Which Rolex To Buy — The Ultimate Guide

There are literally hundreds of Rolex watches available which can make choosing which Rolex to buy a little challenging. There are many people who know they want a Rolex, but they are not exactly sure what kind of Rolex to get. Who can blame them? Getting a Rolex is simply a statement.

Now, there are different reasons people might want to get a Rolex. Some just want something they can always wear. Others want to get Rolex for the sake of value retention. Whatever your reason, you want your Rolex watch to have some value, meaning, and versatility in terms of style, especially if it’s your first.

For those who want to get a Rolex for the sake of value retention, there are considerations you’d have to make to get the best watch for you. However, those who simply want to get a Rolex watch for the sake of owning a Rolex will have it the hardest finding one as their needs are not specific enough.

Most of these people will simply be looking for the best prices. There is the Rolex Air King which is about the most affordable Rolex available. There is also the option of buying pre-owned watches, and there are many resources online to help with that. 

Nonetheless, even at that, these resources would still be of better help to those who know what they are looking for.

However, today, we have created a guide simple enough to help you navigate through getting your first Rolex.

Demystifying Rolex’s Catalogue

The Rolex catalog is pretty easy to understand. Rolex’s generally uncomplicated movements, has five different types of case alloys, five different types of bracelets, two types of clasps, several kinds of bezels, and a few dial variations. This is how Rolex, aka the Crown, builds its lineup of watches.

Once you’re able to get a grip of these basic concepts, you’ll be able to navigate the entire Rolex line up.

As for model numbers, as long as they belong to the same watch series, they seem to evolve systematically.

For instance, the model number of the Rolex GMT Master II with the Pepsi bezel is 126710BLRO. It does sound like a mouthful. But then it becomes easier when you notice that the last generation of the GMT Master II with the Pepsi bezel was 16710. Then it all begins to fall in place.

Before we go on, there’s one other thing we need to demystify and that is Rolex terminology.

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Demystifying Rolex’s Terminology

1. Oyster

An Oyster refers to a waterproof Rolex watch. It was Hans Wilsdorf that introduced the name in the 1920s. Since then, the name has remained a Rolex metaphor. You’ll find it in a lot of model names, as well as a number of phrases related to Rolex watches.

2. Cyclops

The name “Cyclops” was patented in the 1950s by Rolex. In Rolex, Cyclops refers to the magnifying device in a Rolex date watch which makes the date appear magnified. In the past, the Cyclops used to be a part of the plexiglass crystal on earlier Rolex models. However, now, the Cyclops is glued to the sapphire crystals.

3. Helium Escape Valve (HEV)

The HEV is a one-way valve, small and spring-loaded which was co-developed by Doxa and Rolex. As the name suggests, a Helium Escape Valve (HEV) lets the Helium as well other gases escape the watch.

This is especially for dive watches when a scuber diver is ascending from his dive into great depths.

This feature was developed with commercial saturation divers in mind. Apparently, they found that, in the decompression chamber where the pressure within and outside of the watch were equal, the crystals of their watch would pop off.

To solve this, therefore, Rolex and Doxa found a way to let gases escape from the watch which stopped the crystals from popping off.

Learn more about helium escape valves in this video below

The 9 Basic Rolex Materials

Fact. Most of the materials Rolex uses in making its watches are made in-house. Besides a few esoteric materials Rolex uses in making its movements, nearly all Rolex watches are made from one of 9 materials.

Oystersteel

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The Oystersteel belongs to the 904L steel family. This Oystersteel is highly resistant to corrosion and retains its brilliant shine when polished just like precious metals.

18-Carat Everose Gold

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Rolex has its unique gold called the Everose gold. By the way, do you know Rolex has an in-house foundry where it makes its own gold for its watches? (Click here to find out other interesting facts about Rolex in our article: Why Makes A Rolex Special?)

Well, the Everose gold is made by Rolex by adding silver and copper to the mix. This warms up the color to what it is. It’s called Everose because it, basically, lasts forever.

18-Carat Yellow Gold

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This 18-carat yellow gold with its iconic hue is another proprietary alloy from Rolex. It’s trusted and beautiful.

18-Carat White Gold

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Another beautiful proprietary alloy from Rolex, white gold has a dazzling hue.

Platinum

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Rolex uses platinum for its watches as well but only sparingly. Also, it only uses 950 platinum exclusively. 950 platinum is a high-concentration alloy containing some ruthenium which is included to give the platinum alloy shine and strength.

Rolesor

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Rolesor is not really a metal. It’s more like a combination of metals — Oystersteel and gold. 

Cerachrom

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This material is impervious to UV rays, scratch-proof, and the current standard for Rolex’s sport watch bezels.

Precious Stones

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There’s probably no precious stone Rolex has not used on its watches. The most common precious metal Rolex uses, though, is diamond.

The 2 Basic Rolex Clasps

Crownclasp/Crownlock

This sophisticated and dressy clasp disappears once it is secured.

Oysterclasp/Oysterlock

This is Rolex’s most popular clasp. It’s a secure deployant clasp with a secondary locking mechanism that folds over the main clasp.

The 2 Basic Rolex Clasp Expanders

Easylink

The Easylink is a simple mechanism that allows you expand your bracelet by 5 millimeters. It’s a handy feature when you experience some swelling in your wrist maybe while on the plane or after you’ve had a big meal.

Glidelock

This is another patented extension mechanism. This gives more space for extension than the EasyLink. While the Easylink allows for 5 millimeters of extension, the Glidelock allows for 20  millimeters of adjustment in 2-millimeter increments. It’s great for use over wet suits.

The 6 Basic Rolex Bracelet Types

The Jubilee Bracelet

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This is a 5-piece link typically used on Rolex’s showy watches. However, they are also a staple of Rolex’s sport watches as well.

You find the jubilee bracelet in different kinds of metal types including three different Rolesor combinations.

A jubilee bracelet can either come with a Crownclock clasp or an Oysterlock clasp.

The Oyster Bracelet

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Pre-owned Rolex Explorer Black Dal Stainless Steel Oyster Bracelet Automatic Men’s Watch

This is a larger three-piece link. It offers a simpler, sportier look and only comes fitted with an Oysterlock clasp.

The President Bracelet

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This is a less common bracelet type used in Rolex watches. It comes with three-piece links elegantly rounded, and sports a Crownlock clasp only.

The Pearlmaster Bracelet

This comes with five-piece links and is what makes the bracelet really elegant. It works with a Crownlock clasp only.

The Rolex Leather Bracelet

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This one comes in all kinds of hides and colors. The straps are made in-house and either fitted with a simple pin buckle or an Oyster clasp.

The Oysterflex Rubber Bracelet

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Rubber bracelets are typically deemed ugly. However, even people who hate rubber straps love the Oysterflex rubber bracelet. The design is attractive, comfortable, stylish, and innovative. These bracelets only come with an Oysterlock clasp.

The 6 Rolex Bezel Types

The Plain Bezels

This is probably the most basic type of bezel you can find on a Rolex watch. It’s a plain bezel and can either come in steel or other kinds of precious metals.

The Fluted Precious Metal Bezels

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This bezel is hard to miss being offered in precious metals only.

The Engraved Fixed Bezels

You can only find this kind of bezels on a Daytona Cosmograph or an Explorer II. Demarcations on the bezels are engraved either into a precious metal, an Oystersteel, or a Cerachrom.

Rotating Bezels With Inserts

This is a classic bezel type for professional Rolex watches. For bezels like this, Cerachrom inserts are usually the inserts of choice.

Rotating Precious Metal Bezels

This kind of bezel is exclusive to Yachtmasters. They give watches a sporty yet elegant look.

Bejeweled Bezels

As the name suggests, these bezels come studded with all beautiful jewels, commonly diamonds.

The 5 Basic Rolex Movements

3255

Rolex introduced the 3255 movement in 2015, and according to Rolex, it beats COSC’s current standard for accuracy which stands at +6/-4 seconds per day.

3135

This was introduced in 1988 and has since formed the basis for most of Rolex’s modern movements. With this movement, you get an instantaneous change of date at midnight which is a classic feature of Rolex date watches.

Other variations of the 3135 movement include the following:

3155 with the day/date complication.

3130 with no date.

3131 with no date but with an anti-magnetic shield.

3132 with no date but with a Paraflex anti-shock system.

2235 with a smaller date.

2230 with no date.

This video shows us a strip-down of the Rolex 3135 caliber. Check it out.

3186

This is Rolex’s 24-hour GMT movement. When it evolves to the 3187 movement, Rolex includes the Paraflex anti-shock feature.

4130

This is the no-date movement present in Rolex’s Daytona chronographs only.

Rolex Watch Categories

There are three Rolex watch categories which include the Professional, Classic, and Cellini models.

The Rolex Professional Models

1. The Cosmograph Daytona

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This is one of Rolex’s most sought-after Rolex models, and yet it’s always scarce in the market. If the Cosmograph Daytona is what you intend to get, then you might be on the waiting list forever. In fact, the most expensive Rolex watch ever sold at an auction was a Cosmograph Daytona — Paul Newman’s.

Features of the Cosmograph Daytona include a 40-millimeter case size, water-resistance of 100 meters, 4130 movement, fixed bezel (with a tachometer scale), an Oysterflex/Oyster bracelet, and an Oysterlock clasp.

2. The Sea Dweller

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This is the largest Rolex watch model available. It has excellent performance underwater and the Deep sea version was on James Cameron’s wrist when he went down to the bottom of the Mariana Trench.

Features include a 43-millimeter Oystersteel case, 1220 meters water resistance, 3135 movement, Cyclops, unidirectional bezel (with Cerachrom insert), Oyster bracelet, Oysterlock clasp, and a Glidelock extension mechanism.

3. The Submariner

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The Rolex Submariner is the dive watch of all dive watches. In fact, this is probably the world’s most iconic wristwatch of all time.

Features of this watch include a 40-millimeter case, water-resistance of 300 meters, a 3135 movement for the date watches, a 3130 movement for the no-date watches, a unidirectional dive bezel (with a Cerachrom insert), Oyster bracelet, Oysterlock clasp, and a Glidelock extension mechanism.

4. GMT Master II

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These are pilot watches from Rolex with all kinds of nicknames including
Pepsi (for the red and blue bezel), Coke (for the red and black bezel), and rootbeer (for the different gold/brown tones).

Features include a 40-millimeter case, water resistance down to 100 meters, 3186 movement with a 24-hour hand and date complication, bi-directional 24-hour bezel (used to track multiple timezones at a time), and an Oyster or Jubilee bracelet.

5. Explorer

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It was named the Explorer after Sir Edmund Hillary’s adventure with a Rolex Oyster on Mount Everest in 1953. Rolex rebranded this watch and named it the Explorer. It’s reliable, simple, and rugged.

Features of this watch include a 39-millimeter case, water resistance down to 100 meters, 3132 movement, no date, fixed bezel, Oyster bracelet, Oysterlock clasp, and Easylink expansion mechanism.

6. Explorer II

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The Explorer II is targeted towards adventurers such as spelunkers who work in constantly dark environments. It is larger than the Explorer and comes with a 24-hour GMT function as well as a fixed 24-hour bezel. This watch is one of Rolex’s very niche-specific tool watches.

Features of this watch include a 42-millimeter Oystersteel, 100 meters water resistance, a 3187 movement, 24-hour GMT function with Paraflex anti-shock system, a fixed 24-hour bezel, Oyster bracelet, and Oyster clasp.

7. Milgauss

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The shape of the second hand of the Milgauss watch says a bit about what this watch is built for. It comes in the shape of a lightning bolt which tells the wearer that the Milgauss is built for the most extreme electromagnetic environments. 

This especially applies to people working in an electric plant or around an accelerator. However, these days, it is also used by people who simply want to make a statement of fashion.

Features of this watch include a 40-millimeter Oystersteel case, 100-meter water resistance, a 3131 movement featuring an anti-magnetic shield but with no date, a fixed steel bezel, an Oyster bracelet, and an Oysterlock clasp.

8. Air-King

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This watch was introduced after the World War II. It was introduced as an aviation watch because, at the time, a lot of WWII pilots got the watch due to the fact that it was super legible and also super accurate as well.

Today, the Air-King comes with a unique dial that divides its markers between minutes and hours. Plus, it’s probably the only dial to cause quite a division among Rolex fans.

Features of this watch include a 40-millimeter Oystersteel case,100 meters water resistance, a 3131 movement with an anti-magnetic shield but no date, a fixed steel bezel, an Oystersteel bracelet, and an Oysterlock clasp.

9. Yachtmaster

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The Yachtmaster could have been a dive watch, but its bezel isn’t unidirectional. It rotates in both directions which isn’t the standard for dive watches.

Anyway, the bezel’s ability to turn in both directions is in a bid to make for quick alignments.

Features of the Yacht-Master include a 37 or 40-millimeter case (which can be made of all kinds of metals), 100 meters water resistance, 2236 movement (37 millimeters), 3135 movement (40 millimeters), date complication, bi-directional bezel from precious metals, all kinds of bracelet options available.

10. Yachtmaster II

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Just like the Yachtmaster the Yachtmaster II is built for sailboat racing. It also comes with a bi-directional bezel which is used to program the countdown chronograph just like on its big brother.

Features of this watch include a 44-millimeter case in all kinds of metals, 100 meters water resistance, a 4161 movement, a Regatta chronograph with a countdown timer, a rotating bezel in Cerachrom or other precious metals, an Oyster bracelet, and an Oysterlock clasp.

The Rolex Classic Models

1. Oyster Perpetual

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The Oyster Perpetual probably Rolex’s most basic watch. It’s a descendant of the first set of original watches Rolex ever made that set them on the big stage. They come with only three hands, no date or day complication and are quite classy.

Features of this watch include Oystersteel cases (26-, 31-, 34-, 36-, and 39-millimeters), 100 meters water resistance, 2231 movement (for the 26 and 31 millimeters), 3130 movement (34 and 36 millimeters), 3132 movement (39 millimeters), fixed steel bezel, Oyster bracelet, and Oysterlock clasp.

2. Datejust

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The name “Datejust” is a neologism for “the Date changes Just before midnight.” So, unlike most watches where the date takes several hours to change, that of the Datejust changes just at midnight.

It’s a classy dress watch, but it is also great for adventures as well.

Features of this watch include cases made from various precious metals (in 28, 31, 34, 36, and 41 millimeters), 100 meters water resistance, 2236 movement (28- and 31-millimeter models), 3135 movement (34-millimeter model), 3235 movement (36- and 41-millimeter models), date complication, diamond-encrusted bezels, smooth steel bezels, classic fluted bezels, and various kinds of bracelets.

3. Day-Date

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The Day-Date is simply a Datejust with a Day complication. The Rolex Day-Date is much fancier than the Datejust and is sometimes called the Rolex President as it has been associated with many world leaders.

By the way, the 40-millimeter Rolex Day-Date is the only Rolex watch sporting the Cal.3255 — Rolex’snewest watch movement.

Features of the Rolex Day-Date include 36- and 40-millimeter cases in platinum and 18K gold, 100 meters water resistance, 3135 movement (for the 36-millimeter model), 3255 movement (for the 40-millimeter model), day and date complcation, bejeweled, fluted, and smooth bezels, various bracelets available.

4. Pearlmaster

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The Pearlmaster is similar to a Datejust except that it comes bejeweled with loads of precious stones. This watch sells for crazy prices and can sometimes look over-the-top for some people. However, one thing you can trust is that Rolex uses only the best stones and with its army of gemologists, sets stones excellently too.

Features of this watch include 34- and 39-millimeter cases (precious metals only), 100 meters water resistance, 2235 movement (for the 34-millimeter model), 3235 movement (for the 39-millimeter model), date complication, all kinds of bejeweled bezels, and a Pearlmaster bracelet.

5. Sky-Dweller

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The Rolex Sky-Dweller is Rolex’s most complicated watch. It has a non-concentric 24-hour GMT disc which indicates a second time zone. It also comes with an annual calendar which works with the 12 hour markers to signify the month.

Considering the unique features of this watch, we’d say the Sky-Dweller is not so expensive. But don’t read that wrong, this is still a Rolex and is quite pricey.

Features of this watch include a 42-millimeter Oystersteel bezel, 100 meters water resistance, 9001 movement, an annual calendar, fluted gold bezel, leather or Oyster bracelet, and an Oysterlock clasp.

The Rolex Cellini Models

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The Cellini line is Rolex’s line of dress watches, and from what we know, even Barack Obama owns one. Rolex uses, in its words, “sober and refined lines, noble materials, quality finishings: every detail respects the codes of the art of watchmaking.”

Features of Cellini watches include 39-millimeter case in precious metals, 50 meters water resistance, 3132 movement (for the time-only watches), a 3180 movement (for the dual-time models), a 3195 (for the moon phase models), various kinds of bezels (fluted or with precious stones), leather bracelet, and with a traditional pin buckle.

The Rolex Watch Colors

There are three primary watch case colors when it comes to Rolex watches. These are the stainless steel, the gold, and the two-tone.

Stainless Steel

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This is the most popular of the three Rolex colors. Fortunately, Rolex uses 904L steel which although is difficult to machine, is more durable, scratch-resistant, and shinier.

Stainless steel is classic and can easily be dressed up or down. It can also be worn in both personal and business settings.

Gold

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Rolex uses 18K gold for its watches and this gold has all kinds of hues from yellow to white to Everose. Just a quick tip here. If you want to buy a gold Rolex watch, be careful to see it first before making a purchcase. Why? Because people can edit their photos to make their watches look brighter than they actually are. So, be sure to see it firsthand so you can decide for yourself if this is the kind of gold you want.

By the way, click here to read our article: How Can I Tell If A Rolex Is Real? for other useful tips.

However, most gold Rolex watches are bright and brilliant. They are common in the entertainment circles for their showiness. Outside of such circles and a gold Rolex can look a little too much.

One more thing about gold Rolexes before we move on. Some Rolexes are made of solid gold while others are made of hollow gold. While there is no hard and fast rule to determining which is which. Typically, most gold Rolexes made after year 2000 are solid gold while most before year 2000 are hollow gold.

Two-Tone

Finally, we have the two-tone Rolex. Two-tone rolex watches usually come predominantly in stainless steel and then with gold accents typically on the dial and the band.

They are quite popular among professionals and business executives who want to show only a hint of gold.

Which Rolex To Get? — Some Factors To Consider

You must decide, before you buy any Rolex watch, what you intend to do with the watch. Is it for everyday wear? Is it to start a collection? Is it for value retention? The answers to these questions are going to impact on your watch choice seriously at the end of the day.

If you’re thinking of an everyday watch, then look no further than Rolex’s sport models. They are easily available, have a timeless appearance, and will retain value even if they might not necessarily increase in value.

If you are a collector, then you should be looking towards Rolex’s niche models. A good example is Rolex Submariner with the green bezel and dial. It is slightly more expensive than the black dial Submariner and is also much rarer.

Those who are seeking a Rolex watch just for the special occasions might find it beneficial going for the showier models. Think precious metals and diamonds. These watches make a statement of class and wealth and can only work with certain outfits. A Rolex Submariner, on the other hand, will impress no one in a high-society event.

Which Rolex To Get? — Our Recommendation

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The Rolex Submariner is typically the go-to watch for most Rolex lovers. The 40-millimeter case is a great middle-ground as it could either be dressed up in a tux or dressed down ina tee. However, if you like exclusivity, the Submariner might not be it for you as nearly everyone who gets a Rolex automatically goes for a Submariner.

If you love the Submariner but prefer the exclusivity, there are Rolex watches with similar styles that you could go for. Examples include the GMT-Master II, the Sea-Dweller Deepsea (larger in size and more professional), and the Yachtmaster which is a dressier watch. These all share the same DNA as the Submariner.

If you want a less expensive option than the popular Submariner, you could try the Rolex Explorer and Explorer II models. They are affordable, adequately-sized and good-looking.

For Rolex lovers that love to show off, the Daytona Chronograph is definitely it. It comes in a variety of styles and is quite the dressy yet versatile watch. Compared to most chronograph watches, the Daytona is somewhat small, but it has a huge following and sells for a higher price than the Submariner.

Rolex’s most affordable models are the Rolex Air King. This entry-level Rolex watch works as a casual dress watch. However, it typically runs small and is mostly found with boys or women as 34 millimeters can be a little too small for a grown man’s wrist.

We would recommend the Rolex Datejust if you like to make a statement of style but without a lot of noise. It sells for about the same price as a Submariner but prices go up when precious metals get into the mix.

Day-Date Rolexes are also like the Datejust except they are more showy. So, if you like the style of the Datejust but you’re all about making a loud statement, you might tilt towards the Rolex President as it is fondly called.

5 Rolex Watches To Get For Vintage Collectors

First, check out this video for a bit of something to chew on about vintage watches

1. Rolex Submariner (116610)

If this is your first time collecting, the ideal place to begin is with a Rolex Submariner 116610. The Rolex Submariner is the quintessential Rolex  and is super rare. The Rolex Submariner 116610 is almost impossible to get one from a local retailer right now. But you’ll definitely find one in the secondary market for top dollar, of course.

2. Pepsi GMT-Master II (126710)

Instagram crowned this watch the hottest watch of 2018, and like most sought-after Rolex models, this watch is hard to get. You definitely can’t get from a local store as the waiting lists are unbelievably long. It’s not impossible to get one though, just be ready to pay top dollar.

The only people getting this watch at the retail price are those with a longstanding relationship with their local authorized dealers and are prepared to wait a mighty long time.

3. Rolex Daytona (116500)

When this watch first came out, some customers thought they could wait a few months to a year and the prices would come down. However, more than 3 years have passed and the prices show no signs of coming down. It still sells for a premium and is in high demand.

4. Rolex Sky-Dweller (Blue Dial — 326934)

Complicated movement with a calendar, the Rolex Sky-Dweller is a horologist’s dream. There are two versions of the watch, one with a black dial and the other with a blue dial. The blue dial is more difficult to get which is why it is on this list.

Over time, the demand for this watch has increased steadily and is currently even rarer than the Pepsi GMT-Master II. It sells for double its original price right now but it is extremely rare in the secondary market because, as it seems, no one wants to let go of the watch.

5. Rolex Daytona Gold Paul Newman (6263)

The Paul Newman Daytona is more of a goal than a starting line when it comes to Rolex collection. This million-dollar watch is considered holy grail in the world of Rolex watches.