The 5 Most Iconic Rolex Watch Models

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Rolex is all about evolution, not revolution. They still use the trademark oyster case they invented in 1926 and their current in-house calibers are based on a movement they built in 1977. Naturally, Rolex’s most iconic lines are their time-honored classics. The 2020 Submariner you’re eyeing may boast more patented innovations than earlier versions, but your grandfather will recognize it based on the one he had in 1960. These lines last forever, functionally and style-wise.

We rounded up the five most iconic Rolex watches, all classics. Each timepiece is reliably accurate and durable, but reps a different story. Whether you’re going for recognizability, pop culture cache, or a sport watch with specific features, Rolex has it.

Rolex Submariner
Rolex Submariner


The Sub is the dive watch that launched a thousand homages. Debuting in 1953, it featured a screw-down crown, the Rolex oyster case, and a level of waterproofing never seen before. Contemporary Subs are water resistant at 300m. They’re mostly known as the original Bond watch, but iconic diver/adventurer Jacques Cousteau also wore one in the 50s. Revered in horology, professional diving, and pop culture, Subs are unsurprisingly the most recognizable watches in the world.

All Submariners have the same basic features, including the rotating bezel with clicks as crisp as a New England autumn day, and often a luminous black dial. Today, the Submariner features a 41mm case, a unidirectional scratch-resistant Cerachrom bezel and sapphire crystal, in either a date or no-date version.

Rolex GMT Master II
Rolex GMT Master II

GMT Master II

The GMT Master II is 50s jetset glamour encapsulated. Pan Am partnered with Rolex to build the original GMT, a watch that pilots would use to see the time in their departure and destination cities. The additional fourth hand measures Greenwich Mean Time (aka GMT), the standard that all time zones are measured against. On the design front, the “Pepsi” bezel was bold for its time. While these qualities are common today, the GMT Master II is still the universally recognized gold standard.

Nostalgic gents enjoy the GMT since it marks the beginning of air travel, a milestone in history. Investment collectors also have love for it, since you can’t open a Sotheby’s watch catalogue without seeing at least a dozen GMTs. Today’s GMT Master II is waterproof at 100m, features a cyclops window over the date, and usually comes with the ornate five-link Jubilee bracelet.

Rolex Daytona
Rolex Daytona Chronograph


The Daytona is for those who want to impress. It’s the racing watch “for winners” to quote Rolex directly. The Cosmograph Daytona was developed in 1963 after Rolex became the official timekeeper for the Daytona speedway. In 2017, Paul Newman’s Daytona sold for 17.8 million at Phillips.

Along with the Omega Speedmaster, it’s considered one of the most important chronographs of all time. The Daytona, however, is more easily remixed. Contemporary versions are available in almost every material and design, from precious metals to blinged out faces -just keep in mind that simpler dials and stainless steel Rolexes keep their value better. Daytonas today run on a 4130 caliber, which is simpler than the average chronograph, making for a more reliable movement and an impressive 72-hour power reserve.

Rolex Explorer
Rolex Explorer


The Explorer is the quintessential luxury sport watch. The Submariner is Rolex’s most recognizable, but the Explorer best represents Rolex as a brand. It’s practical, innovative, and exudes a noble conservatism that makes first-time Rolex wearers look like they’ve been rocking Rolex watches all along. Its understated bezel makes this watch wearable with a tux or a Patagonia vest

The Explorer I was created in celebration of Sir Edmund Hillary’s successful 1953 ascent of Mount Everest (Hillary used a Rolex to accurately calculate departure time). Today’s Explorer features a 3132 caliber which comes with Paraflex shock absorbers for extra durability. 

The Explorer II has become an icon in its own right, with its trademark orange second hand spawning countless copycats. My everyday watch is an Explorer II, and it’s certainly survived its fair share of weather-heavy hunting trips.

Rolex Day-Date
Rolex Day-Date


The Day-Date is known as “The President’s Watch” because it was famously worn by President Lyndon B. Johnson, but also because of its prestigious design. It’s only available in gold or platinum, features stately Roman numerals, and current models come with a smooth bezel or pie-pan bezel. It’s attached to the President bracelet, which sparkles due to its semi-circular links.

The Day-Date is fancy, but unlike the Cartiers or Pateks of the world, it’s not just for fancy guys. In the grand tradition of Rolex, it’s also practical. The Day-Date was launched in 1956 as the first waterproof and self-winding chronometer to offer a calendar with a day display and date, so it scores points for legibility. Globally, the Day-Date is one of the most sought-after Rolex watches out there.

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