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9 Rare Rolex Watches: The Ultimate Guide (2024)

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9 Rare Rolex Watches The Ultimate Guide (2024)

The scarcity of a Rolex watch directly influences its market value and the interest of collectors. For them, owning a rare Rolex is about possessing a unique piece of horological art that not everyone can claim. 

This rarity creates a compelling narrative for each watch, from Steve McQueen’s 1967 Submariner to a rare 1956 steel Oyster GMT-Master. 

In this article, we’ll explore the rarest Rolex watches that showcase the best of Rolex’s craftsmanship and exclusivity, from limited editions to historic models worth adding to your collection.

Top 9 Rare Rolexes

Rolex has an unmatched legacy—the brand’s rarest models are grails for collectors and fans alike. 

Here, we explore nine of the rarest Rolex watches, each boasting a unique history and possessing characteristics that set them apart.

1. 1963 Rolex Paul Newman Daytona Ref. 6239 – Stainless Steel Bezel, Exotic Creme-Colored Dial

rolex daytona paul newman ref. 6239

About

The 1968 Rolex Paul Newman Daytona is an iconic vintage watch named after the actor and racing enthusiast who famously wore it. Distinguished by its exotic dial with art deco-style numerals and contrasting color sub-dials, this Daytona variant stands out from other models. According to Hyla Ames Bauer of Forbes, it has a rich history and has become highly coveted among watch enthusiasts and collectors. It has set auction records, including a sale for S$23.9 million (S$17.8 million).

Features

The Paul Newman Daytona features domed crystals made of acrylic, and the sub-dials include block markers instead of lines, with crosshairs placed at the center of each sub-dial. The seconds sub-dial is marked at 15, 30, 45, and 60, unlike other Daytona watches, which have markings at 20, 40, and 60.

Specifications

  • Production Year: 1963
  • Case Size: 37mm
  • Materials:
    • Dial – Exotic creme-colored
    • Bracelet – Stainless steel
    • Bezel – Stainless steel
  • Function: Seconds, Minutes, Hours, Chronograph
  • Mechanism: Manual winding, Calibre 722-1, 72-Hour Power Reserve

2. 1954 GMT-Master Ref. 6542 – Bakelite Bezel, Black Dial

Rolex GMT-Master Ref. 6542

About

With its innovative design, the Rolex GMT-Master Reference 6542 set a new standard for dual-time zone watches, allowing wearers to read a second-time zone. Distinct from later vintage Rolexes, the 6542 had no crown guards. It originally featured a radium-luminous Bakelite bezel, which was eventually replaced due to durability concerns. Regarding auction records, reference 6542 is estimated by Christie’s to have an estimated worth of around S$74,460 to S$119,136.

Features

The Rolex GMT-Master Reference 6542 is notable for its 38mm case without crown guards and the rare, radiant Bakelite bezel with radium numerals. Midway through its production, Rolex transitioned to more durable aluminum bezel inserts, making the original Bakelite versions exceedingly scarce.

Specifications

  • Production Year: 1954
  • Case Size: 38mm
  • Materials:
    • Dial – Black
    • Bracelet – Stainless steel
    • Bezel – Bakelite
  • Function: Seconds, Minutes, Hours, Date
  • Mechanism: Automatic, Calibre 1065, 48-Hour Power Reserve

3. 1967 Sea-Dweller “Double Red” Ref. 1665 – Stainless Steel Bezel, Black Dial

Sea-Dweller _Double Red Ref. 1665

About

The 1967 Sea-Dweller Reference 1665, “Double Red,” for its distinctive two lines of red text on the dial, marked a significant milestone as Rolex’s first watch engineered for saturation diving. As it’s a vintage Rolex model, you won’t come across this timepiece often. At Sotheby’s, this can be acquired for S$37,980 to S$73,039. 

Features

The Rolex’ Double Red’ Sea-Dweller, Ref. 1665, features a black dial complemented by a robust stainless steel Oyster bracelet with a folding clasp. It houses a precise caliber 1570 automatic movement with 26 jewels, identified by the movement number D’382’304. The watch’s 40mm case, bearing the case number 5’148’168, is equipped with a screw-down back to ensure water resistance.

Specifications

  • Production Year: 1967
  • Case Size: 40mm
  • Materials:
    • Dial – Black
    • Bracelet – Stainless steel
    • Bezel – Stainless steel
  • Function: Seconds, Minutes, Hours, Date
  • Mechanism: Automatic, Calibre 1570, 48-Hour Power Reserve

4. 1971 Explorer II “Steve McQueen” Ref. 1655 – Stainless Steel Bezel, Black Dial

Rolex Explorer II Ref. 1655

About

Building on the legacy of the original Explorer, which gained fame on Sir Edmund Hillary’s wrist during his historic Everest summit in 1953, the Explorer II features a larger Oyster case and a distinctive 24-hour pointer hand, paired with a fixed steel bezel—unlike the GMT-Master’s rotating bezel—to help speleologists keep track of time in the absence of natural light. At Sotheby’s, this is valued at S$20,460 to S$30,690. 

Features

The 1971 Explorer II Reference 1655, famously known as the “Steve McQueen” watch, features a striking black dial with a distinctive 24-hour hand powered by the reliable cal. 1570 automatic movement with 26 jewels. The robust stainless steel case, with a screw-down back and a 39mm diameter, ensures durability and elegance. Additionally, the watch is complemented by a stainless steel Rolex Oyster bracelet complemented by a folding clasp, offering a comfortable fit.

Specifications

  • Production Year: 1971
  • Case Size: 39mm
  • Materials:
    • Dial – Black
    • Bracelet – Stainless steel
    • Bezel – Stainless steel
  • Function: Seconds, Minutes, Hours, Date, GMT
  • Mechanism: Automatic, Calibre 1570, 48-Hour Power Reserve

5. 1970s Day-Date Ref. 1802 – 18k Yellow, Blue Stella Dials

rolex day-date ref. 1802 blue stella dial

About

The Rolex Day-Date with “Stella” dials is characterized by its vibrant enamel dials in rare colors, such as mauve, turquoise, and oxblood. The “Stella” dials come in four production series, each with distinct features such as different dial shapes, minute track designs, and index styles, adding to their uniqueness. Notable for their rarity, these watches have fetched impressive prices at auctions—Phillips sold this for S$65,099 ($43,750) for Ref. 1802.

Features

The 1970 Rolex Day Date features an exquisite 18k gold case with a diameter of 36mm, complemented by a matching 18k gold bracelet. The watch showcases a captivating lacquered Stella dial adorned with diamond-set hour markers, adding a touch of elegance and luxury. Powered by automatic movement, it offers both day and date functions.

Specifications

  • Production Year: 1970s
  • Case Size: 36mm
  • Materials:
    • Dial – Blue
    • Bracelet – 18k Yellow Gold
    • Bezel – 18k Yellow Gold
  • Function: Seconds, Minutes, Hours, Day, Date
  • Mechanism: Automatic, Calibre 1556, 48-Hour Power Reserve

6. Rolex Daytona Ref. 6265 Retailed by Tiffany & Co. – Stainless Steel Bezel, Silver Dial

Rolex Daytona _Big Red_ Ref. 6265

About

The Rolex Daytona “Big Red,” with a “Tiffany & Co” stamped dial, is a highly sought-after and rare timepiece, distinguished by its unique double-stamped dial featuring the iconic “Daytona” text in red above the 6 o’clock register and the prestigious “Tiffany & Co” logo above the hands. The combination of the “Big Red” dial and “Tiffany & Co” stamping makes this particular watch exceptionally rare. It could fetch over S$295,952 as per the listing at Sotheby’s.

Features

The Reference 6265 ‘Big Red’ Daytona, retailed by Tiffany & Co., is a distinctive stainless steel chronograph wristwatch featuring a silvered dial powered by the caliber 727 mechanical movements with 17 jewels. This iconic timepiece boasts a stainless steel case with a unique, personally inscribed screw-down back alongside a stainless steel Rolex Oyster bracelet matched with a folding clasp.

Specifications

  • Production Year: 1974
  • Case Size: 37mm
  • Materials:
    • Dial – Silver
    • Bracelet – Stainless steel
    • Bezel – Stainless steel
  • Function: Seconds, Minutes, Hours, Chronograph
  • Mechanism: Manual-Winding, Calibre 727, 50-Hour Power Reserve

7. 1966 Oyster Cosmograph Daytona Ref. 6264 – ‘Exotic’, Acrylic Bezel, Lemon Dial

Paul Newman’s Daytona Ref. 6264

About

The Paul Newman’s Daytona Ref. 6264 in gold, nicknamed “Lemon” due to its exotic lemon dial, is an exceedingly rare and highly collectible timepiece. With an estimated total production of around 3500, only about 350 yellow gold models are believed to have been made, and merely 11 examples of the Lemon dial variant are known to exist. Ambrose Leung reports it has fetched S$2,690,480 ($2 million) at an auction in 2022. 

Features

This particular model is powered by the Valjoux 727 caliber. It is notable for its short production run and the use of exotic dials in a few gold Daytona references before the introduction of the Oyster case with screw-down crowns. Produced for only three years, it is a transitional model that bridges earlier references with later ones, characterized by its pump pusher and exotic dial combination, considered as rare as a prototype.

Specifications

  • Production Year: 1966
  • Case Size: 37mm
  • Materials:
    • Dial – Lemon Dial
    • Bracelet – 18k Yellow Gold
    • Bezel – Acrylic
  • Function: Seconds, Minutes, Hours, Chronograph
  • Mechanism: Manual-Winding, Calibre 727, 72-Hour Power Reserve

8. Rolex ‘Khanjar’ Day-Date Ref. 1803 – Yellow Gold Bezel, Champagne Dial

Rolex ‘Khanjar’ Day-Date Ref. 1803

About

This Rolex Ref. 1807, a rare 36mm yellow gold watch, is distinguished by its unique hand-finished bark-effect bezel and center-links. Commissioned by Sultan Qaboos bin Said of Oman, it features the national emblem of Oman, a vivid red Khanjar dagger and swords logo, on its exceptional champagne pie-pan dial.

Features

The Rolex Day-Date reference 1807 features a 36mm yellow gold case complemented by a distinctive bark-effect bezel. Dating to 1974, its serial number is meticulously engraved inside the caseback. The dial showcases the Omani Khanjar logo, adding a unique cultural significance. Additionally, this model includes a yellow gold President bracelet, which also features the elegant bark-effect on the center-links, enhancing its luxurious appeal.

Specifications

  • Production Year: 1972
  • Case Size: 36mm
  • Materials:
    • Dial – Champagne with Red Khanjar
    • Bracelet – Yellow Gold
    • Bezel – Yellow Gold
  • Function: Seconds, Minutes, Hours, Day, Date
  • Mechanism: Self-Winding, Calibre 1556

9. 1959 Oyster Datejust Ref. 1500 – Thunderbird Bezel, Blue Dial

Rolex Datejust Ref. 1500

About

The Reference 1500 stands out with its stainless steel construction, rare Thunderbird bezel, and striking blue dial. Its oversized 35mm case and early Rolex rivet stainless steel bracelet further enhance its appeal. As one of Rolex’s range-topping gentlemen’s dress watches, the Datejust has remained a symbol of style and quality for over 70 years, with early models like this one being especially sought after by collectors.

Features

The Thunderbird is distinguished by its stainless steel case with a unique Thunderbird bezel and 35mm diameter. It showcases a rare blue dial adorned with gilt hands and hour indices housed under a robust Oyster case.

Specifications

  • Production Year: 1959
  • Case Size: 35mm
  • Materials:
    • Dial – Blue
    • Bracelet – Stainless steel
    • Bezel – Thunderbird
  • Function: Seconds, Minutes, Hours, Day
  • Mechanism: Automatic, Calibre 1560, 44-Hour Power Reserve

Summary

Rare Rolex watches have values that can astonish even seasoned collectors. Below is a brief compilation of some of these prized timepieces and their current market estimates:

Watch Model Features Current Value
1963 Rolex Paul Newman Daytona

• Exotic dial with art deco-style numerals

• Calibre 722-172-hour power reserve

S$23,945,272 (S$17.8 million)
1954 GMT-Master Reference 6542

• 38mm case without crown guards

• Rare Bakelite bezel with radium numerals, Calibre 1065

• 48-hour power reserve

S$30,267 (S22,500)
1967 Sea-Dweller “Double Red” Reference 1665

• “Double Red” text on the dial

• 40mm stainless steel case with screw-down back

• Calibre 1570 and 48-hour power reserve

S$47,083 ($35,000)
1971 Explorer II “Steve McQueen” Reference 1655

• Black dial with distinctive 24-hour hand

• Stainless steel case and Oyster bracelet

• Calibre 1570 and 48-hour power reserve

S$18,497 (S13,750)
1970s Day-Date “Stella” Dials

• 18k gold case and bracelet

• Lacquered Stella dial with diamond-set hour markers

• Calibre 1556 and 48-hour power reserve

S$65,099 ($43,750) (For Ref. 1802)
1974 Daytona Retailed by Tiffany & Co. New York

• “Big Red” dial with “Tiffany & Co” stamp

• Stainless steel case and Oyster bracelet

• Calibre 727 and 50-hour power reserve

S$134,460 ($100,000)
1966 Oyster Cosmograph Daytona with ‘Exotic’ Lemon Dial

• Lemon dial

• 18k yellow gold bracelet

• Calibre 727 and 72-hour power reserve

S$1,344,600 ($1 million)
Rolex ‘Khanjar’ Day-Date Ref. 1803

• Champagne with red Khanjar

• Self-winding Calibre 1556

• Yellow gold bracelet and bezel

S$51,632
1959 Oyster Datejust Turn-O-Graph

• Blue dial with Thunderbird bezel

• Stainless steel case and bracelet

• Calibre 1560 and 44-hour power reserve

S$11,844 ($8,809)

The value of these watches is subject to change over time, depending on economic conditions. Potential buyers should conduct research or consult a professional for the most current and accurate valuations.

FAQs

1. What Makes a Rolex Watch Rare?

A Rolex watch is considered rare due to limited production runs, distinctive designs, celebrity association, and the use of precious materials and intricate craftsmanship. 

For example, the early Daytona models were produced in smaller quantities due to initial low popularity, making them highly sought-after today. 

Unique design elements, such as the exotic dials of the Paul Newman Daytona, also contribute to rarity. 

Moreover, watches associated with celebrities, like Paul Newman’s own Daytona, can become particularly valuable and scarce. Additionally, Rolex’s use of rare materials and meticulous craftsmanship, as seen in the Lapis Lazuli Datejust, further adds to the rarity of their watches.

2. What Is the Rarest Rolex Face?

The rarest Rolex face is a debate among watch collectors. Still, one contender is the “Stella” dial, found on vintage Day-Date models from the 1970s and 1980s. These dials are made of brightly colored enamel and one of such models was seen to have been sported by Justin Bieber

They offer a unique and vibrant look that was not widely popular then, hence the limited production.

Other rare faces include the “Paul Newman” dial on Daytona models. This is characterized by its distinctive art deco numerals, contrasting color sub-dials, and dials made from exotic materials like meteorites. This may also feature intricate craftsmanship like cloisonné enamel.

3. What Is the Hardest Rolex to Buy?

The hardest Rolex to buy is often considered the stainless steel Rolex Daytona, particularly the reference 116500LN with a Cerachrom bezel

Despite not being rare in terms of limited production or unique features, its iconic design and historical significance make it highly sought after, leading to long waiting lists, typically a decade as reported in forums, compared to other Rolex models, which may only averagely take 3 months to 3 years.

Similarly, the Submariner “Hulk” (reference 116610LV) and the GMT-Master II “Pepsi” (reference 126710BLRO) are not rare in the traditional sense. Still, they are difficult to purchase due to their popularity and limited availability at authorized dealers.

Final Word

Rolex’s rarest models, such as the 1963 Rolex Paul Newman Daytona and the 1954 GMT-Master Reference 6542 with a Bakelite Bezel, are not just watches but symbols of horological artistry. These timepieces, often featuring unique design elements, are highly coveted by collectors for their exclusivity and potential to appreciate in value.

Key Takeaways

  • Rarity in Rolex watches is often determined by factors like limited production runs, unique design elements, and celebrity associations.
  • The “Stella” dial, characterized by its vibrant enamel colors, is one of the rarest Rolex faces found on vintage Rolex Day-Date models from the 1970s and 1980s.
  • The original Bakelite bezels of the GMT-Master Reference 6542, replaced by more durable aluminum inserts, are now exceedingly scarce and sought after by collectors.

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