In the pantheon of luxury goods, Rolex has a unique spot: The word conjures up not a logo or a covetable item, but rather the very idea of a beautifully made and enduring timepiece. It is nearly synonymous with the word heirloom, and for that reason, the watchmaker has earned an enormous and loyal following around the world.
For many, buying new gives them instant access to this legacy, but collectors and connoiseurs want something more, a watch with history as well as pedigree. The value of rare models reaches stratospheric heights at some of the biggest auction houses in the world. Phillips, Sotheby's, Christie's, and Antiquorum have all set records prices for notable Rolex watches that have come up for auction.
Here's a look at the most impressive Rolex watches—and current models that let you own a piece of that storied past.
DateJust: Rare Functionality
For their 40th Anniversary in 1945, Rolex introduced the Datejust model. It depicts the hours and minutes with a distinctive "Cyclops" magnifying date lens added during the 1950s. While variations of the classic watch change little over time, the current model is offered in "Rolesor," an attractive combination of gold and steel unique to Rolex.
Rolex Reference 6062, from the 1950s, is a very rare exception to a brand that otherwise abstains from too many complications. One of only two Rolex models to feature a yellow gold triple calendar with a moon phase, the watch is nicknamed the "Stelline" because of the fabulous star-shaped indices. The "Stelline" came to auction at Phillips' "Rolex Milestones" event on November 28th in Hong Kong and brought in $660,000.
Explorer: History and Provenance
Created for a couple on their 1953 expedition to Mount Everest, the Rolex Explorer was designed to perform flawlessly in extreme conditions. Able to withstand enormous changes in temperature and pressure, the giveaway black dial that's still seen on the watches today features oversized and luminous 3 - 6 - 9 numerals and indices, a distinctive feature of the highly legible waterproof watch.
One of the most expensive examples of such a watch is the 1953 Submariner. The watch, complete with the customized circular buzz saw bezel and case signed by a legendary actor, came up for auction last year and sold at Phillips for an astonishing $365,000—even though it no longer told time.
Air King: The Importance of Tiny Details
Introduced in 1957, the Air King is considered one of the more enduring and accessible Rolex models. Intended to appeal to members of the armed forces and aviators during the Second World War, the Air King made a welcome return to the current Rolex collection for 2016. The new dials feature a unique two-color (yellow and green) Air King logo, a detail that will most likely become an essential design element for future collectors years.
Proof that small details like the uniquely colored logo can add incredible value? Look no further than another Rolex model, this Oyster "Panda" Ref. 6263. It's similar to the Air King in its specific, rare design elements. For example, the Panda, which takes its nickname from the handsome white dial with black sub-dials resembling a panda's face printed underneath the brand's logo, also features a Tiffany & Co signature as its mark of distinction. This one-of-a-kind Daytona was sold on November 13, 2016 at Phillips Geneva for $882,740.
Cosmograph Daytona: Deal-Breaking Unrestored Condition
A sporty model developed in the 1960s for professional race car drivers, the Cosmograph Daytonadidn't catch on at retail until the '80s. The highly collectible exotic dials, a variation less popular with consumers, often sat unloved on shop floors for years, and are now selling for hundreds of thousands of dollars.
In May 2016, a Rolex Cosmograph Daytona Ref. 6263 with a tropical "Oyster Sotto" dial, an original dial faded to a chocolate brown, sold for a record-breaking price at Phillips "Start-Stop-Reset" auction in Geneva for a whopping $1,971,500. The tropical dial not only refers to the unusual faded color, but to the fact that the Daytona has remained unrestored—a quality of utmost importance to the most serious collectors.
Yacht-Master: The Importance of Scarcity
In 1992, the Yacht-Master was introduced as a highly functional watch for the sailing world. The waterproof watch features the characteristic bi-directional rotating bezel, used for calculating distance while on the water. The nautical watch was made for the first time this year in Everose Rolesor, the Rolex combination of steel and rose gold.
Scarcity for collectors often takes precedence over precious materials. A famed musician sold his Rolex Yacht-Master Prototype Reference 6239 for charity in 2003 for $125,000. One of only three in existence, the watch—an early precursor to the Yacht-Master we know today—was never offered to the public.
Pearlmaster: Stunning Beauty Rules
In 1992, a new version of the Lady-Datejust was introduced and dubbed "The Pearlmaster." Rare stones and incredible gem-setting techniques transform the classic Datejust into something new and glamorous.
During the late 40s and 50s, a small number of enamel cloisonné dials were created by Geneva-based dial maker Stern Freres for the Oyster Perpetual model, illustrating mythical scenes of ships, dragons, and maps of the world. In May 2014, Christie's brought a 1949 model featuring a ship sailing through stormy seas to auction. The 18K gold watch, with star numerals and crown at 6 o'clock, fetched $1,242,040—one of the highest prices ever paid for a Rolex at auction.
A similar model came up for sale on November 28 at the Phillips auction "Rolex Milestones: 38 Legendary Watches That Shaped History" in Hong Kong. The Rolex Reference 4645 from 1953, a rare square shaped yellow gold watch featuring a Stern Freres dial depicting Poseidon, sold for $752,800.
This story originally appeared on Townandcountrymag.com.
* Minor edits have been made by the Townandcountry.ph editors.