The 10 Most Iconic Rolex Watches of the Century
Few works of art deserve to be called timeless, and even fewer can be worn on your person day after day. An impeccably crafted watch achieves both: It grants its owner a look of sophistication, plus the utility of an exquisite timepiece that just works. To honor the long legacy of watches we love, we dug up 10 Rolex models that changed the horology landscape forever.
1931, Oyster Perpetual
Few innovations change an entire industry forever, but Rolex's introduction of the Perpetual movement did just that. The self-winding mechanism powers the mainspring using the natural movement of the wearer's arm. Now a staple in watchmaking, the Perpetual's technology paved the way for new era of excellence in watchmaking.
Visual design elements can carry as much power over a watch as its technical inner workings. The Datejust was the first self-winding timepiece to feature the date in a window. Streamlined and simple, yet radiating elegance in the fluted bezel and specially designed Jubilee bracelet, this quickly became the dress watch of choice for many notable figures.
Contributing to the Rolex's wide-reaching legacy in the world of exploration, the Submariner firmly established the design language for dive watches throughout the century: It's the world's first automatic watch to withstand depths up to 100 meters. Meanwhile, the unidirectional bezel allows the wearer to easily measure their submersion time.
As innovations in aviation made crossing time zones and oceans an everyday reality, Rolex developed the GMT Master. Originally built for jet-setting pilots and designed in collaboration with Pan Am, a fourth hand allows the wearer to track time in multiple time zones. The striking red and blue bisectional bezel represents day and nighttime hours, respectively.
Poised at the forefront of scientific research, Switzerland's CERN facility is the world's largest particle physics lab. Inside, strong magnetic fields can wreak havoc on the movements of automatic watches. Catering to physicists who work in these conditions, the Milgauss can withstand magnetic fields up to 1,000 gauss thanks to a specially built ferromagnetic alloy shield.
Building on the legacy of the Datejust, the Day-Date marked a new pinnacle of luxury for the entire field of watchmaking. Available initially only in 18-karat gold or platinum, the piece extends its elegance to its unabridged day reading—a world-first for automatic watches. Cherished by everyone from past presidents to professional athletes, the Day-Date is synonymous with excellence.
1963, Cosmograph Daytona
Named for the iconic strip of sand home to more than a dozen world speed records, the Cosmograph Daytona set a new standard for automotive timepieces. With a tachymetric scale on the bezel for determining average speed, the Daytona was designed especially for endurance racing. More than just a technical tool, the watch represents Rolex's first foray into contrasting sub-dials.
2007, Yacht-Master II
Regattas are a pursuit of precision, where the ability to tactically cross the start line often determines one's finishing position. Built for racing, the Yacht-Master II features a world-first mechanical programmable countdown memory. This allows skippers to cross the start line at the most advantageous time, which is complemented by bold numerals and lettering on the bezel and dial.
2008, The Rolex Deepsea
Fueling the human desire for exploration, the Rolex Deepsea lives up to its name by striving for the deepest depths of the ocean. Building off the history of innovation around diving, the Ringlock System is able to withstand unprecedented pressures equivalent to three tons. This piece houses state-of-the-art technology and has an underwater depth rating of up to 3,900 meters.
From scaling mountaintops—as high as Everest in 1953—to exploring the sea, the Explorer has been the trusted timepiece for adventurers throughout history. The latest iteration enhances the user experience through heightened luminosity and elongated hands, allowing for improved legibility. A truly timeless design ensures this piece will accompany intrepid pioneers from generation to generation.
This story originally appeared on Esquire.com. * Minor edits have been made by the Esquiremag.ph editors.