In the modern era, Rolex allegedly makes somewhere in the region of a million watches per year from within one of the slickest and most effective mass production facilities on the planet. But it has not always been that way. Going back a couple of generations, Rolex was still finding its feet, and just like every company, went through a deal of trial and error before settling on the core collection of watches which we all know today.
Some of the more experimental bits in the writings still exist now, but often in only a very small few examples, and were made as either special orders for exceptionally important individuals or as prototypes trialing short-lived styles or complications. These models represent some of the rarest (sometimes entirely unique) and most attractive watches in Rolex’s entire history. Below, we’ve picked out a few of our favorites.
In truth, we might have populated this entire list with only incredibly rare specimens of Rolex watches legendary racing chronograph. There are quite a few cases out of its early years using the smallest postings that indicate each one out as either ultra rare or actual one-offs. You may encounter bits with unofficial nicknames like the’Gandalf” with its grey grené dialup, or even the’Neanderthal’ — a type of pre-Paul Newman Daytona, one of dozens of others.
But for all out exclusivity, the totally singular Unicorn stands literally by itself. Produced in 1970 for an undercover German merchant, the ref. 6265/9 is the sole manually-wound, four-digit Daytona forged from gold. At this stage in its development, Rolex was supplying its chronograph in mostly stainless steel, along with a couple in 18k yellow gold (plus a few in 14k to get a U.S. audience).
Being crafted entirely from white gold made the Unicorn just about the most lavish and distinctive variant of the Daytona up until there, and it had been fitted using a dial that was also quite unique. The black face, with its contrasting sub counters and white gold indicators, has little Greek letters flanking the’T ‘ script at the six o’clock, marking it out as a so-called Sigma dial. The designation was temporarily employed by Rolex (among other brands) on some gold versions as a means to signify that the hour markers on the dial were crafted from gold. It instantly became the 2nd most expensive Rolex watch ever offered, when the hammer dropped for more than $5.9 million. It was an early cost for an historically substantial watch, even further sealing the reputation of the mythical Rolex Daytona.
One of the greatest things about researching watches is that every day you are likely to find something new. Just when you’ve got a certain amount of confidence and swagger that your knowledge on a specific collection is finished, something completely unexpected stems from the writings to remind you that there’s always something new to find. So it’s with the Rolex Day-Date ref.
Even among seasoned experts, this is a version that is often rarely mentioned and virtually never encountered in person. 1831 was made to order, especially in the request of the Shah of Iran in the late 1970s. Powered by a movement exclusive to the reference, just eight examples were ever created, and the watches have been fitted using a number of different and unusual dials.
At first, you could be forgiven for thinking the ref. 1831 was a part of the Oysterquartz household that debuted around the same interval, with all the squared-off situation and integrated bracelet. However, these watches were fitted using a mechanical Perpetual motion, the Cal. 1566, and all the watches were forged from platinum, as were the angular bracelets that were like those Gérald Genta designed for its King Midas. 1831 is among heaviest models Rolex has ever made, weighing in at around 300 g, roughly twice the typical weight of this Day-Date.
With bezels and hour markers piled with fitted and diamonds with distinct color dials, these ref. 1831 watches were created to be gifted by the Shah to visiting dignitaries. Some were fitted with more conventional silver or black dials, while others obtained bright lacquered Stella Dials like those that is found on particular classic President models. Rolex Emperor watches are all engraved with their personal number on the situation back, and constitute just concerning the holiest of holy grails in what is already a very special collection of watches. 1831 represents a fascinating chapter in the brand’s narrative.
The Daytona may be the most famous, but it was not Rolex’s very first attempt at a chronograph. Long before that bit came into existence, the company occasionally dipped its toes into the world of mechanical stopwatches, with some of the earliest examples dating all the way back into the 1930s.
Even though it was made after the invention of the Oyster instance, the ref. 2737 includes the snap-on caseback which has been prevalent at the time, a feature inherited from the omnipresent pocket watch. However, it’s up front where the majority of the interest lies. The dial design is known as a regulator, which traditionally were exceptionally accurate chronometers used as a reference by clock and watchmakers to correct time on their own bits. 13”’ lever motion.
The beautiful black gloss dial comes with an outer telemeter and also an inner spiral tachymeter scale, in addition to Arabic numeral markings, yet still manages to look uncluttered and balanced. The stainless steel, 36mm case was fairly large for the period and comes with a round profile using slender lugs. On either side of the tooth-edged winding crown are two oval-shaped pushers to function the chronograph.