Your next watch should be a 34mm Rolex.
Before you scoff and close the tab in a huff, insisting that you’ll never wear a watch smaller than 47mm, hear us out: Watchmaking is about proportions. Indices, lugs, case presentation, dial size, handset, thickness and diameter all affect the way a piece appears on the wrist and how it’s perceived by others. Large quantities of complications may necessitate larger dials in order to maintain proportionality and avoid a cluttered appearance. Time-only watches, on the other hand, sometimes begin to look clunky at larger case dimensions. Many brands have found ways of disguising this size and decreasing the visual weight of a timepiece, but the fact remains that the proportions of a watch in the 30-40mm range are classical, and balance dial size and complication beautifully.
There’s no doubt that larger timepieces were, until recently, on trend: Watches have become public statement pieces rather than vehicles for personal expression, and bigger watches can certainly flaunt their stuff more loudly than smaller ones. That said, style is cyclical, and we’ve already begun to witness a transition back towards smaller case sizes. While a 34mm Rolex may sound like a tiny watch by modern standards, in actuality, contemporary 34mm Rolexes wear much like vintage 36mm Rolexes due to their broad lug profile and robust case construction.
Further, it’s surprising to see how many collectors refuse to look at 34-38mm watches even though they’ve never tried one on. Unless you're built like Arnold Schwarzenegger, you’ll probably find that a 34mm watch doesn’t look out of place at all. In addition to the nostalgic beauty of a smaller piece, a 34mm Rolex can be had at an incredibly appealing price point, and makes for an exceptional value within the larger context of Rolex’s repertoire.
Today, we’re going to highlight some of the most notable 34mm Rolex references.
NOTE: The price ranges we quoted are accurate as of publish, but markets are of course subject to change.Rolex Oysterdate Precision 6694 (~$5,000)
The Rolex Oysterdate Precision line has always represented an exceptional value. Produced largely in the 50s and ‘60s, one of the added draws of these models is that many are manually wound, and very thin! Rolex has made comparatively few manually wound pieces — particularly in modern times — making ownership of a reference such as the 6694 a unique opportunity. Additionally, the Precision line has very little text on the dial, which allows the piece to look much less cluttered and more classical.
Rolex Oyster Perpetual Date 15200 (~$5,000-$6,000)
Rolex’s Oyster Perpetual Date is the scaled-down version of the 36mm Datejust — and if you’re looking for a 34mm, automatic Rolex, it’s a great place to start. With chronometer certification and classic Oyster styling, these pieces provides much of the allure of the bigger Rolex watches, but in a more compact package. The Reference 15200, for example, was produced in the early 2000s; its combination of vintage elements such as tritium lume with more modern luxuries — including a quickset date function, sapphire crystal, and substantial bracelet — make for a great middle-of-the-road piece that offers the best of both worlds.
Rolex Oyster Perpetual Date 1503 (~$15,000)
At the other end of the Oyster Perpetual Date spectrum is the reference 1503, a solid-gold alternative to the 15200. Where the 15200 flies under the radar, the 1503 is much more flamboyant. In spite of its more flashy appearance, however, the 1503 has some vintage refinements that are quite attractive to collectors: Most notably, the 70s-era bracelet features rivets in retro Rolex style. Additionally, these references are incredibly comfortable and supple on the wrist, and feature fluted gold bezels that are well suited for dressier occasions.
Rolex Oyster Perpetual 1005 (~$5,000)
If you love the look of a riveted bracelet but want just a bit less gold, a Reference 1005 should fit the bill. While rivets are certainly a more utilitarian component of bracelet construction, on this reference, Rolex has actually made them the source of a little artistic charm: The two-tone bracelet features gold center links and golden, riveted bracelet sides — an interesting aesthetic that is quite rare on Rolex watches. Unlike the previous pieces on this list, the 1005 has no date, which adds balance and symmetry to the dial.
Rolex Oyster Perpetual 114200 (~$7,000-$8,000)
Love the simplicity of vintage Oyster Perpetuals but searching for a more modern variant? The Reference 114200 is the contemporary take on the Reference 1005. Wearing a bit broader and sportier on the wrist, the 114200 has a solid-link bracelet and was produced in the 2010s. The piece feels substantial in spite of its small case and makes for a great everyday watch. For added utility in low-light environments, Rolex outfitted the 114200 with plenty of lume on both the dial and the handset. Robust enough for daily wear but still refined enough for pairing with a button-down shirt, the 114200 wears many hats, and wears them all well.
Rolex Air King References 14000 and 5500 (~$4,000-$5,000)
The Rolex Air King line was introduced in the 1940s to pay tribute to pilots in the Royal Air Force who served in World War II. Although the collection has recently been upgraded with crown guards and pronounced lugs, its vintage and neo-vintage references are a fantastic entry point into the Rolex family. The Reference 5500 is one of the more collectible variants — especially those with dials like the “linen” type, which looks like its namesake material. And if you’re looking for a more modern piece instead, the Reference 14000 provides an updated movement and sapphire crystal that are in line with contemporary watchmaking standards.
BONUS: Rolex Tropical Dial Oyster Perpetual Date Reference 1500 (~$5,000-$6,000)
Last but certainly not least, we have a piece that’s sure to check many boxes for Rolex enthusiasts — a “tropical” Reference 1500. Characterized by their discolored dials — (this example once had a blue dial) — tropical Rolexes have long attracted attention. This piece, however, affords many of the best elements of the other pieces outlined above: A riveted bracelet from the 1960s, tritium lume that has patinated beautifully with age, a case in great condition, and a date window that adds practicality to the design. This watch is simply begging for pairing with all sorts of cool straps and makes for a versatile vintage Rollie.
Just be sure to nab this one before it’s too late — we don’t get too many like it coming across our desks!