Nobody can match the might of Rolex. In 2022, the Swiss giant accounted for 29.2% of the global watch market’s retail value, with company sales reaching a dizzying CHF 9.3 billion. That is not a misprint, I can assure you.
The data, collected in the highly respected annual report on the Swiss watch industry by Morgan Stanley, only serves to underline the dominance of the Crown.
It’s for this reason that every year watch retailers and the media clamour to book their Rolex appointments at Watches & Wonders to see what the brand has in store over the next 12 months. Unavoidably, any decision it makes can and does shape the rest of the market.
The thing is, though, Rolex doesn’t do grand unveilings, nor does it introduce brand-new collections, or dramatic collaborations. It’s not in the business of generating headlines and it certainly never shakes its indomitable status quo.
That doesn’t mean it’s against the odd bit of quirk – as the GMT-Master II ‘Destro’ proved last year – but it does mean for the most part that Rolex sticks to the tried and trusted route of meticulously updating its various icons from the 1950s and 1960s, improving them for their deep customer base, in a hugely impressive display of refinement.
It leaves us watch journalists rolling out cliches like “evolution rather than revolution”, “they’re not reinventing the wheel here”, and “incremental changes” to describe the year’s latest novelties, all the while wishing we could say “OMG, did you see what Rolex did!?” But that’s very much the point: Rolex has a winning formula and it is definitively sticking to it.
I have never seen the Swiss watchmaker reel out quite so much firepower in one go.
Which brings us to this year’s new watches and without further ado… throw out everything I’ve just said.
I’ve been covering Rolex for nearly a decade and in all my time I have never seen the Swiss watchmaker reel out quite so much firepower in one go.
Sat in the appointment in Geneva, I could hardly believe that Rolex, the great tinkerer of the watch world, should be going to such lengths in a single year. And I wasn’t alone: by the end of the first day of Watches & Wonders, it was all anyone could talk about.
There’s a brand-new collection, wholesale changes to several of its big names, and something that can only be described (by Rolex’s standards at least) as batshit crazy. It’s quite the repertoire.
Then there’s the rather surprising list of watches on the chopping block for this year including the dearly departed Rolex Milgauss and Cellini collections, both of which have been discontinued. No doubt both will be smash hits on the newly minted official Rolex Certified Pre-owned programme.
For what it’s worth, I did ask several members of the Rolex crew what on Earth the production team had eaten for breakfast to ignite such a flurry of activity, but I was politely batted away with the insistence that this year’s novelties had been in the offing “for quite some time”. Take that with the prerequisite amount of grain of salt your cynicism determines.
Regardless, this is a new look for the biggest player in the watch world – a sign, perhaps, that it’s been paying close attention to its rivals. Or maybe, god forbid, that the best is still to come.
Let’s start with the surprise launch of the Perpetual collection. It’s the first time since the Sky-Dweller in 2012 that we’ve seen Rolex create a brand-new collection, and it would be a vast understatement to say that the dressy heritage-inspired looks of the inaugural member of the family, the Perpetual 1908, caught us unawares.
So, what are we looking at exactly? The 1908 features a 39mm x 9.5mm case in either yellow or white gold, with an austere dial inspired by a 1931 reference finished in either white or a smoky black. It’s great to see Rolex turn on the taps with this new dress watch, with lovely details like the fluted edges, the sword hands, faceted indexes and Arabic numerals, and the railway chapter ring on the outer perimeter of the dial.
Above the small seconds hand, you’ll find the words ‘Superlative Chronometer’, Rolex’s proud guarantee (first defined in 2015) that covers key areas of performance, including precision, power reserve, waterproofness and self-winding. Here, the certification has been awarded to the brand-new Calibre 7140 movement, developed especially for this collection, which features all of Rolex’s high-tech innovations, such as the Chronergy escapement and the antimagnetic Syloxi balance spring, which contribute to the impressive −2/+2 seconds per day chronometric performance and an efficient 66-hour power reserve. Perhaps of greatest interest, though, is the fact the movement is visible through a sapphire caseback and finished with a 22ct gold oscillating weight for good measure.
If this is what we can expect from the Perpetual collection going forward, you’d have to say that this fills in a gap in Rolex’s offering – a little more approachable than the now-discounted Cellini collection and very on-trend with its vintage stylings. Whether the Crown can get its loyal collectors to part with £18,500 for the pleasure is another point entirely.
Why 1908? That was the year Hans Wilsdorf first registered the ‘Rolex’ name in Switzerland and in so doing kickstarted an icon. Perhaps Rolex has created a modern icon here.
In slightly less shocking news, Rolex has marked the 60th anniversary of the launch of its iconic (there’s that word again…) Daytona collection, with a series of small but meaningful tweaks. For starters, the case has been redesigned to create a more elegant profile, with the headline change being a 0.5mm reduction in case thickness to 11.9mm. That’ll be music to the ears of anyone who thought the tool watch wore just a bit big or perhaps sat too proud on their wrist previously – a little straightening of the lugs has been helpful in this regard, too.
The dial has been given a touch up as well, with slightly smaller subdials and hour markers, as well as a new surrounding ring on the tachymeter bezel to make that Cerachrom really pop.
The biggest change is perhaps the new hardware at the beating heart of the watch with the addition of the Calibre 4131, which includes the usual bells and whistles – the Chronergy escapement, for example – to bring the Daytona in line with the other modern icons.
What did raise eyebrows, however, is that the new platinum model now features an exhibition caseback, the first time we’ve ever seen such a thing on a Rolex sports watch, with added movement decoration and a new cutout oscillating weight finished in 22ct gold – yep, the same as the Perpetual 1908.
In truth, you’ll need to look twice to spot all the minor adjustments, but you can see the direction Rolex is heading in with its marquee collection. Everything is in aid of just that little extra touch of sophistication. There’s nothing wrong with that.
Even by Rolex’s standards, the Explorer is a stone-cold classic. The 1953 icon, which adorned the wrists of mountaineers Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay on their history-making summit of Mount Everest in the same year, is the tool watch and has been a staple in Rolex’s lineup ever since.
New for this year is a larger 40mm of the Explorer – making it the largest Explorer ever. If you’re familiar with the 39mm Explorer ref.214270 launched in 2016, you’d be hard pressed to find too many aesthetic differences in this new rendition, but the key point here is this is the first time that Rolex has ever offered two different case sizes for its famed model at the same time: 40mm and the historically accurate 36mm size last updated in 2021.
Under the hood, you’re still dealing with the Calibre 3230, featuring the usual Rolex tech, and the much-loved 3-6-9 dial in black lacquer dial also remains unchanged.
This is a typical Rolex evolution, one we’re chalking up to the watchmaker listening to its clientele.
Yacht-Master 42 RLX Titanium
It was bound to happen eventually, but Rolex has finally come over to ‘the dark side’ with its first full-scale production watch made entirely out of titanium. Housed within the Yacht-Master 42 collection, the proprietary RLX Titanium (grade 5 titanium, with a Rolex twist) is used on both the case and the bracelet, which results in a watch that is more than 30% lighter than its steel counterpart – and, boy, do you feel that difference on the wrist.
The case for a titanium Yacht-Master is really rather compelling when you consider the practical applications of a material that is lightweight, anti-corrosion, anti-magnetic, and hypoallergenic in a nautical environment. This is a sports watch whose sporty credentials have just multiplied several times over. Diehard Rolex fans will also recall that sailing royalty Sir Ben Ainslie wore a prototype titanium Yacht-Master (on a strap, not a bracelet) some years ago, so perhaps we could have telegraphed this decision after all.
How does it wear? I must admit to finding it slightly disconcerting to look down at a Rolex and not feel that reassuring Rolex heft as you turn your wrist. This is a purely visceral response, of course, only strengthened by the fact that the Yacht-Master 42 is otherwise unchanged. I’m talking raised black numerals, the matte-black ceramic bezel insert, and the cyclops date window at 3 o’clock. The titanium does create a stealthy aesthetic by dint of its slightly darker and muted tones, in comparison to highly polished steel.
I’d go as far to say that this is Rolex’s sportiest sports watch ever.
The GMT-Master II hype shows no signs of slowing down. No doubt the two latest additions to the family, one in 18k yellow gold and the other a bi-metal steel and yellow gold construction, will only add fuel to the fire.
After several years’ hiatus, this marks the welcome return of yellow gold to the GMT-Master II collection, which until recently has made do with changing bezel colours as opposed to differing case materials. As it happens, these two new models get a bezel change as well, this time contrasting the precious metal with a monochrome black and grey combination that just looks fantastic.
Collectors and watch media love nicknaming Rolex watches (think: kermit, batman, hulk, and so on) here we’re going to petition for ‘London’ because what could be more black and grey than the sky over our Capital?
Anyway, both models stick to the tried and trust route of the GMT-Master II in recent years, with the 40mm Oyster case, the Jubilee bracelet, and the Calibre 3285 ticking away under the hood.
Our preference, if you’re asking, is for the steel and gold combination. We’re suckers for a bit of bi-metal.
Oyster Perpetual ‘Celebration’
In recent years, Rolex has utilised its entry-level Oyster Perpetual collection as a blank canvas for some of the brand’s louder, more ‘arty’, dial designs. We saw a handful of pastel dial colourways in 2020 and a rather fetching palm motif in 2021, but now Rolex has pushed the boat out even further with a playful bubbly design it’s calling, the ‘Celebration’.
Available in 31mm, 36mm, and 41mm sizes, the lacquered dial features a series of overlapping multi-coloured ‘party balloons’ (51 of them, if you must know) in pink, blue, yellow, red and green – indeed, the same colours as the pastel dials launched in 2020 – on a turquoise base.
Other than that, you’re looking at the same incredibly serviceable Oyster Perpetual that we know and love. Featuring the ubiquitous Calibre 3230 (already mentioned in this piece) in the two larger sizes and the smaller Calibre 2232 movement in the 31mm model.
Did anyone expect Rolex to launch a bubbly, ballpit-like watch? Absolutely not. It will be fascinating to see how the watchmaker’s attempt to tap into our inner child goes down with the buying public.
Oyster Perpetual Day-Date 36 'Jigsaw Dial'
And here it is: a watch so un-Rolex-like that when it was placed in front of us I nearly spat out my coffee. Meet the Day-Date 36 “Jigsaw Dial”, aka the Rolex emoji watch. Yep.
Let’s start with the basics. This is a 36mm Rolex Day-Date that features the usual dress Oyster case design, the iconic fluted bezel, and the cyclops date window. Rolex has also plumped for 18k white gold for the case material here, which adds a wonderfully luxurious edge to the usual Day-Date aesthetic. It’s at this point where we depart for Crazy Town.
For starters, this is a Day-Date that neither tells you the day or the date. Instead, the day function is replaced with seven positive words printed in different colours, including “Happy,” Eternity,” “Gratitude,” Peace,” “Faith,” “Love,” and “Hope”. At 3 o’clock, the date is replaced with 31 Rolex-designed emojis, including rainbows, hearts, and animals. It is bonkers.
This being Rolex, the gimmick does not replace hardcore watchmaking chops. On the dial Rolex has created a vibrant champlevé enamel dial featuring a jigsaw motif, which utilises complex gold inlays, as well as a series of colourful applied sapphire indices.
There are many words that come to mind when thinking of Rolex, but ‘fun’ isn’t exactly top of the list. It’s a little like seeing your parents dancing in a nightclub – somehow it doesn’t feel quite right coming from an authority figure. And yet this is unquestionably the watchmaker unburdening itself from the weight of its history to show the full force of its creativity.
The result is a model as charming as it is utterly surprising. You can bet your bottom dollar that there’ll be collectors lining up around the block to pay the £55,300 to get their hands on this absolutely bananas novelty.
For all new Rolex 2023 novelties, see rolex.com