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10 Iconic Vintage Rolex Watches Popular With Collectors

August 1st, 2022

From reputation, recognition and prestige to celebrating the highest sales number, there’s hardly any watch brand close to ROLEX. Therefore, the fact that the Crown always sits on the top is not a surprising thing. Whether it is a long-time watch enthusiast or a curious newbie wishing to purchase a luxury timepiece, Rolex will always be their first consideration above others.

10 iconic vintage rolex watches

However, the problem arises when you look at the options and find it challenging to pick just one. All Rolex watches are excellent and durable as ever! While the modern variants are impressive, the vintage Rolex watches have their own charm. They are unsurprisingly popular with every Rolex lover, which is why the watches could fetch you a great price if you ever sell a vintage Rolex in the pre-owned market.

Why is Vintage Rolex so desirable?

Rolex has left a significant imprint on the watch industry from its beginning with numerous innovations. But, it was mainly during the 1950s and the 1980s that the Swiss watchmaker was at its peak!

During that span, Rolex created some of the most groundbreaking and creative timepieces that continue laying the foundation for this Maison.

Some of the best models created by Rolex during this era include:

  • Daytona
  • Submariner
  • Explorer
  • GMT-Master

So, to cherish and celebrate Rolex’s vintage creation, we’ve explored and compiled the best vintage models that definitely should be on your watch-out list!

Top 10 iconic vintage Rolex watches of all time

1. Vintage Rolex Cosmograph Daytona ‘Paul Newman’

Is there anyone who hasn’t heard of the ‘Paul Newman’ Daytona? One of the greatest watches created by Rolex so far is the Daytona which impressively came into the spotlight after famous actor Paul Newman gave it thumbs up by sporting it on numerous occasions.

The dial is the factor that differentiates a ‘Newman’ from the other regular Daytona models. The former has Exotic-looking dials, coming in panda or reverse panda combinations. In Paul Newman, whatever the predominant dial colour, the second chapter ring sports the opposite colour. For instance, if the dial colour is black, the chapter ring will be cream-coloured.

They further have square markings and Art Deco numerals on the sub-dials. All these attributes make it worth noticing. Due to the similar visual identity of the regular Daytona and the Newman Daytona models, except for the dials, purchasing one from an authorised dealer is recommended to ensure originality.

2. Vintage Rolex Explorer Ii Ref. 1655 ‘Steve Mcqueen’

Rolex has always been an innovator, and the Explorer is a fine example of its creative excellence. The Explorer II made its debut in 1971 as a sequel to the Explorer and quickly gathered a fan base of its own. Rolex created the watch to help the cave explorers and those who worked in the darkness, allowing them to distinguish day from night.

The Explorer II Ref. 1655, relatively unpopular during its release, is now a hot commodity. Even though the watch’s association with the cool actor Steve McQueen continues to be a long discussion, the nickname is definitely giving the watch a shout-out now!

Rolex made the Explorer II 1655 in stainless steel with a black dial. The bright Orange GMT hand against the black background makes the watch easily distinguishable and highly legible for the cave explorers. Additionally, it has a fixed 24-hour bezel with lume at all 24 hours.

Even though Steve McQueen never really wore an Explorer, the watch is definitely garnering all the limelight for the moniker!

3. Vintage Rolex Explorer Ref. 1016 ‘Frog Foot’

Many talk about how simple and basic the Rolex Explorer is. Well, we ask, what’s the problem with that? Don’t we all love a classic utilitarian timepiece with significant features that clearly tells the time? Those unaware of the history, the Explorer became a legitimate ‘legend’ after Sir Edmund Hillary and Sir Tenzing Norway conquered Mount Everest in 1953 while sporting this ‘simple’ timepiece. Does it still sound so basic?

Rolex launched the Explorer in 1953 with Ref. 6350 and Ref. 6150, but the most popular Explorer is the Ref. 1016, which made its debut in 1960. You can find this achiever in various movements, dials, and other attributes.

Thanks to its not-so-overwhelming price, it’s one of the best buys amongst the vintage Rolex watches. You can easily recognise one when you see the 3/6/9 black dial with Mercedes’ hands. The 34mm model is sporty yet dressy and goes well with almost anything!

4. Vintage Rolex Gmt-Master Ref: 6542 ‘Pussy Galore’

Rolex always has extended support to people of all sectors, including scientists, pilots, explorers, divers and others. In the early 1950s, the Pan AM pilots called out various Swiss watchmakers to design a timepiece that the pilots could wear during flying and track the time in two places.

Rolex came out with the GMT-Master in 1955 with the famous GMT complication. The Ref. 6542 had a red and blue ‘Pepsi’ bezel made of bakelite with a layer of luminous material underneath. This plastic material was not just prone to cracking but also gave cancer to an owner. Soon, Rolex changed the dramatic bakelite with non-luminous aluminium elements.

The reliable pilot’s wristwatch had a rotatable 24-hour bezel and an extra hour hand making it easy for the flyers to read the local and home time. The fine contrast of the Pepsi colour against the black dial secures the watch as an incredibly special timepiece.

Today, you’ll hardly find any bakelite GMT-Master models in the market. If you do, those are the ‘Pussy Galore’ GMT models. The watch became an icon after its feature in the James Bond movie Goldfinger.

Also Read: 3 Best Vintage Rolex Watches that Won’t Break the Bank

5. Vintage Gmt-Master Ref. 1675 ‘Pepsi’

After the drama created by Ref. 6542, Rolex released Ref. 1675 with a Pepsi bezel in 1959. It was one of the longest-running references, from 1959-1980. One of the first things we notice in a watch is the colour combination, and the GMT-Master featuring a colourful rotating bezel is an absolute classic.

The Ref. 1675 came with an aluminium insert and crown guards and was available in different attractive variants, like the two-tone ‘Root Beer’, the ‘Concorde’ with a brown bezel, and many others. In short, there’s a GMT Ref. 1675 for everyone!

All the variants are extremely popular amongst collectors and buyers because of their unique characteristics. Two of the most desirable ones are the early gilt-dial samples and the later radial dial options. The indices move towards the dial centre because of the chapter ring.

The abundance of variation secures the Ref. 1675 a highly respectable place in the world of vintage luxury watches.

6. Vintage Rolex Sea-Dweller Ref. 1665 ‘Double Red’

The Submariner, as we all know, is the cult favourite diver watch. But the Sea-Dweller is the brand’s best dive watch, honouring its various standout characteristics from a diving perspective. The model came out in 1967 with a helium escape valve (the first-ever watch to have it), making it suitable for deep sea divers to wear. The valve allowed the helium atoms to escape without popping the crystal.

The Ref. 1665, nicknamed ‘Double Red’, came with two lines of red text on the dial. The watch has a larger case and a thicker crystal, and the additional RED lettering that states ‘Sea-Dweller Submariner 2000’ presents standout recognition.

Moreover, the usual Cyclops lens over the date window is absent. The Double-Red Sea-Dweller has thick-domed plexiglass designed to withstand the underwater pressure during deep-sea diving.

7. Vintage Rolex Ref: 16760 ‘Fat Lady’

You must agree that Rolex presents some of the best nicknames in the industry. Another one presented with a catchy title is the Rolex Ref. 16760, famously named the ‘Fat Lady’ or the ‘Sofia Loren’. The body shaming nickname for the GMT-Master II model credits the thick and elegant curves that housed the new Calibre 3085.

The all-new movement and the separation of the hour hand from the GMT hand, made Ref. 16760 the ultimate traveller’s watch. Moreover, the 24-hour hand with an arrow tip could move back and forth independently. Apart from being the first original GMT-Master II model, the watch hosted alluring features like the red and black ‘Coke’ bezel, scratch-resistant sapphire crystal and white gold surroundings around the hour markers.

With all these attention-grabbing specifications, the GMT-Master II Ref. 16760 is truly a watch to remember!

8. Vintage Rolex Submariner Ref. 6538 ‘James Bond’

You were waiting for this, weren’t you? Well, finally, the Submariner is here. The Sub never fails to amaze, be it a new model or a charming vintage piece. Even though all Sub models are exceedingly popular amongst fans, some enjoy considerably more interest, like Ref. 6538.

The ‘James Bond’ Submariner got its name when it first appeared on the wrist of James Bond in 1962’s Dr.No. The watch held a mid-century charm and instantly attracted attention as a ‘cool’ accessory to wear. Apart from its famous movie reference, the watch had a large (really large) 8mm crown with no crown guards. There are no minute markers on the bezel between 0 and 15, and you can see a large triangle at 12 o’clock.

With a short production span running from 1956-1959, the Submariner Ref. 6538 is one of the most desirable Rolex creations and the most expensive.

9. Vintage Rolex Submariner Ref. 5513 ‘Milsub’

To the unknown and untrained, the MILSUB might appear like just another variant of the Submariner. But it’s so much more! ‘MILSUB’ is a combination of the words ‘Military’ and ‘Submariner’ and was only sold to the British armed forces and never to the general public. Rolex manufactured only 1200 pieces of this model (Ref. 5513/5517) during the early 1970s.

A few easily recognisable characteristics of the MilSub include stainless steel bezel with 60-minute graduations, Sword hands, T with a circle on the dial, fixed bars between the lugs, and a second hand with an arrow-shaped tip.

As the original owners of the Milsub modified the watches, it is difficult to find one in its original state. If you find yourself lucky enough to find one, don’t miss the opportunity to add it to your collection.

10 Vintage Rolex Air-King Ref. 5500 ‘The Forgotten King’

The Air-King collection has always fascinated Rolex lovers with its simplicity. After its release in 1945, the watch remained in production for over 30 years, making it another model with a long run. The Ref. 5500 comes in a sleek 34mm case and boasts qualities that qualify it as timeless elegance. The minimalist good looks of the 5500 featuring a silver dial, sharply applied indices, small lume plots and baton hands make the watch perfect for daily wear.

It’s a clean-looking vintage Rolex creation available in numerous dial colours. The most incredible ones are in the shades of black and blue. Many consider the Air-King an entry-level timepiece, making it all the more fascinating.

Conclusion

Picking the top vintage Rolex watches is a challenging task. You have to leave many models out. The watches in our list are the timeless presentation of Rolex’s excellence in watchmaking. They will not disappoint you if you ever want to sell your vintage Rolex in the pre-owned market.

Also Read: 4 Reasons Why the Vintage Watch Industry Is Booming Today

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