For more than a century, Rolex has consistently produced timepieces that people love to wear and collect. With its practical focus on sport and tools, the brand is also an ideal place to start if you’re thinking of embarking on a collecting career. But the horological world can feel a little daunting at first – so, to help, we asked David Duggan for his top Rolex watches to get you started, along with a couple of more illustrious models to aspire to.
A smart, entry-level watch for the novice collector.
Originally designed for adventurers, climbers and mountaineers, the Rolex Explorer I is a fantastic timepiece to kickstart your collection, especially for anyone looking for an archetypal Rolex watch with a classic, understated design. First imagined as the Oyster Perpetual in 1953, the watch was worn by Sir Edmund Hillary, Sir John Hunt and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay when they scaled the summit of Mount Everest, an expedition that Rolex sponsored.
The Explorer I is a functional, highly-wearable watch with a no-date, no-nonsense simplicity and reliability that continues to appeal to collectors. The ref. 1016 is probably the most iconic model, which was made between 1963 and 1989 and was seen on James Bond author Ian Fleming’s wrist in its time. Later models, including the newest ref. 114270, have barely deviated from the original design.
David’s recommendation: “I always say, start off with an Explorer I – a great watch with a nice history and a lovely military look about it. Price wise, it’s probably the most affordable of the Rolex sports watches – with some vintage models well within the budget of a first-time collector. It’s a great entry point for any Rolex collection.”
Taking things up a notch with the archetypal divers’ watch.
The highly successful Rolex Submariner line remains a distinctive, enduring model. Known as the original James Bond watch, the ref. 6538 first appeared on Sean Connery’s wrist in Dr No in 1962.
The piece was originally conceived by René-Paul Jeanneret – a member of the Rolex board and diving devotee – who wanted to create a professional diving watch with the social gravitas of a dress watch. In 1953, Rolex found a way to combine its Oyster case and perpetual movement to create the ref. 6204 Submariner, capable of withstanding depths of up to 100 metres.
Because of its rich history, it’s difficult to imagine a time when the Submariner might fall out of favour with the collecting community. Consequently, this model tends to perform well in the second-hand market and hold steady in its value.
David’s recommendation: “If you find you like the feel of the Submariner, splash out on several variations. Get the green 50th anniversary ‘Kermit’ with the black dial and green bezel, the ‘Hulk’ with matching green dial and bezel or go for the blue and white ‘Smurf’.”
To complete the set of iconic Rolex divers’ watches.
If you like the heritage of Rolex’s diving watches, but yearn for something bigger and more utilitarian, then look no further than the Rolex Sea-Dweller.
The Sea-Dweller’s story began in 1967. Rolex wanted to create a watch that could go deeper than the Submariner and so carried out experiments in collaboration with COMEX, the French deep sea industrial diving specialists. This led to the invention of the Sea-Dweller’s hallmark – a patented helium escape valve. The valve allows gas to gradually leave the watch chamber upon decompression, without exploding and blowing the glass off, meaning the first Sea-Dweller could survive down to 610 metres. Today’s Sea-Dwellers are waterproof to 1,220 metres.
While it borrowed plenty of cues from the Submariner, the Sea-Dweller did not include Rolex’s distinctive cyclops lens until 2017.
David’s recommendation: “Like most luxury watches, the earlier the model and configuration, the more valuable the resale value tends to be. And, interestingly, there are lots of rare and interesting dials in the Sea-Dweller line, including limited-edition red text line variations and COMEX diving watches, so do shop around.”
For the emerging watch collector with a taste for customisation.
It would be remiss to exclude the Rolex GMT Master from our line-up, especially given the rate at which they are still being purchased and enjoyed by watch fans around the world.
Though initially designed to meet the needs of Pan-Am pilots, just about everyone – from tennis players (Roger Federer has a black and blue-bezelled version) to Hollywood actors (Marlon Brando enjoyed wearing his without the bezel) to communist revolutionaries (Fidel Castro wore his with the black and red bezel) – has worn a GMT Master.
Distinctive and practical, the watch features a long hour hand that makes one revolution around the dial every 24 hours and points to a bezel marked with 24-hour increments. It also features a short hour hand that can be independently set on a 12-hour scale to follow local time.
David’s recommendation: “I like the GMTs, especially the ‘Bruiser’ – with the black and blue bezel, sometimes referred to as the ‘Batman’. It’s an incredibly popular choice – even more so than the original blue and red ‘Pepsi’ bezel model. We sell that model faster than anything else.”
For the experienced Rolex aficionado.
There’s a reason why the most expensive watch ever sold was a Rolex Daytona: Paul Newman. His Cosmograph Daytona sold for an eyewatering $17.7 million at Phillips in 2017 and much of this model’s success is due to its long-standing association with the Hollywood star and motor racing fanatic.
First introduced in 1963, the Daytona features a tachymeter bezel for accurately calculating speed. Named after the Floridian racetrack where it cut its teeth, the watch remains the first-place prize for drivers of all classes in the 24 Hours of Daytona race.
Vintage Daytona references, from the 1960s onwards, now represent some of the most coveted watches for serious collectors, with prices rising at an unrivalled rate every year – if you can find one at all. And, if you’re after a new one, expect a 10-year wait.
David’s recommendation: “If you’ve got the budget, go for the ref. 6265 – the ‘Big Red’ vintage ‘Reverse Panda’ from 1978 or the ref. 6263 – the most sought-after of the Paul Newman dial variants. Both boast robust second-hand market potential.”
If you would like advice on selling or buying a second-hand or vintage Rolex model, then contact David Duggan Watches or visit us at 63 Burlington Arcade, London.