In the world of luxury retail, the phrase “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” comes with a rather more pressing addendum: “Lest you incur the wrath of your legions of fans and consumer base.”
That’s why the Porsche 911 has changed ostensibly little since the first model rolled out of the factory in 1964 (engine in the back, circular headlamps at the front, and an unwavering silhouette), why Nike has been releasing different colours of the same Air Max 1 design since 1987, and Rolex has dominated the watch sector for decades via a series of subtle evolutions as opposed to horological revolution.
The buying public are a habitual, conservative bunch who like nice things to look nice in the same way they’ve always looked nice – and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.
For journalists like me, of course, we’re always looking for a bombshell news story we can splash across our websites and magazines. Unashamedly, we feast on the brand-new, the shiny, and the downright controversial – the saying, “The headline almost writes itself” comes to mind.
But sometimes it helps to take your writer’s cap off for a moment and to think about what you would actually want should you be parting with your own money. All of a sudden, that flashy bit of something seems a little less headline grabbing and a lot more gauche in comparison to the elegance of the classic option.
If you hadn’t guessed by now, this introduction is somewhat of an apologist for Rolex’s 2020 collection, which follows much the same path as previous annual updates in ever-so slightly tweaking a collection or two, and adding a few more dial and case material variations elsewhere.
The wheel is without reinvention, yes, but when buying Rolex means something very particular to the watch community, would you want it any other way? Journalists may yearn for the day the biggest name in Swiss watchmaking does something c-r-a-z-y, but I’m certain that most buyers are quite happy with more of the same smash hits.
Without further ado, let’s dig into the Rolex’s new watch line-up for 2020.
Rolex Submariner 41mm
This was the real “Aha!” moment in the Rolex press release: those in the know have been predicting a Submariner refresh for the thick end of three years, and finally their predictions have come true.
Make no mistake, this is an incredibly big deal for the Swiss giant: ask Google what the most searched for Rolex is on the planet, and it will tell you that the ‘Sub’ is top of the pile. Often imitated but never duplicated, it is also the definitive dive watch design, the first watch that comes to mind when you think of James Bond (sorry Omega, but we can’t argue with Sean Connery on this one), and a game changer in terms of technical advancement when in 1954 it was the first commercially available timepiece capable of submerging to 100 metres.
To collectors, then, tweaking the Submariner is akin to deciding Mona Lisa needs botox. And yet Rolex has meticulously gone about carefully finessing its iconic design over the years; another link in the evolutionary process, and one step closer towards perfection.
So what are we looking at then? The headlines are that we have a new-generation Submariner and Submariner Date presented with a redesigned, slightly larger 41mm case. The Date version gets a few colour variations, while there’s a new calibre 3230 for the time-only model – boasting Rolex’s customary exacting standards for efficiency, reliability, anti-magnetism, etc.
The case, however, is the real talking point here. Depending on whether you are a normal human or a watch obsessive, the changes are subtle or *significant*. The “Maxi” dial of previous versions (read: larger-than-average hour markers and indices for legibility) is framed by the same glossy ceramic bezel insert Rolex calls Cerachrom of the previous iteration, but now that dial has a little extra room to breathe by expanding from 40mm to 41mm total case size – the largest Sub ever.
But this is not a watch that has simply bulked up. Yes, the muscular shoulders of the lugs are still squat, but they’re more tapered towards the springbars of the bracelet. The crown guards are also smaller and a little less chunky. We’re talking micrometres of difference here, but the result is a case that is at once more contoured and just a little more elegant.
It wears roughly the same as the previous sized iteration, in truth, only now you have a slightly bigger dial to enjoy – something particularly helpful for the Submariner Date models, with their cyclops date apertures.
Speaking of which, Rolex has introduced seven new iterations of the Sub Date with a combination of different dial colours, ceramic bezel inserts, and case materials.
Top of the list for this avid golfer is the black-dialed steel model with green bezel – a combination I’d dub the Rolex Submariner Fairway (copyright pending), but collectors call the Kermit.
Rolex has incrementally improved the hardware inside a few of its big hitters since 2015 (the Datejust, Day-Date, and Sea-Dweller have all received their upgrade), so it’s no surprise that the first major change to the Submariner model since 2012 also means an engine change. The Submariner Date follows the lead of the Datejust and gets access to the preexisting Calibre 3235, while the time-only iteration gets a similar yet brand-new movement under the hood.
The Calibre 3230 offers tangible benefits like a longer 70-hour power reserve (an improvement of almost 50% on the 48 hours previously available in the Sub collection), along with the addition of Rolex's proprietary Chronergy escapement – a mechanism that enables a movement to not only be more efficient but also more reliable over an extended time. That means longer stretches between servicing and hopefully next to no hiccups along the way. Precision is measured at an impressive -2/+2 seconds per day, while each model must jump through all the necessary hoops (durability, waterproofness, precision) to attain its Superlative Chronometer certification.
If you already own a Sub, would I recommend you get a new one? Probably not, if I’m being totally honest. These changes are tangible and commendable, but not earth shattering. However, if you were previously considering getting one, you can rest assured you’re now looking at the most perfect Submariner to date.
Rolex Oyster Perpetual
Needless to say, any change to the Sub collection will steal the headlines but Rolex’s entry point, the Oyster Perpetual, has also received a round of changes in 2020 – chief among them being a growth spurt from 39mm case size to 41mm.
The Oyster Perpetual 41 also benefits from the calibre 3230 found in the new time-only Sub, with its improved power reserve, reliability, and efficiency, so there’s plenty here to nod your head at in approval.
My eye was immediately drawn to one particular colourway: the silver sunray dial with yellow-gold hour markers and hands. It’s a shimmering beauty that brings something genuinely exciting to this more accessible price point. The interplay of the steel and gold is incredibly harmonious, without ever feeling ostentatious. I wouldn’t be surprised if this becomes the sleeper hit of Rolex’s 2020 releases.
There’s also a host of new dials, and a new movement for the Oyster Perpetual 36 – yes, that means a number of smaller, vibrant models will also offer the brand-new calibre 3230. Options include candy pink, yellow, green, coral red, and turquoise; a horological packet of skittles.
The most cosmetic upgrade in this year’s Rolex line-up is the introduction of a Sky-Dweller fitted with an Oysterflex bracelet for the first time.
The Sky-Dweller has the notable privilege of being the most complicated watch in Rolex’s tool watch family – an annual calendar combined with a dual-time display – but the strap change definitely feels like it adds a touch of dress-down appeal to this multi-functional marvel.
Rolex did much the same thing with its iconic Daytona chronograph in 2017, but it’s still nice to see one of Swiss giant’s most underappreciated models get a little bit of love, which hopefully only adds to its broader appeal.
Don’t go calling this a rubber strap, though. The elastomer bracelet features integrated metal blades to blend the comfort of rubber with the durability of a metal bracelet. There’s also Rolex’s glide-lock adjustment system, which allows the wearer to quickly resize the bracelet in a matter of moments.
For more information, see rolex.com