Unusual and Overlooked Rolex Watches

Unusual and Overlooked Rolex Watches

| 06.19.23

The last ten years have seen unprecedented demand for mechanical watches in general, and Rolex watches in particular — and Rolex sport models in particular particular. 

Timepieces such as the Submariner, Explorer II, Daytona, and others are wildly popular, and just about everyone and their mother is either wearing one, waiting for one, or scouring the secondary market for one. We love these models, so this is all well and good as far as we're concerned.

However, these are hardly the only Rolex watches worthy of your attention. The fascinating thing about the brand is that its output is truly staggering — especially so during the mid-20th century. Within a single model family (or even within a single reference), one might see countless different dial executions, making for a collector’s paradise.

We thought it might be fun, therefore, to highlight some of the more obscure Rolex models and references. Because while everyone else is caught up chasing trends and gunning for the same, scarce watches, maybe you can get ahead of the curve and find yourself something unique — something left-of-center? God knows these watches are out there. Rolex made gobs of ‘em!

Rolex Midas

Rolex Cellini Midas 'Lapis & Diamonds' 

A thin, asymmetrical, solid-gold dress piece with an integrated bracelet is probably not what comes to mind first when one thinks of Rolex. However, during the 1960s, the brand introduced a model family that would incorporate all of these features in an artful reimagining of the dress watch into something distinctly contemporary: namely, the Midas line, so called for its use of solid gold. Available in several case shapes, materials, dials, and sizes, this model family is notable for its designer: the famed Gérald Genta, who would go on to think up the Royal Oak and Nautilus. Look for the larger King Midas for men and the smaller Queen Midas for ladies, and we say go big or go home by nabbing a yellow gold model!

Rolex Datejust Ref. 1600

Rolex Datejust  

Though it’s been kicking around in various guises since 1945, the Datejust is perhaps most iconic in its 4-digit guise, and of these references, the fluted-bezel Reference 1601 is likely most well known. However, the 4-digit series (like later series, as well) was also available with an engine-turned bezel (as Reference 1603) and with a smooth bezel (as Reference 1600). A smooth bezel on a DJ, you might ask? Blasphemy! However, we’d urge you to reconsider: A smooth bezel makes this distinctly dressy model much sportier — sort of like a 36mm Oyster Perpetual, which were themselves hella scarce in the mid-20th century. We say embrace the smooth bezel, and you’ve got yourself one fantastic everyday watch. 

Rolex Oyster Perpetual Ref. 1018

Rolex Oyster Perpetual 'Serpico y Laino' - (Image by Christie's)

Speaking of 36mm Oyster Perpetuals — there aren’t a ton of them. (The Explorer is functionally a 36mm Oyster Perpetual by another name, but that’s another story.) However, there is the Reference 1018: A chronometer-certified, automatic watch, it was introduced in roughly 1960 and was in production until 1988. Housed in a 36mm stainless steel case and available with only a smooth bezel, this timepiece was unusual for its large case during a time when nearly every other OPs measured just 34mm. Today, they’re scarce, and prices reflect this; though compared with many more popular references, they’re still relatively affordable. Most dials are white, though occasionally a black dial surfaces.

Rolex Precision ‘UFO’

 Rolex Precision 'UFO'

Rolex was well ahead of the curve as regards integrated-bracelet watches. To wit: back in the 1950s, it released this unusual reference within the Precision family, the Reference 9083. Housed in a 35mm stainless steel case and matched to an integrated, stainless steel riveted Oyster bracelet, this strange object is a hand-wound everyday or dress watch — a far cry from the heavily water-resistant, Genta-penned designs of the 1970s! The integrated bracelet would be featured again in the (Genta-designed) Midas of the 1960s and in the Oysterquartz models of the 1970s, and then disappear from Rolex’s catalog. But if you fancy a bit of quirk in your wrist candy, we suggest the ‘UFO.’ After all, what’s more ‘50s than an out-of-this-world watch? 

Rolex Datejust Oysterquartz

Rolex Datejust Oysterquartz 

In the 1970s, it was tough to ignore the writing on the wall — that quartz was the future of watchmaking. (Or, at least it seemed like it was back then as it ravaged the mechanical watch industry!) Rolex embraced the technology for a while, debuting a special version of its beloved Datejust line with an integrated bracelet and a battery-powered movement. Introduced in 1976 after five years of development, the Oysterquartz was available in several references, but perhaps looks best in its smooth-bezel variants, such as the 17000. Measuring 36mm and available in several dial variations, these unique timepieces are the meeting point between ‘luxury sports watch’ design language and (what was once) advanced timekeeping tech. 

Rolex Oysterquartz Day-Date 

Rolex Oysterquartz Day-Date 

As it did with the Datejust, Rolex introduced a quartz-powered version of its sumptuous, precious metal Day-Date called the Oysterquartz Day-Date, designed with a distinctive, angular shape to differentiate it from its mechanical counterparts. Crafted from solid white or yellow gold, it combined the usual 36mm day- and date-equipped dial with a matching integrated bracelet — plus the company’s own, proprietary Calibre 5055, a thermo-compensated quartz movement beating at four times the rate of the consortium-developed Beta-21. Between 1977 when the model debuted to 2003, Rolex produced just 25,000 quartz-powered watches, meaning that certain references within the collection are incredibly rare. 

Rolex GMT-Master 'Concorde'

Rolex GMT-Master 'Concorde'  

One of Rolex’s most important models, the GMT-Master exists in a smattering of notable references. One of the more obscure is referred to by collectors as the ‘Concorde’ for an interesting reason: In 1960s Rolex advertisements featuring this supersonic plane (“If you were flying the Concorde tomorrow, you’d wear a Rolex”), a GMT-Master in solid gold with a brown bezel is seen with a distinctive ‘bâton’ handset. (Most contemporary GMT-Master watches of the time featured the brand’s ‘Mercedes’ handset.) This watch, the Reference 1675/8, is a handsome, 39mm dual-time travel watch with a ‘nipple’ dial whose utility and good looks certainly mean that it stands on its own. But it doesn’t hurt to have a cool feature to set it apart from the crowd — not to mention a cool nickname!