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Feature: The Perfect 3 Rolex Collection

Say what you like about it, I think Rolex is just about the perfect watch brand. I don’t mean it’s the best, and it’s certainly not the worst, but in terms of being as well-rounded as possible, there aren’t many others that can touch it. So, instead of having one, why not have three? Here are our suggestions.

Rolex Submariner 126610LN

The Rolex Submariner is the quintessential dive watch. No two ways about it. Like the iPhone is the benchmark for all phones, the Submariner may not have been the first, may not be the greatest, but what it does is set the absolute standard. All dive watches past, present and future will be compared to the Submariner. From 1953 to date, it’s set standards for performance, quality and—well perhaps not anymore—value.

In isolation it’s a bit of an enigma. It’s not really a luxury watch, per se, even with the additional dressing of the ceramic bezel and white gold hands and markers. It was intended to be as luxurious as a bicycle pump, and to be honest, that’s where so much of the appeal came from. Picture this: it’s the 1950s, the world is recovering from war and the future seems bright once more. Military uniforms have been swapped for Speedos as holidaymakers head abroad for the very first time. It’s a world once separated, now interconnected.

Rolex built the Submariner to try and sell watches to industry. When it came to retail, it was a hard sell to push a brand that had been around a fraction of its biggest competitors, especially without the budgets to produce anything to a particularly high standard. It was a toss-up between performance or presentation, and there were already plenty of watchmakers trying to impress with the latter.

So, Rolex bolted some rough bits of steel together, put in a benchmark movement and took it to the diving industry. They also swapped a few bits and waved what was essentially the same watch under the noses of the flying, exploring and scientific industries as well. And it worked. Where other watches would have baulked at the idea of water, magnetism and transatlantic flight, Rolex’s didn’t. Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? We’re not the only ones to think so. This rugged, no-nonsense attitude caught on big.

The Submariner is a bit like denim. A contraction of the phrase “serge de Nîmes”, French for “material from Nîmes”, there was never any intention of it becoming a fashion staple. It was supposed to be a hardwearing material worn by workers to endure the rigours of manual labour. Funnily enough popularity of the material in trouser form from wholesaler Levi Strauss & Co. became popular at exactly the same time as the Submariner.

Whichever you choose, be it a 1950s original or this most up-to-date 126610LN, you aren’t just getting a watch, you’re getting a slice of culture that’s as dyed in the wool—or should I say denim—as a good old pair of Levi’s.

Rolex Daytona 116500LN

The Rolex Daytona is the quintessential chronograph. Getting déjà vu? Rolex ain’t no one-hit wonder. You won’t find any expert watchmaking or beautiful artistry here; Rolex is a brand that just knows how to get things right.

Well, I say that, but the Rolex Daytona very much did not get things right. Far from it. In fact, whilst Rolex was focussing all its energy on its core collection of sports watches, like the Submariner we were just talking about, it was caught napping when it came to chronographs. It’s not widely known because the chronograph is a fairly commonplace complication, but it’s actually one of the hardest and most expensive to develop. It’s why, for a long while, even the big boys like Patek Philippe and Vacheron Constantin were buying them in instead of making their own.

Bear in mind Rolex wasn’t just not making chronographs—it wasn’t making any movements, relying on supplier Aegler to furnish it with straightforward timekeepers that could be adapted with mild complications like a date or GMT hand. For a chronograph, the best it could muster was a package of off-the-shelf parts including a movement from popular supplier Valjoux.

Then, in 1957, Omega came in with the Speedmaster and all hell broke loose. The first Speedmaster went to space just five years later, leaving Rolex caught short. It was supposed to be the supplier of industry, and it was missing out on the chance of a lifetime. And so, in 1963, Rolex re-cased that Valjoux 72 to look something a little more like a Speedmaster. It was called the “Cosmograph”. The intent is obvious: to go to space. It never did, at least, not until 1989 on board the shuttle Atlantis. Bit late for the moon landings.

Rebounding from its shock loss, Rolex hurriedly rebranded—or rather, double branded—the Cosmosgraph as the Daytona, a Floridian race circuit it was familiar with having sponsored many a race there—and then promptly sold virtually none of them. Wonder why vintage Daytonas are rare? Because no one bought any. Seriously, jewellers couldn’t shift them.

Okay, so why does that make the Daytona the quintessential chronograph? Because when the playing field was levelled in the 1970s when quartz watches made the technology obsolete, it was the Daytona, the new Daytona, that rose from the ashes and went on to become one of the most successful watches of all time.

Rolex Oyster Perpetual 41 124300

The Rolex Oyster Perpetual is the quintessential … well, watch, really. I mean, look at it. It’s exactly what people imagine when they think of a wristwatch. And, again, whilst Rolex didn’t invent the wristwatch, it certainly paved the way for making them what they are today, and that’s all buttoned up so neatly in the Oyster Perpetual that you’d hardly ever know.

It may seem like simple stuff now, but the Oyster Perpetual really embodies so much of what Rolex normalised in the industry. For example, when you wear your watch every day, you don’t have to worry about splashing it with a piña colada or getting caught in the rain because Rolex has made this watch water-resistant.

Did Rolex invent water-resistance? Well no, but it was Rolex that decided to take the screw-down seal used here and there in other half-baked watches and even pocket watches and apply it to every joint between the movement and the outside. The case back, bezel and crown all received the screw down treatment, making a watch that, unlike others that could be taken out with a badly timed trickle of perspiration, was truly an everyday wear. It was sealed as tight as an oyster, and that’s where the name comes from.

And, when you wear your watch every day, you don’t have to worry about it running out of steam. It just keeps on keeping on, seemingly powered by nothing but the smugness of owning a Rolex, but no—it’s the automatic winding rotor we have to thank.

Did Rolex invent the automatic winding rotor? Well no, but it was Rolex that decided it should spin a full 360 degrees. Other manufacturers had theirs bouncing back and forth like a hammer, which, as you can imagine when combining hammers with very delicate movements, wasn’t too reliable. Rolex’s everlasting movement was uncanny, the closest thing to a real life perpetual motion machine, which is where the name comes from.

And, when you wear your watch every day, you don’t have to worry about keeping a pocket free for it or wearing a waistcoat specifically to clip it to because you can just strap it to your wrist in a very convenient and comfortable manner, because Rolex has put it on a bracelet.

Did Rolex invent the wristwatch? Well no, but in the face of stiff competition from centuries-old watchmakers churning out incredible pocket watches, the wristwatch was Rolex’s way to make a mark. It was no easy task, having to shake off the association as a poor quality ladies’ trinket—and the “wristlet” name that came with it—and rebrand it as a tool for professionals. WWI and the convenience of a wristwatch in the trenches certainly helped with that, and whilst others followed, Rolex led the way.

Between these three, you’re looking at over a century of incredible foresight and risk and reward from a watchmaker that defied the odds to come out absolutely on top. Picking one is a task with no realistic conclusion, so why even bother? Just have all three for the perfect Rolex collection.

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