Submariner continued to evolve through the 1970's and in 1979 Rolex released the 5 digit version of the Submariner starting with the 16800. This transitional Submariner featured a number of upgrades on previous version including a sapphire crystal, the patented Triplock crown, a depth rating of 300m (1,000ft) and a ratcheted, unidirectional rotating bezel. The Rolex Submariner 16610 was released in 1988 and was powered by the brands longest serving movement, the Rolex calibre 3135. Tritium dials were eventually phased out in the late 90's with watches being fitted with "SWISS MADE" examples - featuring SuperLumiNova filled hour marker and hands. In 2010 released the Rolex Submariner 116610LN which saw a massive upgrade on previous versions including a black Cerachrom (ceramic) bezel, 40mm 'Super Case' and 'Maxi Dial'. 

CURRENT VERSIONS: The Rolex Submariner 126600LN was released in 2020. This current version of the Rolex Submariner has grown to 41mm but the overall feel of the watch has not increased due to slimmer lugs. The Oyster bracelet has also been updated. The Rolex Submariner 126610LN is powered by the Rolex Calibre 3235 automatic movement with 70 hour power reserve.

OUR PICK:As with the Rolex Daytona 116500LN we do not feel that the high asking prices of the Rolex Submariner 126610LN are justified. We would go for an early Rolex Submariner 16610 Date with tritium dial (T25). 

 

3. THE ROLEX GMT MASTER II (STEEL)

Rolex GMT Master II

QUICK HISTORY OF THE ROLEX GMT MASTER: The Rolex GMT Master was released by Rolex in 1954 with the reference 6542 featured a luminous bakelite bezel insert and powered by the calibre 1036 automatic movement with GMT complication. The red/blue Pepsi bezel was specifically in collaboration is Pan-Am Airways to allow the wearer to track two different time zones. The GMT Master 6542 became know by collectors as the "Pussy Galore" having been worn by the character in the 1964 film, Goldfinger. In 1959 Rolex released the GMT Master 1675. This model was in production until 1980 and throughout its life time was fitted with both the calibre 1565 and 1575 automatic movements and available with red/blue Pepsi bezel and all black 24 hour inserts. Rolex updated the design of the GMT Master in 1983 when it release the GMT Master II 16760. This new model featured a sapphire crystal and updated 3085 automatic movement with quickset hour hand enabling the wearer to track a third time zone. The Rolex GMT Master II 16760 became know as the "Fat Lady" or "Sophia Loren" due to its extra thick case design and was only available with red/black Coke bezel insert. Rolex produced the GMT Master II 16710 from 1989 until 2007. This model was available with all three bezel option - Pepsi, all black and Coke. Rolex introduced the GMT Master II 116710LN in 2007 which featured a black ceramic bezel insert and the GMT hand changed from traditional red to green.  

CURRENT VERSION: The current versions of the Rolex GMT Master II include the 126710 BLRO Pepsi and Rolex GMT Master II 126710 BLNR 'Batgirl'. These two watches are currently only available with the Jubilee bracelet and powered by the Rolex calibre 3285 automatic movement with date and GMT functions. 

OUR PICK: This is a tricky one as there are so many nice models to choose from. However, given the choice we would go for a 16750 - either an early matte dial, or later gloss dial, depending on budget. Early matte dial GMT Master 16750's are getting quite expensive and collectable now so we we would probably opt for a tritium dial Rolex GMT Master 16750 from the mid 1980's with a nicely faded Pepsi bezel.

 

4. THE ROLEX SEA-DWELLER

Rolex Sea Dweller

QUICK HISTORY OF THE ROLEX SEA-DWELLER: The Rolex Sea-Dweller 1665 'Double Red' was released by Rolex 1967 as a result of a requirement for a dive watch with a greater depth rating than the Submariner. The 'Double Red' Sea-Dweller evolved into the 'Great White' when the text on the dial changed from red to white. The 1665 Sea-Dweller originally had a depth rating of 610 meters (2,000ft) but this increased to 1220 meters (4,000ft) with the Sea-Dweller 16660 'Triple Six' which was released in 1977. The 16660 boasted a sapphire crystal and an improved bracelet design. Early Sea-Dweller 16660's were fitted with matte dials with printed indexes and have become highly sought-after. The Rolex Sea-Dweller 16600 was released in 1998/9 and was almost identical to the previous 'Triple Six' Sea-Dweller. The 16600 also evolved over the years. Early examples were fitted with T25 tritium dials, in 1999 the Sea-Dweller could be found with a 'SWISS' only dial and from 2000 onwards all 16600 Sea-Dwellers were fitted with SWISS MADE dials with SuperLumiNova hour markers and hands. Production of the 16600 Sea-Dweller stopped in 2008.

CURRENT VERSION: The current version of the Rolex Sea-Dweller in the 126600 or SD43 / Sea-Dweller 43 as it has become known. This version of the Rolex Sea-Dweller was released in 2017 it features a 43mm case. One of the more controversial features of the SD43 is the sapphire crystal with cyclops, a first for any Sea-Dweller. The 126600 also features a single line of red text on the dial and is powered by the Rolex calibre 3235 automatic movement with 70 hour power reserve.

OUR PICK:Given the choice we would go for the simple but effective Rolex Sea-Dweller 16600 from the mid 2000's. A Sea-Dweller from this period will feature a SWISS MADE SuperLumiNova dial, a SEL (Solid End Link) Oyster bracelet with divers extension, sapphire crystal and bullet proof Rolex calibre 3135 automatic movement. 

 

5. THE ROLEX EXPLORER

Rolex Explorer

HISTORY OF THE ROLEX EXPLORER: In 1953, Sir Edmond Hillary and Tenzing Norgay summited Mount Everest wearing modified Oyster Perpetuals. Neither were actually wearing an Explorer but Rolex were quick to take advantage of this amazing feat of human endurance and launched the 6289. The reference 6530 was the first model to have Explorer on the dial. In 1959 Rolex released the 6610 which had all the classic hallmarks of the Explorer: stainless steel oyster case measuring 36mm, black dial, 3-6-9 numerals, inverted triangle at the 12 and Mercedes-style hands. The model evolved into the 1016 in 1963 which initially had the calibre 1570 movement - later version had the 1570. In 1989 Rolex discontinued the 1016 and launched the 14270 with a 36mm case, Oyster bracelet, 3-6-9 dial and calibre 3000 automatic movement. The acrylic crystal was also replaced with sapphire glass. There were four main version of the Rolex Explorer 14270. Early examples were fitted with 'TSWISS-T<25' dials, then there is the 'Blackout' with black pained 3-6-9 rather than white, the 'SWISS' only and Explorers after 2000 were fitted with 'SWISS MADE' dials. In 2001, Rolex updated the Explorer and released the 114270 with calibre 3130 automatic movement. The 114270 was slightly thicker than the 14270 but the diameter remained the same.

CURRENT VERSION: In 2010 that Rolex released the Explorer 214270 with in-house calibre 3132 automatic movement. The case also grew to 39mm and retained the familiar 3-6-9 dial format.

OUR PICK:It would have to be the 36mm, Rolex Explorer 14270 with SWISS only dial. The 14270 is already a rare watch, but the SWISS only dial was only in production for 1999. We love the simple design on the Explorer 14270 and have a feeling that Rolex may go back to a 36mm version in the future. 

 

6. THE ROLEX EXPLORER II

Rolex Explorer II

HISTORY OF THE ROLEX EXPLORER II: In 1971, Rolex released the Explorer II reference 1655. This watch featured the now iconic fixed 24 hour bezel and orange GMT hand. The watch was originally designed specifically for speleologists exploring the deep caverns below the earths surface. The bezel and GMT hand enabled the 'potholers' to know the exact time, either AM or PM, without relying on daylight. The 1655 had an acrylic crystal, was powered by the calibre 1575 movement and housed within a 40mm stainless steel case. The 1655 was in production for 14 years during which time the dial was slightly modified, as was the bezel but the general design remained the same. One thing that remained on the Rolex Explorer II 1655 throughout its life was the pencil style hour and minute hands. It was not until the release of the Rolex Explorer II 16570 in 1989 that Mercedes-style hands were fitted to the Explorer II. The Rolex Explorer II 16570 was available with either black or white dials and powered by the 3165 automatic movement. The white dial Explorer II has since become known at the 'Polar Explorer'. Towards the end of the 165710's production the inner rehaut became engraved and the calibre 3186 movement was installed. These late model Rolex Explorer II 16570's are becoming very collectable and prices are rising.

CURRENT VERSION: In 2011 Rolex released the Explorer II 216570. This model increased in size to 42mm and was also available with white or black dials. The 216570 also saw the return of the orange GMT hand. The Explorer II 216570 is the current model but the general feeling is that a new model will be released in 2021 to mark the 50th anniversary of the watch.

OUR PICK:We like the white dial Explorer II 216570 but the 42mm case is slightly too big for an every day watch. We would go for an early Explorer II 16570 with tritium dial or maybe one of the last 16570's with the 3186 movement.

 

7. THE ROLEX DATEJUST

Rolex Datejust

QUICK HISTORY OF THE ROLEX DATEJUST: In 1945 Rolex introduced the Rolex Datejust to celebrate the companies 40th anniversary. The model has been so successful that it remains in production today. The 36mm Datejust was initially only available in 18ct yellow gold. It wasn't until the 1950's that steel and Rolesor (two-tone) models were made available. In 1988 Rolex released the 36mm Datejust 162xx series of watches featuring the new calibre 3135 automatic movement and sapphire crystals. This model was in production until 2009 when the Datejust II was released.

CURRENT VERSIONS:The current version of the Rolex Datejust is available in three sizes - 31, 36 & 41mm, on either Oyster or Jubilee bracelet with a number or dial and bezel combinations. The Datejust 31 is powered by the Rolex calibre 2236, whist the Datejust 36 and Datejust 41 are powered by the calibre 3235 automatic movement with date.

OUR PICK: We would go for the current Rolex Datejust 41 126336 with white gold fluted bezel, Jubilee bracelet and slate grey dial. Maybe not a watch to be worn every day but we like it.

 

8. THE ROLEX AIR-KING

Rolex Air-King

QUICK HISTORY OF THE ROLEX AIR-KING: The Rolex Air-King 5500 was released in 1957 and remained in production until it was replaced by the Rolex 14000 in 1989. The Air-King 5500 featured a 34mm stainless steel case with sunburst dial, domed acrylic crystal and automatic movement. The Air-King 5500 was fitted with the calibre 1520 and 1530 movement - depending on where the watch was originally purchased. As a general rule, if the watch dial is printed with 'Precision' it's running a calibre 1520, if it displays 'Super Precision' is powered by the 1530. In 2007, Rolex replaced the 14000 collection with Reference 114200. The same year, Rolex also introduced Reference 114234, which had a similar dial design to the Ref. 11420 but added a white gold fluted bezel. Rolex also continued to offer the engine turned bezel, on the 114210.

CURRENT VERSIONS: In 2016, Rolex introduced a new Air-King 116900 also known as the Bloodhound. This current production model of the Air-King features a 40mm case and is powered by the Rolex caliber 3131 automatic movement. The dial of the Air-King 116900 is the most distinctive feature of the watch. The dial has the tradition 3-6-9 hour marker format with the addition or minute markers at the remaining intervals.

OUR PICK: As much as we like the Rolex Air-King 116900 Bloodhound, we would probably go with an older model from the early 2000's like the 34mm Rolex Air-King 14000 with nice blue dial.

 

9. THE ROLEX MILGAUSS

Rolex Milgauss

QUICK HISTORY OF THE MILGAUSS: The Rolex Milgauss was originally released in 1956 as a result of a requirement for a watch to withstand high levels of electromagnetism. Rolex achieved this by shrouding the movement in a soft iron Faraday cage, which redirected the magnetic energy away from the caliber. The name Milgauss was created by Rolex - Mil comes from Mille (French for 1000), and Gauss (a unit of measurement for magnetic fields). The Rolex Milgauss evolved into the 1019 which remains in production for 28 years. The Milgauss was eventually discontinued in 1988. To celebrate the completion of the Large Hadron Collider, Rolex relaunched the Milgauss in 2008. The watch was available in three versions - black dial, white dial and black dial with green tinted sapphire crystal. All versions of the Rolex Milgauss 116400 have the distinctive orange lightening bolt seconds hand.

CURRENT VERSIONS:The Rolex Milgauss 116400 is currently available with black or blue dial. Both versions are now fitted with a green tinted sapphire crystal and powered by the Rolex calibre 3131 automatic movement.

OUR PICK:We would have the Rolex Milgauss 116400GV with Z-blue dial.

 

10. THE ROLEX DEEPSEA

Rolex Deepsea D-Blue

QUICK HISTORY OF THE DEEPSEA: In 2008 Rolex released the 44mm Deepsea Sea-Dweller 116660 (DSSD). The depth rating of the Rolex Deepsea is a massive 3,900 meters (12,800ft). This feat of engineering was achieved with the addition of a 5mm sapphire crystal, 44mm case with helium escape valve, and special 'Gas Escape Valve Ring Lock System'. The Rolex Deepsea D-Blue 116660 arrived in 2014 in tribute to the historic solo dive of director James Cameron who reached the bottom of the Mariana Trench. This Deepsea D-Blue was identical to the regular 116660 in every way other than the dial. The D-Blue featured a graduated blue to black dial with the word DEEPSEA in bright green. The Rolex Deepsea 116660 was powered by the Rolex calibre 3135 automatic movement and featured a glidelock extension system with fliplock extension link.

CURRENT VERSION: The current version of the Rolex Deepsea and D-Blue is the 126600. The case remains at 44mm but the lugs have been redesigned to give the watch a slightly slimmer appearance. The width of the bracelet and clasp have increased to give the watch a more balances feel. The movement has also been upgraded to the Rolex calibre 3256 automatic movement.

OUR PICK: We will have the original Rolex Deepsea 116660 please. Ideally one with the Mark 1 Dial. The DSSD wasn't originally a hit with Rolex fans and forced Rolex to quickly introduce the 40mm Rolex Sea Dweller 116600 in 2014. This model didn't last long and was discontinued in 2017, whereas the 44mm Deepsea 116660 gained a strong following and evolved into the 126660.

 

BUYING ONE OF THE TOP TEN MOST POPULAR & ICONIC ROLEX WATCHES OF ALL TIME

Our collection of popular & iconic Rolex watches include the Rolex Submariner, Rolex Daytona, Rolex GMT Master and GMT Master II, Rolex Explorer & Rolex Sea Dweller. At Swiss Watch Trader we specialise in selling only the most popular and iconic mens Rolex watches and unless there is a valid reason, ALL our Rolex watches will include their original boxes and papers. When buying any modern or vintage Rolex watch you need to ensure you are getting the very best example with as much of the original paraphernalia as possible. You should always look for a Rolex watch that is complete with its original inner and outer boxes, warranty certificate or card, manuals, hang tags and if possible original sales receipt. For more information on how to buy a Rolex watch from Swiss Watch Trader and the the services we offer including buying a Rolex watch on finance, head over to the information section.

For more information on other Rolex watch models including the Sea Dweller, Daytona and Explorer, head over to the News & Reviews section. Please get in touch if you have any questions about any of our new, used, pre-owned and second hand mens Rolex watches.

 

VIEW OUR ROLEX WATCHES FOR SALE

Contact Us today if you have a question about any of our Rolex watches for sale - we will be happy to help!

Paul Symonds
Paul Symonds


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